Love and Freedom

My parents gave me great riches. Not the material kind of course, but an inheritance of far greater intrinsic value. Who I am, they played a key role in nurturing and forming. And that, I think, is a critical part of a parent's love for a child.

I don't think my mother and father raised me with preordained ideas as who I should be. They certainly didn't try to fulfill any of their lost dreams by foisting them on to me - I would have made a very poor nuclear physicist, my father's first academic love. And I wasn't pushed or prodded into any childhood hobbies. There were no piano lessons, no after-school school cricket, no French lessons. But I wasn't ignored or left in want of attention either. Instead, my parents sought to understand my natural leanings, and  then to encourage these to their utmost.

And my natural leanings, to many, were in hindsight a bit odd. I wasn't a typical kid. Sure I occasionally played with action men, blowing them up by strapping fire-crackers to their chests. I even dabbled for one season in rugby, playing for Marist as a rather small and lazy-eyed nine-year old. But my lack of hand-eye coordination, still little improved, probably made it quite a relief that my real passions lay elsewhere. And there began a career that I still have today.

For as far back as primary school, the natural world around me enraptured my attention. My ideal Saturday would be to go to a local drain, so I could traipse through the water and muck finding pond snails, leeches, and water-boatmen. As a young child I didn't roam the neighborhood on my own of course - while other parents watched their kids from the sideline, mine watched me from the stream side. Then I would take them home and study them under a desk lamp, making scientific observations in a notebook on behaviour, habitat, or diet.  And my interests didn't stop at bugs. I remember one day gathering my plant collection together in a row on the deck, then marching my entire family dutifully past them as I staged a "plant exhibition". I guess my sister was long-suffering also.

On a steady diet of "childrens" books, including the authors David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell, I saw myself as a true-blue animal collector. The only bounds my parents placed on this was a rat ban - one family member who can remain anonymous had, and still has, muriphobia. I milked these wide boundaries for all they were worth. I raised tadpoles to frogs in my bedroom, and had multiple fish tanks, axolotyls, rabbits, skinks, ringneck parakeets, finches, and cockatiels. And in addition to these the family pets added, at various points in time, dogs, cats, goats, possums, chickens, and bees. The schools I went to weren't exempt either. I kept a plant collection in my Standard 3 classroom, that I would diligently air outside at lunchtimes for extra light, and at intermediate school I kept a tank of golden bell frogs in the school library. This was probably in hindsight not a good call - I would spend many lunchtimes catching flies by the school compost heap, much to the ridicule of my ball-sport playing peers. Eventually the frog's incessant croaking made the librarian request their removal - "the library is a quiet place". I was not to be deterred. Tanks and their denizens continued to multiply and by the age of 14, I had a dedicated fish-room in the downstairs basement.  I remember having shelves after shelves all stacked with tanks, and breeding creatures to feed to breeding creatures. I had whole food-chains going with predators and prey.

And yet my parent's still encouraged me. Not phased by the prospect of old age without a white-collared son to support them, they fostered this mad love of the living. There was no pressure at high school to take one subject over another - only to make sure I selected the subjects I loved. So I finished my schooling with an eclectic mix of English, Sciences, and Practical Art. I even had their encouragement to pursue a double degree in Fine Arts and Science though, as it turned out, the university couldn't cope with such a disparate conjoint degree. I remember my dad disparagingly discussing what the university would have done if Leonardo da Vinci had wanted to do the same!

And so childhood passions, fostered by loving parents, had the freedom to flourish into the interests of a lifetime. Entering university, I finally found "critical mass"  of like-minded people. My hobbies were no longer strange and I pursued my academic interests unhindered through a BSc, MSc, and PhD. Perhaps my parents knew all along that a child will find success in the working world if they love what they do. Now for work, I sometimes find myself thrown back 30 years. Dredging through a drain to discover what lives there, or catching fish, I sometimes think "I am paid to do this??!!"

So this is a big public "thank you" to my parents for their incredible love and freedom. You allowed me to become who I was meant to be. I await the blossoming of my children's interests with anticipation.