In a few weeks our son Sam turns 20 months old. In a few more I will be turning 58. It seems like a good time to reflect on fatherhood, the fourth time around, and to talk about the differences between raising a child in America and here in Thailand. First of all many of you have children of your own. Many of your children were born and raised in Farangland. Three of my sons were born there when I was in my thirties. Many of you have Thai wives and have little (or not so little) leuk kreung living her in LOS. Although Sam is truly the love of our lives, if you had asked me a few years ago if my wife and I were planning to have children, the answer would have been a definite no! And yet Sam was no “mistake” He was quite deliberately (and enthusiastically) conceived.
Back in the very first piece I ever wrote for Stick “How it all began”. I talked about a life and death experience that altered my life here forever. I had a near fatal heart attack. If some friends hadn’t gotten me out of the government hospital where I was first taken, and brought to Chiang Mai Ram hospital, I wouldn’t be writing this or anything. After a couple of angioplasties performed by my friend Dr. Pattatapong, I eventually made a full recovery.
After returning to the place we were renting while our new home was under construction, my tee rak made a startling request. “You may die at any time. I hope we will have a long happy life together, but if you die I don’t want to be left all alone. You must help produce a baby!” Wow, that came out of the blue! Back when we first discussed the possibility of getting married, the subject of children naturally came up. Did she want to have children? The answer was a most definite no! To be honest I felt relieved that she felt that way. I had already been a father three times already. Then, at the age of 48, I already felt too old to try my hand at that again. And so for the first six years of our marriage we were a happy childless couple. Now suddenly the balance was going to through a major realignment. Was I now really too old to be a daddy again? Could I have the energy to do it again? I suppose fatherhood is like riding a bicycle. It’s something you never forget how to do. But did I want to do it again. Any of you who are fathers know how much work it is be a good father. After a minute or so of silent contemplation, I heard myself saying, “Of course darling, if that’s what you really want.” I do truly adore my wife. She has brought so much happiness into my life. How can I deny the truth of what she said? I really could die, and I didn’t want to leave her alone. I only hoped that my health would be good enough that I wasn’t going to die before my child grew up. So once I got the “thumbs up” from my doctor for the resumption of normal physical activity. I proceeded to give my darling wife what she wanted. And damn it if she didn’t get pregnant almost immediately! In a male ego kind of way I was happy to know that I wasn’t “shooting blanks”!
Nine months we were living in our new home, with one bedroom (painted a bright Raspberry) set up as a nursery. My wife was feeling ready to get that “watermelon” out! I wished that there had been pre-natal courses here for her to take, because she was definitely feeling scared. Back in Farangland I sure many of you dads went with your wife to take a course at your local hospital. For all you non dads, there you learn about all the different stages of childbirth, how to relax, how to breathe, how to handle the pain of contractions. Plus you learn about how to take care of your newborn at home during the first few days and weeks. There are also hundreds of pregnancy and childbirth books available. Here in Thailand, none of that exists. It’s a good thing I was present for the birth of my other children. It was I who wound up being my wife’s mentor. I told my wife to completely ignore all the superstitious garbage her family and other Thai women were trying to fill her head up with. All of my wife’s siblings had been born at home…..in less than sterile conditions. She had actually been born on the kitchen table! My wife said we should just go to a local government hospital because “it is cheaper”. I put a halt to that idea immediately. I wasn’t going to leave my baby to the mercy of some government hacks! Hey these were the guys who refused to admit that I was having a heart attack! Nope, we were going to Khelongnakorn Ram Hospital here in Lampang. I already liked our obstetrician Dr. Klong, moreover I trusted the guy….and the nursing staff.
Eventually one night labor began. Again because she didn’t really understand the labor process, my wife became nervous. Eventually we wound up checking in at the hospital. After a quick examination, it was clear that this was going to be a long, long labor. It’s always stressful to see the one you love in so much pain. All I could do was to hold her hand and feed her some ice chips. After a long night, not much progress has been made. She was only dilated a few centimeters. (sorry to go into those kinds of details) Dr. Klong realized that the best option was to perform a caesarean. At that point, my wife just wanted to get it over with and so agreed readily. I only hoped that this guy was as good a surgeon as all the nurses said he was. It turned out that not only was he a crackerjack surgeon, but also lived by to his name Klong, which means quick. Thankfully I was ordered out to the waiting room. Childbirth I can handle, and it’s nice to be there to see the finish of what you started! Surgery though is another matter. If I had to witness the doctor slicing into my wife’s abdomen, I would immediately pass out on the floor. I don’t had much of a stomach for blood and guts!
Before I knew it I was being called in to hold my little boy for the first time. I had told my wife that we should follow what I believe is a Vedic tradition and whisper the baby’s name into his ear. That HE should be the first to know. And so why the quietest of whispers I hold our son that his name was Samuel Thongkam G***er. Samuel was my late father’s name. Thongkam was my wife’s family name. And in a cosmic coincidence, her family name and my family name have exactly the same meaning…gold! How’s that for a Twilight Zone moment! A Thai word and a Yiddish word mean the same thing! Gee does this mean we were “fated” to be married? Who cares? We found each other and produced this incredibly beautiful little bundle, and that’s all that matters!
Because a caesarean is major surgery, my wife and Sam spent a week in the hospital. At first he spent a lot of time bundled up in the nursery under the sunlamps to get rid of the typical baby jaundice. Soon his skin when from yellow to a nice healthy pink. The pediatric nurses there were dolls. They were so lovingly tender, I was able to stay and watch for his first bath. Periodically Sam was wheeled back to be with his mom, although still hurting, was beginning the bonding process. It took some time to get nursing started, but once it did, it seemed that he was semi attached much of the time. 19 months later he is still nursing. Some of my wife’s family keeps trying to get her to stop. Hey mother’s milk is what nature intended to consume. He eats plenty of other foods, rice, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit etc. When he’s ready to stop nursing he will!
I’ll skip over most of the real baby days. To be honest a lot of these things are of interest only to that child’s parents. I’ll only say that Sam went through all the development stages at the appropriate times. My wife has turned out to be a super mom. Sam couldn’t have a more caring a loving mother. When it comes to health matters, she actually reads the pediatric care books I got for the U.S.
Of course all parents are prejudiced when it comes to their kids…..but I have to admit that Sam is one “hansum” little guy! Any of you who have leuk kreung babies know how the Thais love to fuss over them. We can’t go anywhere in public without a dozen women wanted to pick him up to squeeze tickle, or kiss him. It can be a bit too much sometimes. Sam has inherited his mother’s good looks along with my white skin and brown hair. All in all not a bad combination!
He is a real little monkey. If I turn my back on him for a single moment, he’s likely to be scaling the heights of the most dangerous place in the room! Perhaps a budding mountaineer in training? He definitely is a ball of fire. I only wish I had a fraction of his energy. Being a hell of a lot older than the last time I went through toddlerhood doesn’t help either. I’d better keep up with my vitamins if I hope to keep up.
It’s hard to be completely objective, and all of my children were definitely on the clever side, but Sam seems to be an incredibly quick (and eager) learner. I brought back a stack of children’s books from a recent trip back to the U.S. Until he learns to be more delicate with how he handles them, I’ve started him off with some chunky “board” books, mostly picture books of things like everyday items, animals, etc. The very first thing he does in the morning is to ask for his books. He can say that word and many others quite clearly. He certainly has a better memory than I did at that age! I serious doubt that I could rattle a few dozen animals at 19 months, and exotic ones to boot like orang-utan, cheetah, koala. Oh well enough of the bragging. A parent can get away with a little of that, but after a while friends’ eyes begin to glaze over. Anyhow, that’s not the focus of this piece. I wanted to talk more about fatherhood when I was young versus fatherhood now that I’m a bit older. I also will get to the difference between raising children in America as opposed to Thailand.
To get the some perspective I need to go back to 1981, when my first son was born. I was only 24 years old when I got married in1974. My wife was only 19. We both had the good sense to realize that having children right away would be a bad idea. We both needed to grow up a bit before bringing somebody else into the world. We spent seven years doing an amazing amount of things. We both went back to school and finished our degrees. That’s how I wound up with a B.A. in education. My wife’s was in Fine Arts. We traveled throughout the U.S. We took our first trip abroad to Greece and had a great time. The Greeks are very friendly folks. We also worked like dogs saving up the money for a down payment on our first home. For the first seven years our life together was mostly pretty happy at that point and not the living hell that it eventually became. It was time to have a baby.
Like many expectant parents we read all the books, attended all the classes, and in the end thought ourselves ready to be parents! Looking back on it now we were of course terribly naïve, but we were earnest if nothing else. But the reality of little Eli Alexander’s arrival was still mind blowing. Our first two children were born in a Birth Center located next to the local hospital. It was a much homier environment than the typical hospital delivery room. I don’t think any woman would describe childbirth as a picnic, but things went as well as could be expected. After a relatively short labor, suddenly there was a new little human being in the world, healthy and wailing away. The typical hospital stay after delivery is 2-4 days. We were bundling our baby up to go home after only 24 hours! Nothing really prepared you us taking this little 7 pound bundle home. My God I think I was scared to death that I would break him somehow! But after a few nervous weeks we actually started getting the hand of this whole parenting thing. And after a few months we were “old pros”.
Little Eli had his good and his bad days. New parents are always anxious when their baby cries, and Eli had a serious set of lungs. Luckily after a full day exercising them, he slept soundly through the night. I was determined to be as conscientious a dad as I possibly could. I took my son everywhere that I went, whether it was shopping at the supermarket or doing yard work. I read to him every night while holding him in my lap. Obviously I knew he couldn’t understand the pictures, let alone the words, but it was a pleasant pre-bedtime experience for both of us. Throughout Eli’s childhood we did a whole myriad of father –son activities together, everything from skiing, to concerts, from hiking and camping to bowling and miniature golf. Stock car races to museums, we did it all. We swam in the ocean and built sand castles. We took our Labrador to obedience school, and visited the local duck pond. No one can ever accuse me of neglecting any of my children! I was in attendance at ever school event, from first grade music recitals to high school lacrosse games. I don’t want to give the impression though that every day was all fun and games. I never ever hit my children, but there were a number of occasions that called for a swat on the butt. Discipline is a part of raising children. They need to learn what acceptable behavior is, and what is not. One thing I would never tolerate is rude behavior
to others. Thai parents could use a little more discipline in raising their children. As a teacher I have seen some real monsters. Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled rotten!
I was no athlete growing up, so I was happy to see Eli fit and physically active. Skiing is just a fact of life in our corner of New England. In the Berkshires alone we had half a dozen ski areas. When he was about 9 or 10 he wound up racing for the Bousquet team. That worked out well since my cousin was his coach. From the very beginning I told Eli that I did not care if he placed first or last. All I wanted him to do was to have fun, and try to do his best. No problem there! He was always a daredevil, never afraid to go all out. The team raced every Saturday and Sunday at one of the ski areas. For five years I was able to attend most of the races, even when it was well below zero (Fahrenheit) and the winds were blowing so hard you could barely stand up. During that time he won quite a number of medals, although I would have been please if he never won anything. The whole experience was a great confidence builder. At home we had horses. That was my wife’s big passion. In the pecking order of the household, they rated a whole lot higher than I did….and they got a whole lot more shoes over the years than I did! Eli learned to help take care of them, including mucking out the stalls and using our small tractor to dump the manure. There’s another character builder! He rode at an early age and competed in horse shows. He was an especially good jumper. One again the no fear factor helped. That’s not to say that he never fell. Between horseback riding, snowboarding, skateboarding and other such activities we practically had an orthopedist on retainer!
I always believed that the first six years of education are the most important. If you develop a love of learning and master some basic skills, you are well on the path for success. For that reason we decided to send Eli to a private school. There were teachers there that were truly educators. There were small class sizes and a solid classical curriculum (including Latin!) While never a brilliant student, he did well enough that we decided to have him stay through ninth grade. I’ll talk more about High School and University later. It’s time to leave Eli for the time being and talk about our second son Colin.
Colin Nathaniel was born when Eli was almost three. Since parenthood was going so well, we decided that Eli needed a sibling. It would have nice to have had a girl, but my genes have always said boy. Colin was in a big hurry in come into this world. At the birth center we barely had a chance to put a fresh set of sheets on the bed, before he came squirting out. Talk about a short delivery! Perhaps somehow he knew he needed to accomplish a lot in a short time. He was of course as handsome as his brother, but personality wise he was completely different from Eli. Whereas Eli was loud boisterous, and to be honest often cranky, Colin was calm, quiet and content. I don’t mean to say that he was a dull lump, but he was simply easygoing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier baby. Being such a pleasant little guy, Eli took to him right away. No sibling rivalry here. You could take Colin anywhere and know that he wouldn’t make a fuss. At this time I had started a British import business. It was just a single shop, but did quite well, and gave us an excuse to travel frequently to the UK. We had already taken Eli on several trips there, but he was to put it mildly, “a handful”. Colin on the other hand was a delight to have along. We were doing well enough that we stayed at some nice Country House Hotels. These were the kind of places where you dressed up for dinner. Not exactly where you generally bring infants. But Colin was so quietly happy that he quickly stole the hearts of the staff. I think what really impressed the chefs was that while barely a year old, he would happily devour things like pate and lobster. When the desert trolley came around, he wanted a taste of everything!
A particularly happy memory was a visit Colin and I made by ourselves to the Catskill Game Farm. If you’re familiar with the Catskill region of New York State, than you know what I’m talking about. I went there as a kid and had so much fun that I wanted my children to experience it also. It’s one of the oldest wildlife parks in the U.S. There you’ll find all your Zebras, Giraffes, Rhinos, Hippos etc, but in as natural environment as possible. Colin was enraptured as a strolled him around. His eyes were so big as he took it all in. I especially remember taking him to an area where you could feed baby animals. As I held him on my lap, he gave the baby lambs and goats bottles of milk.
Another fond memory was Colin racing around in circles in our living room listening to Huey Lewis and the News singing “The Heart of Rock and Roll” He just loved that song!
I mentioned that Colin seemed in a hurry to pack a lot into his life in a big hurry. Perhaps he knew that his life on this Earth would be very short.
The next part of this story is not a happy one. Only my closest friends know it. Why am I sharing with all of you? If I’m going to really talk about how Fatherhood has affected me, I have to tell this story. At 18 months babies receive a vaccine to protect them from a rare bacterial infection know as HIB. It can manifest itself in many ways, such as meningitis. At that time this vaccine was not administered until 24 months. Colin was 20 months old when he became infected. A week before we had had a visit from my brother-in-law and his family. He and his wife are two of the most useless people in the world I have ever known. If your children were sick as dogs and infectious as hell, would you bring them to visit a family with young children in the house? Unfortunately these folks were clueless, and so over the course of a weekend sneezed and coughed all over Colin. Having brought the Grim Reaper into our home they returned from whence they came. Our kids have always received prompt medical care whenever they were sick. Both Eli and Colin were prone to ear infections, and many were the times when I brought them to the Emergency room in the middle of the night. If any of your kids have had ear infections, then you know how painful they can be. But a short course of antibiotics clears things up pretty quickly.
On one fateful night Colin seemed to be suffering from a cold. It certainly didn’t seem serious. He didn’t have a high fever. He was croupy though. If you’ve ever heard a child with the croup, you know the distinctive “barking” cough they make. We did what all the pediatric books recommend and kept in a steamy bathroom to help loosen any congestion. In the morning we would take him to the doctor.
The next morning as I was preparing to go to work my wife came screaming hysterically into room carry Colin in her arms. He had stopped breathing. Both my wife and I were Red Crossed certified in CPR, including infant CPR. As my wife began to administer it I dialed 911. The paramedics were on their way, and in fact pulled into our driveway in only a few minutes. I had taken over from my wife, but there was a problem. Air simply wasn’t getting into Colin’s lungs. I couldn’t find the obstruction, but his airway was definitely closed! The panic and fear that gripped us was somewhat relieved as the paramedics came through the door, whisked Colin into the ambulance and tore off to Berkshire Medical Center. These guys were trained professionals right? They would somehow make it all better, right?
My wife and I raced to the hospital, following the ambulance through red lights to get there. Within seconds Colin was in the ER, but we had to remain outside. There was simply no room for a couple of hysterical parents. Eventually our pediatrician, who had been called by the hospital came and sat with us. We weren’t prepared for the reality that was facing us. Colin was alive but in critical condition. What had happened? That HIB infection had caused Colin’s epiglottis (that’s the little flap at the back of the throat) to swell to the point that his airway had close off completely. That prevented air from getting into his lungs….and oxygen from getting to his brain. There was no way to know the extent of the damage yet. They were going to transfer him immediately over to Albany Medical Center, about an hour away where a better diagnosis could be made. There was no room in the ambulance for us, so we had to follow in our car. I think you can imagine what that ride was like. We were still in a state of shock. This couldn’t be happening to us, to dear little Colin. Somehow things would get better. We were prepared to deal with a brain damaged child. All that mattered was that our little boy lived!
Over at AMC Colin was placed in the pediatric ICU unit where specialists began their examination. The doctors were grim faced. They weren’t spinning any fairy tale as a balm. Things were not looking good, but they would know more by the morning.
The hospital directed us over to the nearby Ronald McDonald House where we could decompress a little bit. Yes, Ronald McDonald, the hamburger clown. RMH is a place for the parents of critically ill children to stay, so that they can remain near them. I am not a religious person but the woman who was the director there was a living saint. She had an endless supply of compassion for us and all the other parents who were going through hell. We became close friends and stayed in touch over the years. Many times I brought toys over for siblings of ill children to play with, including an incredible rocking horse from England.
I remember vividly every moment of the moment we spent there. My thoughts were racing a mile a minute through my fevered brain. As I just said, I am not a religious person. That however did not stop me from praying my heart out to anyone or anything that could spare my little boy. I offered up my own life in exchange. Okay, just take me instead! Unfortunately there is no one listening, and the Universe is unknowing and uncaring.
The next morning we went to the hospital and received the worse of all possible news. Colin was still alive, but his brain was barely functioning and soon his body would be shutting down forever. The doctors held out to us only one ray of possible goodness that could out of our tragedy. All of Colin’s organs were currently in good shape and ready for donation. There was a long list of infants to whom these pieces of son could mean the difference between life and death. My wife and I did not hesitate for a moment. Yes, let his death help others so that some other parents would never have to endure our grief. My parents had driven over and were in pretty rough shape. We brought them into the room to say goodbye to Colin. They immediately broke down, especially my dear mother. Colin had spent many nights sleeping over at their home. They could not comprehend what had happened in the blink of an eye. Saying goodbye to our little boy was the second hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. Second hardest? What could be more difficult than that? How about returning home and telling Eli that his little brother was dead. That he was never coming back again? Seeing him sobbing uncontrollably was the worst thing I ever had to endure.
It’s hard to imagine pain worse than we had experience, but over at The Ronald McDonald House we met parents of young cancer victims whose children had suffered terribly before the final release from pain. Colin at least hadn’t suffered that kind of misery.
Funerals are not a pleasant experience for anyone, but damn it, children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around. Hundreds of our friends attended. I honestly don’t remember much about it I was still in a daze. Luckily the funeral director was a friend of mine, and took care of everything. Obviously in his line of work you have to steel yourself, since you are dealing with death and grieving family day in and day out. But even he cried unashamedly. After Colin was laid to rest in a quiet corner of the cemetery, something happened to me. I found that I was cried out. I just could not shed another tear. My grief was still with me, but I seemed detached from it. I wasn’t in denial. I simple had gone through the fire and come out the other side. There were of course constant reminders of what had just happened. A few months later I traveled to England on business and stayed at my usual hotels. You can imagine the chill that descended when my English friends asked, “And how’s young Colin doing?” They all took it rather hard.
In the end though no matter how much my wife and I hurt inside, life had to go on, if for no other reason than for Eli’s sake. Several weeks after Colin’s funeral was Eli’s birthday. While we were hardly in a party mood, we could hardly deny him some simple happiness. Luckily we had friends to helped out with the whole thing. Luckily also, young children are extremely resilient. Eli missed his little brother, but the tide of everyday life swept him along and soon his grief was just a distant memory. I dealt with grief in my own way. My wife wanted to me to see a grief councilor, but I wanted no part of that. I can hardly blame her for wanting to see one though.
Time marched on. Even my wife began to get on with life. We began to think about having another child. Obviously not to “replace” Colin. He was irreplaceable. Yet the idea of another child in our lives had more and more and more appeal. Eventually another baby was on the way. Whereas Colin couldn’t wait to emerge, Geordie Hunter had to be dragged kicking a screaming from the womb, figuratively that is. Yes I did say Geordie which probably has all you Brits laughing hysterically. Who in God’s name would name their son Geordie? Ahem, that would my ex-wife and I who actually like the name! Anyway, after be more than a little overdue, our doctor wound up inducing labor. Now our doctor had been on vacation. While he was away, his associate was in charge of my wife’s care. When she came in for a weekly ultrasound, he discovered that her amniotic fluid has just about dried up. What he should have done immediately was put her in the hospital. This was not a good situation. Instead they sent her home until our regular doctor returned a week later. He was not happy! He immediately admitted her to the hospital and induced labor. No Birth Center this time around. Eventually little Geordie emerged looking perfectly fine. All the things they evaluate immediately after birth (called the apgar score) seemed a-ok. On one hand this being the third time around, we were confident that we knew what we were doing, on the other hand, having just lost Colin, we were especially attentive to his health. He was a bit on the fussy side, but oh well every baby has their own personality. Otherwise we had produced another handsome boy. Whatever gene mixing that was going on seemed to work well in the looks department! It wasn’t until 5 or six months that we realized that he might have a problem. Geordie simply wasn’t moving his right arm and leg the way he should be. After bringing him to our pediatrician we wound up seeing a neurologist. Something was wrong, but he needed to perform some tests. Remember when my wife was low on fluid? Guess what? Because of that, little Geordie apparently wasn’t getting 100% of all the oxygen he should have. The result: Cerebral Palsy! Jesus H. Christ, hadn’t we just been through enough already. The good news was that this was the very mildest form of C.P. We would have to wait and see, up MRIs revealed that the only parts of the brain seemingly affected were those that had to do with fine motor control on Geordie’s right side. Mental functioning seemed normal. We would just have to wait and see how he developed. It was a long time before he could crawl, and a longer time before he could walk. Bu to our relief, he seemed as smart as Eli and Colin had been at that age! He was going to have a hard time of it, at least for a while, but his prospects were basically good.
It’s not surprising that my wife was obsessed with his condition, so much so that she decided to go back to school and get her Masters degree in Occupational Therapy. I supported her on that move. What bothered me though is she began to treat him like a victim. Geordie didn’t know that his situation wasn’t “normal’. Why start filling his mind with a handicapped mindset? I was all for simply treating him like any other little boy. So what if he was now left handed? So what if he walked with a limp and had only limited use of his right hand? He seemed perfectly capable of dealing with the environment. He could get dressed by himself, including buttoning his clothes. He ran around in his own way and had as much fun as any other kid. Thinking of yourself as a “victim” doesn’t help you succeed in life. There are countless examples of people with disabilities who went on to achieve incredible success in every field imaginable. Like the “Little Engine That Could” if you “think you can” than that’s half the battle!
Luckily, Geordie did think he could do whatever he wanted to do. He became an excellent horseback rider, snowboarder, skateboarder, swimmer and more! He had some problems academically. It was obvious that he was no scholar, but her was certainly above average. As I write this Geordie is finishing his first year at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. His goal is to be a successful business man and “make a lot of money”. I believe that someday he will. Positive thinking counts for a lot in this life!
We seem to have lost track of Eli in this story, so to bring everything up to date: Eli went on to graduate from the University of Vermont with a degree in Music. He is one fine piano player! He’s currently in a band whose music is reminiscent of Phish. But they only play part time, and just for the fun of it. Eli also became quite adept at photography, the old fashioned kind with black and white film. He does all his own dark room work. He’s had a number of pictures on exhibit, and has actually sold some as well. Good for him! He enjoys being the “starving artist”, holding down short term jobs that allow him to pursue his art. If he’s happy, than that’s fine with me. I’ve had long talks with him and Geordie over the years about my hopes for their futures. I’ve made it quite clear that I will never define who they are as human beings by what kinds of jobs they hold down to earn a living. The only things I care about are that they are happy, that what they do is honorable, and hopefully earn enough to be comfortable. Finding someone to love and to share their lives would be wonderful also. I’ve done the best to teach them through example. I remember once when Eli was about 10 years old we were exercising a local health club. He put some coins into a vending machine to purchase a candy bar. Amazingly, instead of a single bar sliding down the chute, dozens of them cascaded out of the machine. Naturally Eli’s eyes lit up like a pin ball machine. Look at all that free loot! I think I shocked him when I calmly said that yes, that was funny…..but we need to bring all this candy to the front desk, because we had not paid for it. We could take it all and no one would ever know…but we would know that we had done something wrong. Reluctantly he agreed that we would do the “right thing”. When we brought all that candy to the club manager, he was so impressed with Eli’s honesty, that he rewarded him with half a dozen candy bars. As we were walking out I told Eli that you shouldn’t always expect a reward for doing what you know to be right, but you can expect to feel good deep inside your heart! Hopefully, these small life lessons will stay with my kids, who will hopefully pass them on to their kids someday.
Well having spent a lot of time in the past, we need to return to the present and a hard look at the reality of fatherhood in Thailand. Would I have decided to move here if I had known we would be having children? To be honest, knowing what I know now after living three years of LOS I would have to say no. I personally love it here, and am able let a lot of the B.S. slide right off of me. For me the good outweighs the bad. But I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about Sam. Having taught in what passes for an “education system”, both at the Pratom and Mattayom levels I know that hell will freeze over before I send Sam to a Thai government school! There is an International School here in Lampang that teaches at the Pratom level. They use a standard British curriculum, although I don’t know how good the teachers are. Perhaps I’ll have to get a job there teaching! As for High School staying here in Thailand would mean a two hour round trip to Chiang Mai every day. Many students, even in the U.S. have a long daily commute. It’s way too premature to start checking out schools there. Sam is still only a toddler for heaven’s sake! Hopefully I can stash a lot of money away before then!
Then, even with a decent school, there is the question of the lack of culture here. Before I start hearing a load of crap about Western prejudices, let me say that this place doesn’t even have squat for Thai cultural institutions! The libraries are a sad joke. There are no museums (art or natural history). Where are the Thai theaters, orchestras, etc.? I’m sure some things exist in Bangkok, but I don’t (and never will) live in Bangkok!
Luckily I have a fairly large library with books running the gamut from A-Z. At the moment I have a fair amount of children’s books; everything from Dr. Seuss to books about volcanoes and space travel. With Amazon I can get hundreds more. What worries me more are the attitudes that I’ve seen in the young people here. While I do want Sam to absorb all the positive aspects of Thai culture, such as Buddhism, I definitely don’t want him thinking that it’s acceptable to be lazy, apathetic, or corrupt!
Man oh man, Fatherhood, if you’re really serious about it can be a tremendous weight that keeps you up late at night! Luckily I am still basically optimistic about Sam’s future. He has a loving and adoring mother…and of course he has me looking out for his best interests.
If worse comes to worse (and I sincerely don’t think it will) Sam “holds an Ace” up his little sleeve…A genuine United States of America passport! When Sam was first born I had a hell of an argument with some flunky at the municipal government office over Sam’s birth certificate. They had his nationality listed as Thai, even though I and my wife are U.S citizens. (my wife of course is a dual citizen) I quickly solved that problem by filling out some paperwork at the U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai. As far as the U.S government is concerned, Sam is an American citizen, and holds a passport to prove it! Now though that I think about it, its good thing that the Thai government has him listed as Thai. This way he can enjoy the potential benefits of both worlds. He will be able to come and go as he pleases. I do actually hope that one day he will spend time in America, perhaps to live permanently if he so chooses. God I laugh when I think of uttering that ubiquitous Thai phrase to him, “up to you”!
Well all of these theoretical possibilities seem far away at the moment. Especially when you consider really important future issues like “potty training”! Even though fatherhood over the decades has sometimes been an emotional rollercoaster, I still wouldn’t trade it for the world. Fifty-eight? No problem man! Still….my wife keeps hinting it would be nice to have a little girl! I might have to put my foot down on that one! Still, my tee rak can be persuasive….hmmm. Perhaps the final chapter has yet to be written!
I really wonder how anyone can be ready for parenthood. I cannot believe how much there is to consider!