by Veena Venugopal
If there is one notion that is least disputed, it is the idea that the overwhelming emotion of parenting is a warm and fuzzy love. Unconditional love, it is called, usually with a further clarifier that it is the only example of such a love. But it is my experience that beyond the banner and the tireless image of a calm Madonna and a beatific infant, parental love is actually an anxious love. So much so, that first comes the anxiety and much later, the love.
Through glucose-tolerance tests for gestational diabetes and nuchal fold tests for Down’s syndrome, the triple marker and the CVs, the medical process of handling expectant parents centres around allaying their anxiety and feeding the optimism that their child, when born, will be “normal”. It isn’t love that makes you count the fingers and toes when the baby is born, it is anxiety, and this carries on—is she walking when she ought to walk, is she talking now that her peers are and is she staying with the class when she goes to school? Parenting is a competitive sport in achieving the “normal”. Those who do not do well in this, we are taught, are deserving of our sympathy.
American journalist and academician Andrew Solomon, however, decided to go beyond sympathy to actual understanding. His book, Far From the Tree, written after a decade of research and extensive interviews with nearly 300 families, is a tome celebrating the apples that have indeed fallen far from the tree. Solomon himself is a different child—dyslexic and homosexual—and while his parents embraced the former, they tried to “correct” the latter.
…Solomon writes with a wry wit and reading him, you find yourself swinging from heartbreak to hope to humour. It is not the manufactured fun of a roller-coaster ride, but the leap of faith that is required of a bungee jump. Far From the Tree is one of those rare books which is truly transformative, when you turn the last page you know you are not the same person who started reading it. Solomon does not preach to us to accept the different, he merely tells us stories that illustrate the foolishness of not doing so.
(To read the full review, please visit the MINT website.