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WORD VIEW – My kingdom for a sheep

Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW – My kingdom for a sheep

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My mother did not attend any classes on parenting skills. All she knew was that she had a son who was growing up and that she needed to teach him responsibility. At the beginning of one summer vacation she bought him a sheep. Yes, she did.
My brother had to tie out the sheep, cut “meat” for the sheep, take water for the sheep, bring the sheep back home on evenings and secure it in the pen; then start the process all over again the next day.
My brother hated the animal. I don’t think there was anything, man or beast, that he hated more in his young life.
I have no doubt that the sheep was even more relieved than my brother was when the two parted company. I don’t remember what was its fate, but nothing, I am sure, could have been worse for that creature than the period of time it was unfortunate enough to have  been in my brother’s “care”.
I am not sure how successful my mother was in teaching my brother the lessons she intended. She may well have managed to inspire in him an enduring dislike for anything even remotely resembling sheep.
But at least for a length of time, my brother was made to understand that life was more than pitching marbles, playing cowboy and crook, and flying kites. Living had to do with taking on unpleasant tasks, putting one’s own interests aside at times, as well as the discipline of following instructions given by those in authority.
How different things are these days!
Responsibility? I’ve heard of cases where boys have to be paid by their parents for cutting the lawn. Can you imagine my brother having such expectations? My mother would probably have chased him around the (lawn?) with a belt or a stick until the job was done.
Nowadays, I deal with some mothers who assure me that their sons can afford to concentrate on their studies since they have nothing at all to do at home. And these mothers are dead serious. Meanwhile the sons are equipped with a Blackberry, laptop, telephone, as well as a television set in their room.
The trouble is that many such young men tend to buckle under the pressure that is the norm for tertiary level studies; they are not used to the kind of responsibility that makes any tough demands on them.
But academic pressure might not be the worse kind for these young males. There is a breed of young woman these days that is not easy. They’ll tell you flat out that they are not going to “cook, wash or iron for no man”. They, too, are dead serious. Besides, they are used to being competitive, and have little consideration for anything called the male ego.
So what is going to happen to these spoilt young men? The hearts of some of these “tough” females might change under the spell of love. But given the degree of cynicism prevalent among the young, there is no such guarantee.
What further complicates this matter is that these mothers, who are often bringing up these sons without a father, find themselves under tremendous pressure as well.
My mother was innocent of any such thing as child psychology, children’s rights or any of the more modern ideas. Moreover, scarcity was the norm.
“Be contented with what you have” was the eleventh commandment we all knew and obeyed. What other choice did we have?
But many of the mothers to whom I refer above are over-anxious to see their sons do well. They’re often determined to prove to an absent father that the son can succeed. Moreover, the mother is doing her utmost to secure her son’s love so as not to suffer his rejection as she did his father’s.
There may also be the fear that unless the young man is kept happy and contented, he may turn to drugs or other kinds of illegal activities.  
Our present Barbadian society is, admittedly, far more complex than the time in which my brother grew up. And I have my doubts as to whether he would recommend the method used by my mother. But we do our young men no good when we deprive them of opportunities to be disciplined and responsible citizens. Incidentally, my brother turned out just fine.
Correction: in my article The Nerve Of God, January 9, I meant to refer to Richard Dawkins and not Chris Dawkins.
• Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century.