Work in progress


Book review, from Tokyo – That step into parenting is, well, while much documented, very much unknown territory. Even for an old hand, no two children are exactly alike, but some things will stay more or less the same.

From birth, sniffing up that newborn fragrance, anxiously cheering their first steps, quietly leaving them to wobble on ahead on their bicycles, bidding them off to school, facing down the teen rebel, enjoying that first paycheck treat, meeting their choice of a lifetime partner, maybe getting to transition into parenting seniority, and perhaps gaining the mantle of grandparent-hood.

Much of these parenting milestones are picked up by comic artist and father-of-two Shinsuke Yoshitake in 『ヨチヨチ父 とまどう日々』(Yochi yochi chichi – tomadou hibi, lit. Wobbly toddly dad – those dithery days).

In 55 signature musings, Yochi yochi chichi is littered with illustrated reflections from the everyday challenges of a dad as a child’s first non-mum entity to those desperate hunts for diapers. He also laments how dad-dad non-talk doesn’t feel quite the same as free mum-mum chatter.

He puts a dad-spin on a non-dad view of the most mundane events – a dodgy guide to the wide world, his child’s occasional fan, the ways dad tries to keep literally in the picture, and the gratitude of finally landing a place of comfort at the in-laws, along with no lack of kid-related topics for conversation.

Underpinning each episode are expectations, from his boss, co-workers, family, wife, and children, and the pressure to satisfy them partially or simply fall hopelessly short. These create the perfect chance to introduce the Yoshitake family teaching – take life a step at a time and learn from those who are more successful, so that one’s peak is always now or ahead. This contrasts to setting a fast pace, peaking early in life, but falling sharply and ending up frustrated at not being able to fulfill one’s expectations of life.

Despite several readings, I remained slightly puzzled by cover flap that said “papa ha kyoukan, mama ha rakudan“, which loosely means, “dads empathize, mums despair”. One day, I came to realize that this could be interpreted as how dads are often let off for being “dad”, but mums would feel let down instead. Behind that is the expectation mothers bear as parents, the need to cover for dad’s parenting inadequacies, and do much more, including work.

In Japan, I have learned that a child’s education brings greater parenting burdens. Finding a preschool opening eats away at the mental fabric of cities teeming with young dual income families. The huge waiting lists are proof of the stress parents face at each entry window. Having to maintain cash flows without adequate childcare support simply means choosing not to have children.

And then with school comes PTA and those parent-led or -participation groups, committees, organizations and communities today often chaired by selfless working mothers. Fathers silent, invisible. Almost as if visibility at routine meetings might brew a strange kind of pressure to take on more. What then for their wives and children. And for those ready to swim against the tide, who knows what expectations lie in wait. I’ve seen dad-only dad-led groups, but those are voluntary, ultimately for the willing.

Such episodes don’t appear in Yochi yochi chichi. Perhaps Yoshitake was merely speaking from experience. Maybe it is one of the many reasons for the disdain implied in the cover flap. But probably we would all be better off seeing through and breaking down all those hidden expectations, dispelling unnecessary stress and pressure, for a parent will always be a work in progress. I appreciated the kindness and forgiveness as a new parent, and this book certainly affords parents a little kindness that goes a long way toward helping the village raise a child.

 

Title: 『ヨチヨチ父 とまどう日々』(Yochi yochi chichi – tomadou hibi, lit. Wobbly toddly dad – those dithery days) by Shinsuke Yoshitake
Publisher: Akachantomamasha, 2017

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