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Society

Do We Need Our Parents When We Grow Up? Doubts Of A Young Father

As his son grows older, Argentine journalist Ignacio Pereyra wonders when a father is no longer necessary.

Do We Need Our Parents When We Grow Up? Doubts Of A Young Father

"Is it true that when I am older I won’t need a papá?," asked the author's son.

Ignacio Pereyra

It’s 2am, on a Wednesday. I am trying to write about anything but Lorenzo (my eldest son), who at four years old is one of the exclusive protagonists of this newsletter.

You see, I have a whole folder full of drafts — all written and ready to go, but not yet published. There’s 30 of them, alternatively titled: “Women who take on tasks because they think they can do them better than men”; “As a father, you’ll always be doing something wrong”; “Friendship between men”; “Impressing everyone”; “Wanderlust, or the crisis of monogamy”, “We do it like this because daddy say so”.

I read some of these texts but something tells me now is not the time to work on them. It’s as if they need some air, and of course, some more time in the oven, baking away. Out of nowhere, the question comes to me, and once it’s formulated in my mind, it seems obvious.

Why wouldn’t I be writing about what happens with Lorenzo and me if he’s the person with whom I have spent the most time with in the last four years? I’ve even spent more time with him than with my partner, Irene. They might be experiences which are very close to me, but what’s sure is that it’s the material I can count on every day.

Small issues vs big issues

I read an interview with Andrés Neuman on EldiarioAR, where the Spanish-Argentine writer writes about telling his son all of these things that we know he won’t remember. He explains why he wrote Umbilical, his most recent book, dedicated to his first child. He was surprised by the gap there was in literature of fathers talking about being fathers.

A birth is just as obvious and mysterious as a death.

“Having children is the most natural thing in the world, but it is also the strangest thing in the world — like sex or love, or death. So yes, a birth is just as obvious and mysterious as a death. So it’s very important and worth writing about, just as everything we take for granted is the most urgent thing we have to rethink."

Another gem from Neuman: “Why as a writer would I talk about nappies or poo when I could be thinking about Kant's categorical imperative? What interest is it of mine that my child’s nails need cutting, when I could be thinking about the nation-state and whether it has become an outdated model in global capitalism? It transforms itself into the big issue versus the small issue. And this fallacy of the small and the big has a lot to do with our education, not only as men, but as writers who pick some topics and steer a wide berth from others.”

"Having children is the most natural thing in the world, but it is also the strangest thing in the world."

Wikimedia

What being a father feels like

So, I’ll give in: I’ll write about Lorenzo once more.

(Hi son, will you be reading this one day? Where will these digital archives end up in 10 or 15 years, when you might maybe be interested in checking these newsletters out? How are you and León, all grown? Is it boring reading this? I like reading my parents; sometimes, I’ll re-read the only two letters I have from them, yes, from them, because they're signed, “your parents”.)

In reality, now that I have considered this more, it’s not that I talk about Lorenzo or his little brother León, but of what their lives mean in mine.

In the end, what I write about is what I feel about being a father (like this irrational fear I had a few days ago, when Lorenzo had an almost 40 degree fever). I write about my interpretations with respect to what they say and/or do. Or also, where my mind ends up drifting when I digest some of the things Lorenzo comes out with.

Take our return to Greece after four weeks in Argentina, where emotions overcame him: Lorenzo had discovered a world of love and belonging which he had never experienced before. Cousins, uncles, aunties, friends and the children of these friends: everyone playing together and hugging each other every single day. And the icing on the cake: for four weeks, Lorenzo was by my side — for two of those weeks there was also his mother, Irene, who had been travelling for work with our youngest. And, it had been four weeks without going to the kindergarten (our holiday crossed over with the break afforded by Greek Easter).

Eating watermelon together

The morning we returned to Athens, Lorenzo came with me to get the car, which had been left by a friend parked at the airport. Irene waited back with León and the luggage. As we walked to the car, at 4am, Lorenzo broke the silence of the dead of night

— Nacho?

— Yes?

— Is it true that when I am older I won’t need a papá?

I asked him to repeat himself, not because I hadn’t understood him the first time around, but because I needed a moment to think about what I needed to answer. Lorenzo obliged, and repeated the question. He emphasised: is it true, or not? 🥺🥺

I switched to as neutral a tone as I could manage, and told him it depended on what… to drive, for example, he was not going to need his papá. For other things, while he might not necessarily need his papá, he might want him there anyway.

I stopped there. He did too. I don’t know what he was thinking about. He followed up, eventually, by saying he would like to eat watermelon, seeing as it was already summer in Greece. Or not? He asked. It’s not quite summer yet, I replied, but we can still go looking for some watermelon.

It’s left me thinking about how relationships are interwoven so that tomorrow, or the day after, Lorenzo and León will actually be choosing to have me near them, not because they really need me, but because they will still want me to be there, to share their worlds with me.

Or, at the very least, to eat a good watermelon together.

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Migrant Lives

Albania, The Brutal Demographics Of A Neverending Exodus

Since the fall of communism in 1991, the small Balkan state has been slowly but inexorably emptying itself, at the pace of incessant waves of emigration. With an aging and declining population and a birth rate in free fall, it is facing all kinds of challenges.

Photograph of the city view of the Albanian village of Berat. An old man walks along the river, surrounded by trees.

City view of the Albanian village of Berat, May 23, 2022.

Florian Gaertner/ZUMA
Basile Dekonink

MEMALIAJ — It is 1 p.m. on a summer Saturday, and only the barking of a dog breaks the silence in the street of this small Albanian town. The sun illuminating Minatori Square doesn’t change a thing: there’s not a soul to be seen in this former mining town in Southern Albania. On the steps leading up to the cultural “palace," there is no one. Behind the drawn curtain of the old kepuce italiane ("Italian shoe") store, no one. In the red-brick buildings that threaten to crumble into ruin: no one.

“There’s nothing here anymore. No work, no money, no bread. Everyone left after the end of the dictatorship," says Stefan Arian, a 60-year-old man who speaks rusty Greek, sitting at the Café Qazimi, one of the few businesses still open. It’s hard to picture that, not so long ago, this abandoned town was one of Communist Albania’s great working-class centers. Built from scratch in 1946 to exploit the nearby coal mine, the city counted up to 12,000 inhabitants in its heyday. Barely more than 1,000 remain.

Memaliaj isn't the only one: Kukës, Zogaj, Përmet, Narta — there are dozens of such towns and villages in Albania. From North to South, the small Balkan state is criss-crossed by semi-ghost towns, with few or no inhabitants. It is the mark of a unique demographic phenomenon: since the fall of the communist regime 30 years ago, the country has been slowly but inexorably emptying itself through incessant waves of emigration.

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