What are you?

A week ago when picking Peter up from daycare in the afternoon, his Primary Caregiver, Tracy (not her real name) and I had an interesting conversation.  She chose her words very carefully, was as politically correct as possible and tried to make it sound like this was just a passing conversation, nothing too serious.  Tracy’s main concern was that Peter appeared to be heading towards not having any Indian in him apart from his looks and surname.  Tracy mentioned that, at the Centre, they really try to promote multiculturalism while also teaching Maori [for legal purposes]. According to her, they really strive to ensure the children “…know who they are.” and her concern was that Peter appeared to be heading towards not knowing who he is.  She did not say those exact words, but she was pussy footing around that.

For the record, I could not ask for more from Tracy.  She is absolutely marvelous and Peter loves her and both Farzana and I really could not ask for more.  Tracy only sees us for 5 or 10 minutes at most during the day when we drop him off in the morning.  Peter is only 4 months old right now. When we had the conversation, Peter had only been at the daycare for less then a month. It really made me think about how Tracy had come to her conclusions regarding identity.  I did not ask her specifically, however, obviously, compared to all the other non caucasian students, Peter has a Western given name [and so do I]. We always spoke to Peter in English at the daycare.  Also, given the fact that both my wife and I, our parents, and our grandparents have never once in their life set foot in India and our great-grandparents spent most of their life in Fiji, we are somewhat removed from India.

Further compounding factors are that our ancestors in India are from totally different regions with languages and culture. For example, my paternal grandfather’s side is Tamil, and grandmother’s Telegu.  My maternal grandparents’ side are from Northern India. The various groups are totally distinct in language and to various degrees in food, appearance, culture.  Furthermore, Farzana’s ancestors are from some part of Northern India.

Peter is currently too young to think about who or what he is, but I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on this from an early age.  I remember, when I was in Class 6, I had rocks thrown at me by adults for being an “Indian” in Fiji.  I distinctly remember thinking if they did hit me, I would die, because they were huge rocks. A few years later, first year high school I was punched up very badly by a group of boys slightly older then me because in school when I was asked where I was from, I said that I was from Fiji.  The ethnic Fijian boys took offense, and after school told me that I was not from Fiji, but India. I tried to reason with them that for generations we have been in Fiji, and have no contact whatsoever with anyone for generations in India and, even my parents and grandparents had not been to India.  That made no difference to them, and that was the day, I spilled blood for identifying myself as someone from Fiji rather than India.

Years later, when my wife and I met her father for the first time, his first words to me were, “What are you?” To which I responded, “A human being.” to which he responded, “What are you?”  Amazing, that Peter is just a few months old and his parents have already been asked about his identity.  It’s inevitable that Peter will one day find himself in a similar situation where he will be asked to define and defend who or what he is.

What are you?  If you go down the physical side of things, the response is something like one is a combination of various physical matter, mainly water, tissue with electricity and chemicals flowing within. But that does not make a person. A person entails attitudes, thoughts and actions. It is also tied with legal and political concepts of equality, liberty, citizenship and has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability.

There is much conflict in the world because not everyone views people as people.  Millions have died and millions will die.  Millions live in countries where various ideologies define their rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities and legal liability before courts of law and between the various groups of people.  Who, or what you are, can be dangerous. So when Peter is asked, what or who he is, I hope he is prepared to either fight or run.

Cult of Mac

I am not an Apple fanboy.  However, I use Apple products daily. Infact, on an average day I spend 5 hours in front of a Macbook Pro. I have a TimeCapsule, iMac, iPad and spend considerable time each week helping Mac users with problems. I use Windows 7 and 8 for most of my work day.  My professional role, being an IT Administrator, also involves part of the workday working on Server 2008 R2, 2012, and Linux.  I have installed various Mac Operating Systems (OS) from scratch and delved deep into troubleshooting and configuration. I am currently working on some Linux Certifications which involve some Unix material, which is what Mac OS is based on.  I am currently an Apple Certified Associate and am working towards becoming an Apple Certified Support Professional.   It is pretty safe to say I know a lot more about Macs than the average Mac user.

For the purposes of discussion, I will be controversial here, and hopefully generate some interesting discussion. I hope the conversations as a result of this post will be intellectually stimulating, rather than people feeling that I am attacking them personally.  I generally like to be technology agnostic, which may explain the reasons behind my opinions.  Anyway, lets jump into the fire …

Broadly speaking Apple is a lot like a cult or religion. Like most cults/religions it was started effectively by one man, Steve Jobs.  Steve is worshiped by his followers.  Widely described visionary, charismatic, in fact, those close to him described his charisma as a “reality distortion field”.  When Steve died, it was front page news everywhere. He was literally mourned by millions who had never met him or knew much about him personally.

Currently, Apple is the largest company in the world in terms of net worth.  It is not the largest donor to charities, employee, or products by a longshot.  However, it is very very profitable. Hubbard, who started the Church of Scientology famously wrote, “if you want to get rich, start a religion.”  Steve had a keen financial mind, Forbes estimated his net wealth at $8.3 billion in 2010, making him the 42nd-wealthiest American.

Incident 1: CEO Dr Barry Fruitcake

A month ago an ex CEO of my place of employment (person who has a PhD and is a head of department of Education at a University/College) visited us to give us some pearls of wisdom. After sermonizing on perseverance, critical thinking, good practice and steadfastness, he came to me totting a Macbook Pro and wanted to get on our wireless network. Our workplace is primarily Windows/Dell based and in our staffroom surrounded by people working away on their Dell computers, exclaimed to our current CEO, myself and those in earshot with a slight mocking tone “Now, here’s a real computer.” while taking it out and asking me for the wireless password.

There was a bit of silence, which I broke by telling him the password and also mentioned that he had to change proxy settings to be able to get on our wireless network. The best way was to create a new network location so that next time he came to our workplace, all he had to do was change locations.  I could see his eyes glaze over.  I asked him if he knew how to make the changes, or wanted me to do it.  He had no idea what I was talking about.  So I showed him how to configure by create network locations and put in proxy settings and store password. When I completed setting his computer up, he mentioned, “It is good to have IT support”

When Dr Barry Fruitcake (not his real name) exclaimed that he possessed a “real computer” compared to us, I don’t think it’s a stretch to feel that he was belittling us. It is almost a universal belief amongst Mac users that they have a superior product compared to others and are very quick to point that out. Many do not realize that for most of us, our non Mac devices completely suite our purposes. Personally, I could never bring myself to use a netbook. I find them cumbersome, but there are millions of people for whom it does exactly what they purchased it for.  It would be disrespectful for me to disparage them, because of what I use and my opinions. However, Mac fanboys have no qualms disrespecting others for their choice in technology.

Mac fanboys who are reading this would probably say here, well, it’s not disrespecting, but pointing out their new found experience with ease of use and overall superior experience. If you love something so much, you can’t stop taking about it. Let your light shine!  Hide it under the bush, no, no!  So similar to how religions/cult members function. Apple a cult? Cults proselytize.  Apple fanboys proselytize.  Apple being the forbidden fruit. Just an eerie coincidence? Surely, I am going fruit…cake, or perhaps not. The long lines of people camping overnight or longer when new i-products are released and the behavior of the community in general is characteristic of the makings of a cult, “…with fanaticism that comes close to religious furor.”

I am sure Dr Fruitcake It would consider it extremely rude if people started disparaging others because of their choice in clothes, models of cars they drove, etc.  How would one feel if someone driving a Porsche spoke down to someone driving a standard family Ford or Toyota and say, “Now here’s a real car!”  Or someone wearing designer label clothes saying similarly to someone who purchases clothes from The Warehouse, because that is all they can afford. [Note, I am not likening a Mac to a Mercedes, in my experience, its often its often a Chinese import, dressed as a Mercedes so to speak].

Experience 2. “You are a player!” said Apple Fangirl to me

Four of us were sitting around a table, two colleagues with their iPhones (Sally, her not real name) and one with an iPad (Tom, his not real name) and another who dearly would like to own an iPhone (Mary, not her real name). The discussion was about how great Mac products are and how dumb our workplace is for not having Mac products as mainstream and how at Tom’s workplace they were now exclusively Mac and how “magical” things were, and how they had such great “ease of use.”

At the end of their discussion, I smiled and mentioned, “I hope you guys noticed, I said nothing, while you  were talking.”  to which Tom very politely commented that if I personally used Mac products, I would know what they were talking about, to which I mentioned that I own and use daily the latest iPAD, iPhone, timecapsule, iMac, Macbook Pro [which I am currently using to type this blog], I am a power Mac user. Also at the same time, I use Linux, Windows 7 for various tasks.

To which Sally exclaimed, “You are a real player” several times while being bewildered at how I was not using just the Mac ecosystem. Sally is a single 25 year old female in real life. A “player” for her would be one who engages in immoral activities who knowing her character, would avoid. Is stepping outside the Mac fold immoral?

A year earlier, a CEO of a similar organization such as ours sent an email with a moral twist to it.  It had a particular mention about computing devices and penned that he found interesting that our organization had, “not seen the light” and was still using Windows machines. I was gobsmacked that someone would make the allegory of light versus dark. The email had nothing to do with budgetary, features, etc as reasons, but it was entirely, a “light” versus dark, using one platform versus another as a moralistic issue and was adamant not let any “evil” Microsoft product anywhere “near” their hardware.

I wrote a lengthy and polite email back to him (without response) about it not being a “light versus dark” issue which entails ethics, however, at our workplace, we support all devices, but choose to purchase the most cost effective, does the job, which currently happens to be Windows computers being almost 3x cheaper over a 4 year period.

Speaking of money, I find it absolutely amazing that a company with only around a dozen key products is the the world’s most valuable company. This is because of the profit margins widely described as “unthinkably high” currently 30% after tax. The current flagship iPhone 5 estimated cost to manufacturer is approx NZ$300 and will sell for over NZ$1200, and this is only with standard warranty. Add over $100 for extended warranty.  Daylight robbery, if you ask me.

Apple employees when dealing with potential customers who comment on the high price of the product are trained to highlight that despite the price, they “found value” in the product in this and that area. Again, exactly, like religions and cults where you part with cash for certain value.  How Apple employees interact with customers is extremely interesting.  According to media leaks of Apple workers official training, they are not allowed to use the word “unfortunately” and are supposed to use “as it turns out.”

Say if there is a software/hardware glitch, they are also not allowed to use “bug”, “bomb” or “hang” instead the software/hardware “unexpectedly quit, unexpectedly stopped responding, or unexpectedly stopped responding.” There are no “bugs” or “problems” but they are “conditions, issues & situations.”  They nurture the belief amongst fanboys that Mac products are virus proof.

The way Apple as a company pursues its competitors is very frightening. It is widely reported that if Microsoft or any of the tech pioneers behaved like Apple, the technology landscape would be horrible because customer choice and innovation would be limited.  While Microsoft and many tech pioneering companies generally license their patents, Apple often sues. They also do not sue directly, but employ cunning techniques. The major battle right now is with Andriod (owned by Google).  Instead of picking a fight with Google, they snipe its partners, Samsung for instance.  Some things which Apple is granted patents for, for example the slide to unlock, in my opinion is plain wrong.  Ancient Egyptians has slide to unlock doors.

In the current litigation between Apple and Samsung, Apple claimed that people were confused that Samsung products were not Apple as evidenced by people returning Samsung products for that very reason. This says a lot about potential Apple customers, you really have to be dumb to have purchased a Samsung/Andriod product and thought it Apple.  Apple actually plays on this “dumbness” as evidenced by the recent Apple adverts which were pulled because of complaints from some Mac users that it portrayed Mac customers as dumb, inept and foolish.

Flack

I am sure I will get some flack for this article. After all, people who belong to a cult often consider the outside world to be evil and people who attack their beliefs as blasphemers. Some very close friends and family members of mine are Mac devotees. For them, Macs work well and I do think it is far fetched to call them cult members. They are using products at a price that best suits them and most of the time do not behave like indoctrinated cult members.

I just hope that Peter does not blindly decide to go with certain brands, but develops some critical thinking. I hope he thinks about what drives a person from becoming a mere user of a product to a devoted disciple, because, after all, research indicates that people join cults and brands for the same reasons.  I also hope Peter really understands who he is following.  If he follows Jobs, here is what Wikipedia quotes Apple cofounder, Steve Wozniak as saying, “Steve didn’t ever code. He wasn’t an engineer and he didn’t do any original design…”  Daniel Kottke, one of Apple’s earliest employees and a college friend of Jobs’, stated that “Between Woz and Jobs, Woz was the innovator, the inventor. Steve Jobs was the marketing person.”

In this thought provoking (must see) video Jobs mentions that they have no qualms about stealing great ideas from other companies. He is later quoted as saying that Andriod is a stolen product and he is going “thermonuclear” on it. The conclusion was that for Jobs, it’s ok for him to steal, but for no one to steal from him.  He also credits Apple for “inventing” a multitouch device, however, around a year earlier somone else presented the same technology.  Apple was not the inventor of that technology.

As a person, I have no time for Jobs.  He is widely reported as using expletives, particularly F*** words when speaking his mind. He banned John Wiley publishing company from his retail stores as retribution for the book they published, i-Con Steve Jobs, a review of which states “Jobs was ruthless, manipulative, charismatic and utterly determined. He clashed with the firm’s other managers from the start. Still a hippie at heart, he had bad hygiene. He was not above lying or cheating anyone in a business deal, including Woz, whose relationship with Jobs soon collapsed. In his messy personal life, Jobs refused to acknowledge his baby daughter, Lisa, and let her grow up in poverty.”

Jobs was regarded as inconsiderate. He parked in disability carparks (angry people would coin [scratch] his car) and drove a Mercedes Benz without licence plates. The got away from having license plates by taking advantage of a Californian law which stipulates that one had 6 months to get a license plate if the car was new. So he bought himself a new Merc every 6 months.

On the other hand, Bill Gates is known for putting money to good use, in fact, he is going to give almost all of it away. He is responsible for saving thousands of lives through this charity work. He has also invested significantly in Education and various other non profit activities. Gates travels world wide trying to get rich people to donate money to charities. The man is a hero, but people in general have a low opinion of Microsoft products.  Melinda (his wife) and him have stated that their children will only inherit a miniscule part of their wealth, stating in various interviews that they have to find their own way in life and that a large amount of money will not do them any good.

At an IT conference a Microsoft Exec mentioned that for every dollar Microsoft earns, other people (developers, integrators, etc) earn $3.  I do not know what it is like with Apple, but I will not be surprised if it’s something like less than a dollar spent for each dollar Apple earns. Reasons why is that Apple sells directly to the public, owns its own retail and online stores. Whereas Microsoft until now had not had a direct retail presence.  The few Microsoft retail stores are currently not doing well at all and have comparatively low margin.  I think that it is better to support a smaller company, whose leadership inspires, supports local business and operates in an ethical manner. Microsoft does not tick all the boxes, but in my books ticks more boxes than Apple.

This blog post took way longer for me to write than normal. The reason is that people who I have a lot of time for may be upset by it. I want to categorically state that I have no problems at all with their choice of technology.  I just wish they respect the choice of those outside their fold. I am classifying this post in a life skill category for Peter is so that hopefully one day he can critically analyze his behavior towards others and the choices he makes.  Peter, pretty is often not worth the trouble.  It will cost you more than you know.  Martin Luther had a dream that his children would one day live in a nation where they would be not judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. My dream is that Peter will not be judged or judge others by the electronic devices they own, but by the content of their work.

 

 

 

Antenatal classes and digression on baby formula

I attended all the antenatal classes with my wife. Well, we did miss the last one because it was to be more of a social one with the men encouraged to bring a beer or two.  I am not into that sort of thing, so we called in sickie.  Overall, it was a worthwhile and educational experience, which I would recommend to all couples because at the end of the day, it is better to be over prepared then under prepared.  This post is about my opinions regarding the course.

The course ran over 8 weeks, every Thursday night from 6 to 8PM and cost $120 in total.  The facilitator was a knowledgeable mother of a number of children and kept things interesting.  She and her assistant kept the course cozy, with around a dozen couples. After introductions and general pleasantries each session started with an explanation of the various stages of labour. By the end of the course, most of us could rattle of the various stages and what to do and how to cope at each stage.  This was perhaps the single most beneficial part of those classes.

Coffee

What I took exception to was the encouragement of the women to get together for coffee. Infact, at several sessions, they even mentioned that something like up to 4 to 6 cups of coffee a day is fine. I am no medical expert, but even one dose of caffeine is too much for a number of reasons, and first and foremost, one should just err on the side of caution.

Even laypeople know coffee is the drug of choice to keep one awake when trying to fall asleep or need extra alertness when your body is telling you to rest or sleep.  Babies who confuse day and night has been linked to caffeine passed on from mother to child.   It’s similar in adults.  Many adults have desensitized themselves over periods of time, and coffee does not have as much of an effect; however, for those who do not normally drink coffee, give them a single dose, and they will often be up half the night or longer.

Coffee itself aside, there is all the fat and sugar that goes with coffee, not to mention it being a diuretic. These are all empty calories which one should normally stay away from.  The underlying activity which they were trying to get at in the antenatal class, I do not think was coffee drinking itself, but the women getting together and having a yarn and supporting each other.  Such social interactions would be very healthy and beneficial, however, coffee being the reason, that is just not right.  Why not get together over some fruit juice, and toast, etc?  My suspicions are that the prevalence of attention deficiency disorders, allergies, etc may have to do with the diet of pregnant mothers. Why not encourage healthy eating and drinking?  Healthy, in my opinion, being as much plant based, unprocessed, whole foods which certainly does not include stimulants like coffee.

Breastfeeding and Politics

The second issue I had was around breastfeeding. There seemed to be some politics around the issue, because the facilitator said that she is was not allowed to talk about anything other than breast feeding.  She said that there were alternatives to breast milk out there, but for us to find out ourselves outside of the class.  Like most people, I have strong opinions around this and will digress in my discussion below.

Some women cannot breast feed, or choose not to, and that is their right.  Mothers who are drug addicts, alcoholics, smokers, and the like, perhaps in these situations, cow juice is preferable to breast milk.  If one wants to breast feed, especially, in New Zealand, free help is just a phone call away, if there are difficulties. One, can go to a doctor for free and get medication which gets milk flow going.  Hospital lactation consultation is free for as long as required.  Home visits are also free via the La Leche League which has been running in New Zealand for around a century.  Organizations such as Plunket also provide free in home services.

Breastfeeding is a touchy subject in the best of circumstances. As a male, I probably have less of a right to talk about it. The general consensus in New Zealand is that we are militant towards women who do not breast feed.  Having said that, we tend to not like seeing women breast feed in public. My wife never breast feeds in public as she says its uncomfortable. My opinion is if you were breast feeding or bottle feeding, if the child is hungry, give them food, if you are sitting in the bus, train station, home, mall, cafe, wherever.  Surely, the physical needs of a child, health and wellbeing takes precedence over social perceptions and prejudices.  I would take offense if someone was asked to leave if they were either breast feeding or bottle feeding a baby.

Digressing a bit here, one aspect of baby milk formula which I do not hear discussed is that it is after all,a commercial enterprise.  I am not against formula, many of our good friends and family formula feed. Infact, a cousin of mine, whose son is now almost 2 years old, has been exclusively formula feeding him since birth.  We are lucky in New Zealand, we probably have access to better formula than most countries. However, I had difficulty identifying New Zealand formula on the supermarket shelves. I think Karicare is made in New Zealand however, I could not specifically find a mention of ‘made in New Zealand’ or New Zealand logo.

Anyway, the fact remains that formula is a commercial enterprise. In fact, I would guess that it would have higher profit margins than standard products. So given that it’s sold by successful businesses, the government makes GST 15% and a base company tax rate of 28% on profits, the government is actually getting a decent amount of money on sale of formula, as are the businesses who manufacture and retail them.

Every few months our talk shows on TV do a piece about the evil Chinese stealing .. um, buying all the formula off the shelves in supermarkets and shipping it off to China while poor Kiwis are unable to purchase formula.  While myself, like most Kiwis, am apprehensive of foreign ownership/plundering, etc I see little wrong with what these business people are doing here. They legitimately pay for the formula and ship it out to their customers.

Now, the innocent Kiwi mother, who is unable to purchase formula, is always portrayed as the victim.  What these innocent kiwi mothers need to do is firstly, budget so that when the formula is on the shelves, they purchase a decent quantity so they are not always running out.  Secondly, if they cannot purchase in bulk, phone up or go to the local supermarket manager and tell them that they will purchase every so often and to keep one aside for them. Most store managers will be more than happy to do this.

The reality with formula is that it is not a charity. You are dealing with businesses. Business philosophy, morals and ethics is a different ball game. It comes down to money, supply and demand.  Do they really care if you child starves to death?  Can they be held legally responsible?  What they care about is financial returns to shareholders.  They will sell to whoever gives the most money. And if they are not, they should be, because good businesses exist to maximize profit.

Our PM is currently in Russia and amongst his main aims is to talk about a free trade agreement with Russia as a main objective. What free trade essentially entails is that you can buy and sell between countries without subsidies and penalties. So let’s say a free trade deals goes ahead with a country and that country has a way higher purchasing power compared to Kiwis, and they develop a taste for Kiwi formula, what you could essentially have happening is that Kiwi formula goes to that country because they can demand a higher price there, and cheaper formula from another country comes to New Zealand.

You may think that this far fetched; however, it is happening right now with many other products. A lot of our premium oranges go to USA, while tasteless ones from various countries come here. Much of our premium produce goes overseas where they fetch a premium price, while cheaper products from those countries come our way.  This is just the way free market economies work.

Booze

The facilitator mentioned that many couples take a bottle of champagne to the delivery suite and have a toss once the baby is born to celebrate.  This more than raised an eyebrow from me, as it is well established that there is no minimum tolerable limit for alcohol during pregnancy.  Whether or not the alcohol enters the breast milk, you have just celebrated a very significant occasion with booze.

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are discouraged from consuming alcohol. Several facilitators mentioned that the reason they stopped breast feeding was because they had to go to a party, and they “had” to drink. And because their child was a year old or close to it, they decided that that would be the last time their child would breast feed, because, the mother just had to consume alcohol that day to be part of the party.

That was not only sad, but a true reflection of society. Booze has become an integral part of social events. I am not suggesting going Taliban on booze, because it does have its place (a nice reduced red wine sauce is something to behold) but the ethanol component is another story, killing your brain cells and is whole different area that should be avoided.

Overall

Apart from the above areas of concern, antenatal class was a worthwhile experience.  It shed light on a number of areas which were unexpected, but very educational. We all have our prejudices, and the class served to cement some of mine further.

Run like Kirani James or Usain Bolt?

I am a runner. And so with interest I watched the athletics part of the recently concluded London Olympics which was dominated by Usain Bolt. Yes, he is fast, yes, he did win, but one cannot help feel that he is a bit too full of himself. Usain Bolt now considers himself a “legend” and is not shy to tell everyone that.  You can certainly compare him to the way boxers speak.

A legend in the true sense was born at these Olympics.  His name is Kirani James. Kirani comes from the tiny Carrabean island nation of Grenada. Population just one hundred and ten thousand, 334 square kilometers landmass.  At 19 years of age, Kirani won his country’s first ever Olympic medal and it was a Gold in the prestigious 400m.  I consider 400 and 800m more of a bigger deal than shorter distance races, because there is an element of stamina and tactics, which is almost absent in shorter distance races.

While both Bolt and James are very fast men, the similarities end there.  Before a race, Bolt is up to his usual showmanship drawing attention to himself, dancing around and posing.  James on the other hand kisses his country’s emblem to not draw attention to himself but his country.

When Bolt won the gold medal, he jumped around, posed for the media.  He really celebrated and mentioned after the race that he came to solidify his status as a legend.  James on the other hand immediately after the race shook every competitor’s hand BEFORE celebrating his win. And to celebrate, he did not do a solo, but ran to his supporters and they hugged him, and got his country’s flag and celebrated.

In the semi finals, after winning, he waited for the last man to finish.  That man was Oscar Pistorius, the man without legs and James asked to swap bibs with him.  What James did really defined him as someone special, and way beyond his years, because he chose to accept someone with a disability as his equal.

When James emerged as a running talent, many colleges in the US offered him athletics scholarships. He accepted a scholarship in Alabama and has produced some stunning results. Given that he trains in the US, he could easily have changed his citizenship and converted his gold medal into mega bucks. Instead, he is sticking to his roots and bringing pride to his nation.

I hope that one day Peter will accompany me on my daily runs. And if he does decide to idolise athletes, I would hope they are of the nature and character of James rather than Bolt.

 

What sort of a parent should I be?

About a year ago a friend and I were partaking in our customary 6AM morning jog.  The conversation that morning was on parenting. Now, back then, I was not a parent and from memory we were not aware that my wife was pregnant. Now, my friend, John (not his real name) is very knowledgeable, articulate and is the father of 3 children.  I respect him very much because he has a lovely family and his children are doing extremely well.  John had a difficult childhood, mostly the drama associated with a broken family and poverty.  He is a living example of someone who has worked extremely hard to ensure that his children do not go through what he went through.

I do not remember 95% of what we spoke about that morning, but one thing struck me and is something that I will probably never forget. John, mentioned that, “I have told my children, I am not there to be their friend, I am there to be their parent.”  The context in which he said that was that I had asked him what one can do from Day 1 so that one’s children are not like some children who are uncontrollable, and who bounce off walls.

For him, it has come down to the fact that his children understand that his first and foremost role is that of a parent. When children understand that, it changes the dynamics of the family. He spoke about consequences when children disobey, and he is consistent with consequences.

Anyway, another reason why I remember what John said that morning was that exactly a week later, there was a child dedication and the pastor in his mini sermon to the parents (and congregation),  mentioned that the parents should be this and that, and not this and that, “… but above all, should be a friend to the child.”  I was absolutely amazed because when John and I spoke, it seemed obvious that in the parent child relationship, parentship is of more importance rather than friendship, especially, if you do not want your child to grow up into a brat.

Friendship

And so I started doing some research on friendship. I thought I knew what friendship was because I have some very good friends but I realized that I did not know much about the whole thing. Defining friendship is easy. It is basically people who have mutual affection for each other, and who want the best for each other.  There are elements of sympathy, reciprocity, compassion, fun, etc. These are things we all know. What I did not know was that while friendship does appear to be universal, it is extremely different in different cultures.

For example, I have some people of the opposite sex who I would consider friends because they are more than just acquaintances, and we talk, facebook, email, etc. My wife and I go to their place for meals, etc. According to Wikipedia “The view of the Islamic culture is to keep the relationships between boys and girls to a minimum; on the other hand, however, the only opportunity for a prudent relationship between boys and girls is when they have a serious plan for marriage.”

Germans apparently have fewer friends on global averages. Russians also have fewer friends but make up for it in intensity.  For elderly people, friendships are very important as it appears to aid longevity. In fact, if you read about the Okinawans and longevity hotspot regions, strong friendships appears to be a common factor.

In New Zealand and Australia we often call friends ‘mates’ and other parts of the world we use the word ‘buddy’. We have the phenomenon of ‘bromance’, which appears to be a close relationship between males which is not extreme in intimacy. Then you have ‘frenemies’, who are actually enemies who pretend to be your friend.

Parenthood

Parenthood in many senses is straightforward. You are a parent when you have a child, and there are certain minimum legal responsibilities depending on what part of the world you live in.  Once you become a parent, you are a parent for life, while the friendship relationship can end.  There are different types of parents, the four main ones being:

Authoritarian Parenting:  very strict, black and white, very little grey. Lots of punishment.

Authoritative Parenting:  positive reinforcement, let children develop autonomy, little punishment.

Indulgent Parenting:  apparently most common in middle class. Try to reason with children and explain. Often children are off the rails, lack of structure. Very little, if any, punishment.

Absent/Uninvolved Parent: either physically or emotionally, or at other levels, not present. There are no expectations of children. There is no punishment.

What sort of parent should I be?

Last week a colleague of mine brought his one year old to work. He referred to him as “buddy” when asking him to come with him, or giving other instructions. He is going to be a great father and I do not think he put any thought into what term of endearment he uses, and to him it is only a term of endearment. In contrast, I do remember one occasion my friend John called his son to come over to do something and his words were, “Son, can you please …”  So basically, it is easy to over-think what we call our children. My wife refers to our son as “pumpkin” as he is putting on the pounds.

Some years ago a person who struck me as a very hard person (had 8 children) confided in me that he had been a bit too strict with his children. But he added, it’s easy to let go the reins a bit, but always difficult and sometimes impossible to rein in wild children. For that reason, I think I will be somewhere between an authoritarian and authoritative parent. There are times when one has to be more authoritarian and other times where its better to be a bit authoritative.  John, did tell me that his wife and him work as a unit. There is no good cop bad cop thing happening.

Some years ago I watched a youtube video about Emily Bear a piano prodigy.  Her mother says in the interview that her wish for Emily was for her to have “good values, peace in her heart, to be a good grown up.”  I not only want that for Peter, but also want him to be financially and academically astute, polite, confident, gracious, well spoken and liked. It would be a miracle if all things things happened by chance. I don’t think it is impossible, and even if it is, I will die trying.