By Michael Laws
Last week I turned 55. For some bizarre reason, that anniversary has rocked me more than any of the decade numbers that preceded it. I should have had my mid-life crisis already – at 40 or even 50.
But, typically, I'm a late starter. Fifty-five makes me think of 60. And in my mind, 60 is old. I grew up in a generation where we regarded anyone aged 60 as but one step from retirement and eternal rest.
Except that I am part of the greatest social revolution in the history of humankind. I am part of a new society that partners and re-partners and re-partners and does not regard mating for life as an imperative.
So it is that I have a young family and have learnt to be a father. Sorry, I am learning to be a father – each day another mystery is solved but a new one presents itself. One of my most significant discoveries – no, my most significant – is that I am not at the centre of the universe.
That my innate selfishness has been utterly undermined by the concept of service to my children. That they are the centre of the universe and I am but an orbiting if influential sphere.
And that I will die. That mortality is proximate. At best, I have lived longer than I have left.
At such times, most smart New Zealanders are considering the next 10 years and how they might reasonably plan for their retirement. As an older dad, I am of that new tribe that sees the next 10 years as the critical years for my children's development. The foundation for their later opportunity and success. Retirement is not an option.
Which makes me think thoughts that I would rather not. And about their immediate environment – the life that I might provide them.
I do so against a general instability in our society. The old traditions have fallen, the older principles have been battered and compromised. The certain if sometimes suffocating social structures of the 20th century have fallen away.
Or have they? Because I am discovering – as a parent – that when I'm trying to teach my children what is right, what is wrong, and what their place in humanity is, I keep coming back to the bedrock of an established morality.
Don't lie or steal; do work hard; do accept that you have a duty to help those not as talented as you. And give thanks that you are OK – that your body and your mind, your physical and intellectual attributes will gift you opportunities that are going to be denied to so many.
My younger children are aged 7, 5 and 3. Already their personalities are obvious and their potential clear. And despite me being their father, they have drawn most of life's winning numbers.
They are born in a relatively settled country. It might be on the economic wane compared to its OECD colleagues, but there's always Australia on the doorstep.
They have a mum and dad who love them. They are a part of a wider whanau, who are way more settled and successful than Daddy, in case I have an accident or aneurysm.
They go to a good school and have good teachers. The teachers like it there because they are teachers, not social workers. Their charges like learning and are self-motivated: it's the way schooling was intended to be.
And despite Lucy's brush with death, and Zoe's brief flirt with birth mishap, they are hale and hearty and exhibit empathy and sensitivity as well as IQ. No sign of the minor Asperger's that mars their father's make-up.
But – and it's the big but – how to instil into these kids the principles, the morality, the values that will see them lead not only a successful life, but also a good life? I surmise that they will pick most of this up from osmosis and observation. But being the frustrated preacher I am, I can see some future dinner discussions getting preachy.
At which point, I realise I am lucky. Fortunate. That I may be 55 but that my next 15 years are pretty secure as to ambit and ambition.
And I realise that too many families and too many children have none of the stability of above. That even were I unemployed and on welfare, that my kids would be fine. Because the other building blocks are already there.
Which is why this country needs to stay passionate about its children's futures. And not abandon them to the feckless and the ferals – if that has been their birth fate. Because it dooms those kids too.
The liberals have failed a generation of New Zealand children. They have maintained that the rights of the feckless and ferals trump the rights of the kids they have created. And it remains our greatest shame, our greatest stain, that we are still letting them get away with it.
Sunday Star Times, 1st July 2012