Thursday, October 30, 2008

“Father to Son”

Published in the Fiji times as, "OFF THE WALL with Padre James Bhagwan", 22/10/08 page 7

Warm Greetings from 'chilly' Scotland!

Today my son Francisco-Xavier turns four years old. It is the first time that he will not have his father with him on his birthday. Many may say, “well he is four years old and there are many birthdays to come.” This is understandable from the perspective of an adult who has seen birthdays come and go. However for someone who is only completing four years of existence, this is quite a hard concept to grasp. As a father who has, until now, never been away from his children for more than three weeks, this is also a difficult time. Especially when my “Little Einstein” 'borrows' his mother's mobile-phone and sends me an SMS text message which reads, “Dear Daddy, all I want for my birthday is for you to come home. I loooove you (obviously to emphasise how much) and I am a good boy. Please come home soon. Love Francisco.”

It is on days like this that I understand the sacrifice many men and women make when, as military, police or civilian peacekeepers and observers, they leave their loved ones in order to serve the greater good. To miss birthdays, wedding anniversaries, births and deaths even Christmas is not easy when you are in a group that can be a surrogate family is hard enough. There are many who endure on their own, with their only consolation being the eventual end of their tour of duty and the fact that they are serving humanity.

As I read the most recent message from my son with the follow up comment from his patient (slightly eroding patience these days) mother, my thoughts flashed back to the day he was born with great pomp and ceremony (from me), much huffing and puffing and the odd scream and obscenity (from his mother) and serenity (the wonderful midwives at the CWM maternity unit).

I remember the moment he entered the world, how my heart skipped a beat as I waited for the midwives to inform me that this bloody mass that had just been delivered was alive and well. The joy when I saw him draw his first breath and heard his first cry. How afraid I was to carry him in case I dropped this fragile new being. The realisation that my life had changed forever.

My son is fortunate to be loved by his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and even on occasion by his little sister. How many children grow up yearning for the love, or even acknowledgement of their parents and family members? My son wants his daddy home for his birthday. How many children want to see their mummy or daddy even just once? I think of those who collect for Christmas presents for the children of prisoners. I think of those who struggle to provide a loving environment for the children at Veilomani, Dilkusha, St. Christopher's and other homes for abandoned children. I think of those in prison who are ostracised by their families, when the one thing they need is love and hope.

My son and my daughter are fortunate indeed. They are loved and this love is expressed in a way in which they can understand and share. They belong to a family which celebrates love: the love of God, the love of each other, the love of neighbour, the love of life and all God's creation. They belong to a family which believes and practices service before self. They belong to a family which holds respect, truth, justice and mercy as immutable values. With God's grace, they will grow up with these values and virtues as an integral part of who they are.

Yet I pray that they will not have to grow up too soon. That they will be able to enjoy their childhood and their youth. That they will not have the responsibility of providing for a family thrust on them so early, like many children in Fiji and around the world do: searching for work, for food when they should be playing hide and seek or going to school.

I often wonder what the future holds for my children and the children of their generation growing up in Fiji. Will they grow up believing that 'might is right' and as such (to borrow a line from the film, “The Mission”) that 'love has no place in the world?' Will they see soldiers on parade as a source of admiration or on the street as a source of fear? Will they learn that hard work, ethics and a thirst for justice, peace and integrity is what makes a leader, or will they see that power is to be gained by any means possible? Will they learn to love their country, or will they learn to look for the best way out? Will they learn to serve others, or will they learn to serve themselves? Will they learn to recognise and acknowledge differences in culture, religion and race while celebrating the common bonds of nationality and humanity, or will they only know discrimination?

I started to write a birthday card for my son, before realising that I might see him before he receives it. I once wrote a letter to my late father, when he was contemplating whether or not to join the 2000 interim government's constitution review commission. The Fiji Times was kind enough to publish that letter from a son to his father. I hope they will be kind enough to publish this letter from a father to his son:

Dear Francisco-Xavier,

I am sorry that I can't be with you on your birthday. I want you to know that I am thinking of you today and wish you a very happy birthday. Do you know that there are many boys and girls who also do not get to be with their parents on their birthdays? So you are not alone. But some of these children may never see their mummies or daddies again. You have your mummy and sister and grandma and big family very close to you. And soon you will have your daddy with you.

You will get many presents and maybe even have a party for your birthday. Some children never get any presents or have even a cake for their birthday. So you are a very fortunate boy. I hope you have a lot of fun on your birthday but please remember all the little boys and girls in the world who do not have any fun on their birthday.

My son, on this day I want to hold you and hug you and kiss you. I would very much like to play with you and help you open your presents and blow your birthday cake. I promise you that, if God allows me, next year I will be there.

For your birthday:
I pray that all your dreams will come true;
That every time your heart is broken, it will grow twice as much;
That the world will be as kind to you as you are to it;
That love and courage will grow abundantly in you;
That God will always guide and protect you;
And that mummy and I will be there to see you grow into a man.

I love you very much. Have a Happy Birthday!
See you soon.
Love from Daddy.

May your week be blessed with love, light, peace, hope and joy!

Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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