Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Tony Deyal | Wings of a fledgling dove

Published:Saturday | September 10, 2016 | 12:00 AM

My daughter Jasmine is leaving for university, not like me when I left for Canada, or her mother for distant Delhi, or even like Zubin off to his birthplace Barbados to complete his third year, but to the University of Trinidad and Tobago, a fledgling tertiary institution.

But even though she is 19, we consider our daughter a fledgling, too. It is not that we were caught by surprise that it would have come down eventually to the two of us, Indranie and me, or that the stairs will be increasingly difficult to climb, or that cooking for two is not the same as satisfying four, especially always significantly swollen by two youthful appetites.

Initially, I took consolation in a line from the aptly named poem, 'The Ancient Sage', by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It read, "The shell must break before the bird can fly." It is in the top 100 inspirational quotes by, seems to like it, and the quote is appealingly illustrated on thousands of fridge door magnets and quotable cards. I even had it on a poster in one of my offices. I consoled myself with this thought and the aviational potential of my daughter as demonstrated by her athletic skills and imagination. She would have the wings of a dove, fly high in her academic life, and I would be at rest.

But then I thought of what else can happen when the shell breaks and I lost some of my smugness and sense of 'Father knows best'. Given what I know about, and have experienced in my life and what I see unfolding or unravelling these days, the many pitfalls, the decisions that kids have to make about sex, drugs, and relationships, all so much earlier than I had to, I shuddered.


Chicken or egg


Breaking the egg for the bird to fly is a good idea in many ways, but it can also open a Pandora's box, even if your name is Jasmine and you are already 19 and legally adult. Now the eternal question, 'What came first, the chicken or the egg?' fills me with fears of dire consequences. I am an optimist. Give me a bag of horse manure and I will ransack it for a horse. But give me two daughters and two sons, and even though my belief in God increases, my dreams are punctuated by more than the occasional nightmare.

I know I should be brave and feel really good for my daughter. I am fully aware that I should cast all my fears behind my back as Christ said to Satan. In fact, I should be like the ancient cave dweller who was the first person to eat an egg. He would be the bravest person in the history of humanity if he ate the egg after seeing from whence it came.

But I also wonder, would he ascribe a poisonous egg or one past its sell-by date as a bad day at the orifice and keep returning to the source? It takes real courage to break that shell and dive into the contents thereof, especially if you see not just where it came from, but from whom.

Imagine a Tyrannosaurus family seeing the egg break, but, instead of the bird flying, beholds invaders destroying their hopes and dreams of a future secured by progeny. Maybe they made the fundamental errors that so many of us commit of counting their chickens before they were hatched or putting all their eggs in one reedy basket, but I can tell you without any fear of contradiction, not even from Mr Rex and his spouse, that they will never be as angry or bent on mayhem and retaliation as Indranie and me.


Making omelettes


What bothers me, too, is this thing about not being able to make an omelette without breaking eggs. In fact, it was taken to its worst extreme by Walter Duranty, an American journalist who justified Stalin's excesses in Russia with, "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs." Those 'eggs' were the heads of men, women, and children, and those 'few' were merely tens of millions.

It is the flip side of Tennyson's optimism. It is all right for him to say, "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," but this is not how parents view the world and their offspring. We definitely don't want to lose anything, especially our children.

In his famous short story The Egg, American author Sherwood Anderson wrote, "One unversed in such matters can have no notion of the many and tragic things that can happen to a chicken ... . It is all unbelievably complex. Most philosophers must have been raised on chicken farms ... . In later life, I have seen how literature has been built up on the subject of fortunes to be made out of the raising of chickens ... . It is a hopeful literature and declares that much may be done by simple, ambitious people who own a few hens. Do not be led astray by it. It was not written for you. Go hunt for gold on the frozen hills of Alaska, put your faith in the honesty of a politician, believe if you will that the world is daily growing better and that good will triumph over evil, but do not read and believe the literature that is written concerning the hen. It was not written for you."

Despite the story of my friend Ashmir 'Mottley' Mohammed, who, through scrimping, saving, and the sweat of his brow owned a chicken farm by the time he left secondary school, I am no longer as optimistic as I was, but I take courage in the fact that my daughter is happy and looking forward to university. She is now all smiles, full of hope, and even more, of the excitement of living in a dormitory. She is supposed to share an apartment with another young woman, who, I hope, is nice, helpful, and friendly. In other words, a good egg.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that parenthood is not an eggs-act science.