Hypegiaphobia

As many of you will be aware, I am engaged to be married to the lovely Lauren, and while I am enthusiastically looking forward to August next year (the date of the wedding), there are a few things I am not so keen on facing. Firstly, will I be able to cope with the responsibilities of being a husband? I hope so, and I will certainly do my best. Secondly, and more worryingly, Lauren is adamant that she wants children and, while I would also like to be a father, I am terrified about the levels of responsibility required for that role. I’ll be honest, when I was living on my own I would happily go a couple of days without eating, just because I’d forget. I would only eat crap, because cooking a proper meal for one person is far more effort than it’s worth. I would go without sleep (partly because I suffer from insomnia and partly because sleeping alone is depressing) for long stretches. I would spend days playing video games because I could. Unlike now, when the opportunity rarely presents itself.

I won’t be able to do any of that when I become a father (except for the sleep part). It isn’t that I want to do any of that, really, it’s just that the option will have been removed from me. I’ve never been very good with being told not to do something. It has always triggered that retarded slice of my brain labelled ‘rebel‘ and I have to force myself not to immediately go and do the thing I’ve been told not to. Stupid, I know, but that’s what my brain does. I blame James Dean and Marlon Brando.

“Hey, Jon! What are you rebelling against?”
“Whaddya got?”

So Lauren wants kids, and I am certainly not going to tell her that I don’t, because I do. Really, I do want children. I am just terrified that I won’t be able to cope with the pressures of fatherhood. I look at those friends of mine who have kids and marvel at the way they manage (and even flourish) in what seems to be a non-stop cavalcade of bizarre conversations, shitty nappies, sleepless nights, stress, fear and pain. Kids cost a fortune as well, and stop you doing the things that you may want to do. It amazes me that anyone would ever have kids by choice.

And yet…

Yes, I still do want kids. And I want Lauren to be the mother of those kids. Ideally, I want a son, and I want to be able to bring him up to be a good person, but I’m terrified of that responsibility. Once you have a child, there is no way of walking away from that. You become a parent and, regardless of anything else that happens, you will always be a parent. The only choice is to be a good parent or a bad one.

I hope I can be a good dad. My dad is someone who I look up to tremendously, a true role model. He and my mum instilled in me a sense of morality that, while difficult to live up to sometimes, is an excellent guide to social existence. I don’t think I can be as good a father as my dad is to me, but I can try to meet his standards. I won’t succeed, but even if I only get halfway there I’ll consider myself a good father.

The fear is still there, but it’s the fear of something that is at least two years away. We aren’t going to be trying for a baby until after we are married, so I have some time to get used to the idea. It doesn’t stop the creeping dread. What if I have another nervous breakdown? What if I simply cannot cope with the demands of parenthood and it triggers a serious depressive reaction? What if the strain is too much for our relationship and Lauren leaves me? What if..? What if..? What if..?

Of course, it might be wonderful. It might be all soft-focus lenses and the smell of babies heads. It might be a nappy commercial from start to finish. But that’s not how my brain works. It obviously homes in on the negative and rolls that around my brain until my stomach is a tight, twisted ball of anxiety and my head is pounding.

And this fear is for something that hasn’t even happened yet! Imagine how I feel about going back to work!

I hate my brain…

Looking on the Bright Side…

Yesterday I wrote an article in which I discussed a couple of things that piss me off. I realised that i had rather ‘gone off on one’ so called it a day after only talking about three things. Believe me, I could still be writing that list. I’ll probably go back to it at some point and add more bits and pieces, but today i thought I’d try and balance the scales a little by writing about things that make me happy.

As you’d expect from a depressive, this isn’t going to be as long a list. In fact, I suspect it will be much, much harder to write, but hopefully some of the things that give me pleasure will bring a smile to your faces as well. So let’s start with a picture:

Seth Casteel's awesome underwater dog photography

I challenge anyone with a soul to look into that dog’s eyes and not feel just a little happier. You can see lots more of Seth Casteel’s amazing photography at www.littlefriendsphoto.com. Seriously, if you’re down, go and have a look. You will be smiling by the end of it. Dogs in general make me happy anyway, especially when they are displaying that special joy of just being alive. A dog running about, or playing with a ball, actually lifts my cynical, calloused soul into something approaching happiness. I freely admit to being a totally soppy bastard when it comes to dogs, although bigger dogs are much nicer than little rat-type things in my opinion.

Next on the list are lizards. I know, lizards aren’t necessarily what you’d call cute, but they are kind of cool. Take a look at what I mean:

"I'm watching you."

It is difficult not to anthropomorphise animals at the best of times, but a photo like this makes it next to impossible. That lizard is clearly smiling! Why is he happy? What does he know? And why does it make me smile when I see it? I’m a rational man in his mid-thirties, there is no way I should be swayed by an image like this, but if this was an advert I’d definitely be buying that product. Silly, isn’t it? Whenever I go into a pet shop (which is more often than you’d think, considering that I don’t have any pets) I always make a bee-line for the lizards. I have been considering buying one for a long time, but my fiancée really isn’t keen! So it remains an unfulfilled dream.

Next up, reading. Well, obviously. I love getting lost in a good story. It doesn’t even have to be that well written, just a good story is enough to keep me happy. Currently at the top of my list are The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, the Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman (as well as American Gods, Anansi Boys and Neverwhere by the same author), the Space Captain Smith series by Toby Frost (and if ubermunchkin is reading this, I want them back, damn you! ;)), the Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay and others too numerous to mention. I tend to have several books on the go at any one time and chew through them at a slightly annoying rate. It costs a fortune…

Ok, moving on, I also get happiness from intelligent comedy. My all-time favourite television programme is the BBCs QI, hosted by Stephen Fry. If you haven’t seen the show, check it out on youtube. It’s brilliant. The concept is that of a quiz show, except that the questions are insanely difficult, because they generally appear to be things that everyone knows. However, the show hinges on the fact that what everyone knows is usually wrong.

QI host Stephen Fry with regular panellist Alan Davies

Points are awarded for correct answers (obviously) but more often for just being interesting or funny, and obvious answers are penalised. That’s the theory anyway. In reality, the scoring system is so arcane and (possibly) random, not even the guests understand how they achieved the scores that they did. It is fairly common for every panellist to end the show with a negative score, and not unheard of for an episode to be won by the audience! The other thing about QI is that it turns you into the most annoying pedant in the world. You become the sort of person who points out that people used to believe that Saturn’s rings were formed from Jesus’ foreskin, or Henry VIII technically only had two wives (or possibly three. Maybe four. But definitely not six), or that the sun has already set when the bottom of it touches the horizon (because of the light-bending properties of the atmosphere). I can watch it over and over again, and frequently do.

Because I enjoy science-fiction, the idea of concept vehicles fascinate me. It is slightly depressing that none of these incredible machines ever make it into production, but it is fun to look through a bunch of photos of them. Here are a couple for your delectation:

A Moto-Guzzi concept bike

A Cadillac concept car

I like cars and bikes. Not in a ‘This model produces nearly 500bhp per tonne and a top speed of blah blah blah’, but more in a ‘Wow, that looks really cool’ kind of a way. Yep, I really am that shallow! I watch Top Gear mainly for the outrageous challenges and Clarkson’s latest bout of racist/sexist/anythingelseist logorrhea, but I do like admiring the shape of the vehicles on display. I just couldn’t care less about lap times and so on.

Finally, the thing that gives me most happiness is simply this: Friends and family. A little cheesy, perhaps, but true. I, like most people, enjoy spending time with people that I respect. I don’t have to agree with them all the time, in fact friendly arguments can be hugely entertaining (one argument concerning the veracity of claims that Deckard from Blade Runner is a replicant [SPOILER: HE IS!] has been running for a good fifteen years). Just taking time to chat and relax with friends is a source of proper joy.

Most of all, though, my fiancée makes me happy. She is loving and caring (probably far more so than I deserve!), with all the common sense and forward planning that I lack. She is gorgeous and I love her very much. She makes me happy and I want to make her happy in return.

So on that rather soppy note, I’ll finish up with a question: What makes you happy?

The Tyranny of Tolerance

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the highest ranking Roman Catholic in the UK and the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has unfortunately decided that he has the right to preach morality to the country and in doing so has exposed his unacceptable levels of bigotry and intolerance. How has he done this? He has criticised the government’s plans to legalize same-sex marriage (as opposed to the civil partnerships that are currently allowed in law). These plans WILL NOT force churches to allow same-sex religious ceremonies. They DO NOT have any effect on the religious institutions in the UK. Surely, I hear the logical among you cry, that means it’s got nothing to do with the church then!

Apparently, he disagrees.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien: Really doesn't approve of the cock.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, O’Brien calls the proposition “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Let me highlight what I see as an important part of that sentence: “a universally accepted human right”. Unless you’re gay, in which case the implication is that you don’t have the same human rights as the rest of us. You are somehow less than human. He asks “what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?” The answer, of course, is that nothing will happen, because teachers are currently not allowed to tell pupils that. Teachers have to teach the curriculum, not their own personal opinions. Teachers aren’t even supposed to talk about their own personal political views, in case they unfairly influence the children in their care. He suggests that teachers and pupils will be “the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs”. Well, as a Catholic cardinal, he’d know all about crushing dissent from orthodoxy.

O'Brien would really hate this.

The cardinal continues by considering “the point of view of the child”. He suggests that same-sex marriage would rob the child of the right to start life with a mother and a father. Much like prison. Or death. Or divorce. I don’t want to get onto the whole “when Catholic priests stop raping kids I might listen to their views on morality” trip (there’s already plenty of that on the internet already), but there is an element of logic to it. Until the Catholic church has its own house in order, they have no place interfering in the running of the country. The Catholic church has a long and despicable record of child abuse within its ranks, so it is repugnant that they would dare to consider “the point of view of the child” or dare to take the moral high ground on issues of childcare. I know that not every Catholic priest is a child molester, but the record of cover-ups is as long and despicable as the record of abuse, and it is unlikely that a high-ranking official (such as cardinal O’Brien) was not aware of such behaviour. I am not for a moment suggesting that O’Brien was involved in either abuse or cover-ups, simply that they existed, as O’Brien’s apologies to the victims over the last decade have proved. In fact, one of His Eminence’s Irish colleagues, Cardinal Seán Brady, was revealed to have been involved in an official church cover up of Father Brendan Smyth’s sexual abuse of dozens of children in the 1970s.

At this point in his article, O’Brien’s prose blossoms into full fantasy as he asks if marriage can be redefined from a man and a woman to a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, what is to stop three men all getting married to each other, or two men and a woman?

“Sex between a man and a woman can be wonderful, provided you can get between the right man and the right woman.” - Woody Allen

Well, so what? If three people decide that they love each other and wish to live like that, who’s to say they shouldn’t be allowed to get married? It may not be your cup of tea, but it would be a bloody boring world if we were all alike, wouldn’t it? Some people find that swinging keeps their marriage fresh and exciting, some people have their marriage ruined by swinging. It’s swings and roundabouts (sorry – couldn’t resist). As long as it is done with the informed consent of all parties, whatever people choose to do to/with/for each other is entirely their business, and if they want to show their commitment to several people at once, why should anyone want to stop them? It isn’t morally degenerate to admit that you are able to love more than one person, so why should it be frowned on? Bigamy is illegal, but why? There is no reason that it should be as long as all parties are aware of, and agree to, the situation! It’s certainly less morally objectionable than rape, or abuse, or using your position as a leading member of a prominent religious group to preach hate and intolerance in an attempt to dictate government policy. There is, or should be, a separation of church and state (especially between the Catholic Church and the state – Just ask Henry VIII). Religious groups can certainly comment and offer their opinion on government decisions, but O’Brien is as guilty of preaching intolerance as Abu Hamza, after all, both used religion as a basis for their messages of hate. Ok, this may be a slight exaggeration. O’Brien has not, at time of writing, shown support for a medieval theocracy determined to subjugate women, homosexuals, other religions… Oh, hang on…

O’Brien claims that the fact that churches would not be required to perform same-sex marriages if they did not wish to is “staggeringly arrogant”, and states that “no Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood   meaning of marriage”, presumably because the “moral authority” belongs to him. As I understand it, as far more than the “small minority of activists” that he alludes to understand it, marriage is the union in law of two people who are willing to publicly declare their love for, and ongoing commitment to, each other. I’m sure that you have noticed the lack of gender-specific terms in my definition. Cardinal O’Brien, on the other hand, is adamant that marriage has “only ever meant the legal union of a man and a woman”. Tradition is obviously important, especially to such a venerable institution as the Catholic Church. After all, they have not changed anything for many centuries. Except their attitude to slavery. And the age of the earth. And that atheists and heretics should be executed, as should anyone who translates the bible into English. And a few more things, now that I think about it.

This man is entitled to his opinion, of course, but he should be very careful about the message he is conveying. It is very easy to read his article (available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9121424/We-cannot-afford-to-indulge-this-madness.html) as a direct attack on homosexuality, rather than an attack on same-sex marriages (although this is a largely semantic distinction). He describes marriage as a universal human right, before going on to explain why he thinks homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to have that right. O’Brien has never been afraid to court controversy, and this may simply be a way to convince his followers that he and his institution are still relevant in today’s society. And so they may be, to their followers, but they are not to me. They have no right to preach morality to me: I do not live in a Catholic state. I do not subscribe to their dogma. I do not believe their stories. I do not want them to try to tell me what i can or cannot do, who I can or cannot marry.

And neither should you.

UPDATE: The Coalition For Equal Marriage (C4em) has a petition to sign if you are in favour of same-sex marriages. Please take a few minutes to sign up at http://www.c4em.org.uk/. Thank you.