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Though Barbados is far more like T&T (and Jamaica and Guyana and Antigua and St Kitts and Dominica and so on) than unlike it, there are differences between the two that make it difficult, sometimes, to avoid thinking Barbados is, sometimes, exactly like Trini-dad—except 30 years behind. It’s not just the crime (the most glaring dissimilarity). In newspaper publishing, eg, I sometimes encounter mindsets I first met up with (ie, railed against) when I joined the fourth estate in 1988. Although newspapers in Trinidad and England are still largely shaped by the personality of their editors—and that has always been a good and desirable thing—the editor’s influence is considerably less complete nowadays. In Barbados, editors still wield an authority as complete as the man on the horse of our past; deeply ironic, yes, but not any less effective for that. The column below, eg, was refused a couple years ago by someone in charge of the newsroom on a Sunday (not an editor proper), because it was “too negative.” It wasn’t that the column went too far, as was the case when I mocked the Bajan love of corporal punishment with this opening paragraph: It’s unusual but I agree with the pastors when it comes to corporal punishment: I’m an avid supporter of flogging in schools in Barbados. Indeed, I think it was a huge mistake to have stopped it in the fields.
No, this was the only instance, in almost 25 years, that a column giving my opinion—ie, doing what I was paid to do—was refused because someone disliked it. (I’d be of no use to anyone if what I wrote wasn’t disliked by some people, particularly those responsible for the relevant pappyshow.) But, since it was Father’s Day last Sunday (and since I don’t interpret “freedom of the press” so widely as to mean I should not be paid for what I write), I invite you to have a look, and say for yourself whether the security guard posing as editor that day was correct. (Two years later, by the way, my Father’s Day gifts were a U2 360 DVD, Kei Miller’s The Last Warner Woman, the Sydney “Bullmoose” Knox biography by Robert Clarke and A Red Death, an Easy Rawlins mystery by Walter Mosley.) Here it is: It was Father’s Day yesterday and I’m wondering if it should have been celebrated in Barbados at all. I don’t resent the notion of the day itself; indeed, I’m pretty sure I did quite well out of it, gift-wise. If I’m not reading a Henning Mankel Kurt Wallander detective novel or watching a DVD of Au Revoir Les Enfants tonight, for example, the title of that classic French film may be brought into play literally. But how many men in our part of the world are genuine fathers? In many households in the Carib-bean, there are no adult males present at all (not counting rainy Saturday nights). Even when fathers are present, they often do more harm than good.
The West Indian notion of fathering consists entirely—one might say, “in toto”—of putting a good cut-a-- on the boy twice a day until he learns respect, a variation on the Captain Bligh theory that the beatings will continue until morale improves. What’s more (by which I really mean, “what’s less”), the attitude is prevalent throughout society. At our highest (ie, our richest and most brutal) social levels, it’s hard to distinguish between the contemporary West Indies and the Wild, Wild West of old. They’re both dominated by gun-totin’, hard-drinkin’, loud-cussin’, women-hatin’ real men, who don’t even father the notion of their children. Screen the best business families in the West Indies and you’ll find the region’s coarsest, hardest and most cruel temperaments at their helms. These are families in which, if you go back far enough, the patriarch would look forward to starting his day by whipping the very people for whom he was entirely responsible; viewed from a historical perspective, it’s no wonder that authority figures in the West Indies are all-powerful.
The view is so deeply ingrained that it comes as a shock when it is rejected; consider the look on the face of former T&T Prime Minister Patrick Manning, the other day, when he learned that the voters—the people he thought he was “ruling”— had tossed him out and elected a woman. It is very difficult for us, West Indians, to believe that the man in the Great House is not a demi-god; especially for the man in the Great House himself. Roam the back streets of the Ivy or the City and, if you find an adult male who has children, chances are he has cast himself from the same omnipotent mould as his would-be exemplar. The attitude may be softened by a religious belief but it’s more likely to be hardened by it. You can trace the lineage of the big-shot business tycoon who humiliates his own adult sons almost to tears in public all the way back to Abraham, who mutilated his firstborn son to please a god clearly in desperate need of an anger-management class. Even the so-called holy books are filled with psychology textbook examples of shocking paternal decisions. Indeed, the most important tenet of Christianity—that God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son to suffer and die that mankind might be redeemed for all eternity—is a choice that would have God the Father hauled before child welfare social workers in any liberal democracy. In that context, and in this place, do our fathers, whose art is hellish, deserve a day of recognition?
BC Pires is in touch with his feminine wife. E-mail your father defences to him at [email protected]
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