Thursday 11 April 2019

The Changeling

My family in 1960; my father on the right, me next to him
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the 1962 Foot And Mouth outbreak, and its effect on my father; wondering to what extent his psychiatric crisis affected mine, and mine, his.

(My father wes then the Ministry of Agriculture's Regional Controller for the North of England; among his responsibilities was deciding which herds were condemned. He insisted on visiting every affected farm, talking to every vet and every farmer. He didn't have to do that. It's because of him that we now know that the disease can be carried on the tyres of cars - specifically our car. He carried the disease from farm to farm with him, infecting farms which had not previously been infected).

To what extent did he undertand the Foot and Mouth outbreak as a punishment for his sin in divorcing his first wife to marry my mother? Or for other sins of his of which I'm unaware? To what extent did both my parents understand my own collapse into a psychiatric basket case - which had started earlier, but got much worse during this period - as a punishment?

Of course, there's no-one else left alive who I can check these thoughts out with, with the exception of my sister who was also only a child at the time. The last of my parents' contemporary friends died last year.

I now know and understand that my father's childhood must have been traumatic, and that the first half of his war - the half he never spoke about - must also have been traumatic. How damaged had he been by these experiences?

As a small child, your own parents are god-like, solid, immutable, the foundations of your existence. It's hard to see them as damaged. Later, in my teens, my psychiatrists saw my own trouble as in part an expression of the conflicts in my parents' marriage, but I now realised that my then understanding of that understanding was shallow.

Both my parents' fathers were in there own way monsters; which is another way of saying both my parents's fathers were in their own way very damaged individuals - but I only dimly understand the causes of their damage. A further generation back, I understand a little of my mother's grandfather's damage, but nothing beyond that. If I had children, they - or their children - would see me as a monster; and they'd be right, of course, in many ways I am one.

Slobodan Milošević was a monster; but his parents marriage failed while he was a small child, and both of his parents committed suicide before he was thirty. I've always seen evil in the world as a consequence of evil, damage resulting from damage, feeding on and reinfecting itself from generation to generation.

This isn't to say my father was a bad man. He wasn't. He was a very brilliant, very troubled man who sincerely strove to be a good man - as I do. But each of his children were badly scarred, as mine would be if I had any, as those to whom I have acted in loco parentis have been.

But so - what? How do we act against evil, if its perpetrators are also its victims?

I have long felt that the appropriate, kind, caring response to children with psychiatric trauma would be to kill them. To put them out of their misery, because you don't recover, because no-one should be forced to live like this. But in saying that I was thinking it simply for the child's sake, to spare the child (and the adult they would grow into) suffering.

What if one should kill children who suffer psychiatric trauma in order to prevent the evil that they may - that they are likely to - cause? Hold onto that thought for a moment. It's a very dark one.

There are folk beliefs about changelings, demon children, cursed children. Does this reflect a traditional practice to driving out or killing very troubled children, and, if so, did that practice have survival benefits for the herd in cauterising evil and limiting its intergenerational spread?

Dark thoughts. I should sleep.

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The fool on the hill by Simon Brooke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License