Spending time with family and friends

We are luckier here: we like to visit relatives and friends, and we have no great difficulty making friends either. Socialising is in our islander genes I think, and we shouldn’t lose this important dimension of our life


I read the following on a science website: ‘Sir David Attenborough has travelled around the world and back, but despite his countless wildlife adventures and exploits in the natural world, said he does have one major regret. The ‘Planet Earth’ narrator wishes he had spent more time with his children when they were young, he told the Radio Times, a weekly British magazine.

‘Attenborough said he was “unbelievably lucky” to have the life he’s led, but said he regrets that his work took him away from his son, Robert, and daughter, Susan. “If you have a child of 6 or 8 and you miss three months of his or her life, it’s irreplaceable,” Attenborough said. “You miss something.”’

While viewing the wonderful and spectacular scenes in the ‘Planet Earth’ programme that used to show on the BBC TV one never thinks of the time-away from home and family that this entailed for the maker and narrator of the series! It no doubt meant long periods of absence from near and dear ones given the fieldwork that was needed to observe, collect material, and do the shooting that was required to prepare the series which is ever fresh.

My son gifted me a CD pack of ‘Planet Earth’ which I always enjoy – and these words from Sir David Attenborough which capture the until now unknown human dimension and effort behind the series remind me that it’s been some time since I viewed the CD. It never tires one to view it again and again, the more so if this is done in the company of others who share an interest in the phenomena of the natural world.

Sir David is now 91 years old, and like others in the senior citizen bracket he knows something when he expresses regret about the irreplaceability of the time missed in spending with children in their tender years, which is when the company of parents is most crucial. There are other professions too that keep one or both parents away from children, and whoever has had to face this situation will immediately connect with the feelings of the famous naturalist.

The medical profession is notorious for this phenomenon of snatching parents away from their children, with long spells of being on night duty or doing specialization, especially when one has to travel abroad for the purpose and children have to be left behind. From this point of view, it is one of the ‘cruellest’ professions! And when both parents are doctors, especially if both are specialists in highly demanding ‘acute’ fields, the plight of children is even worse.

I remember once when I was an intern our head of department of paediatrics, a lady whose husband was also a specialist (in internal medicine), telling us how her son had vowed never to take up medicine as a profession – because he got to see so little of his parents and he wouldn’t want his children one day to be similarly deprived. And mind you, this is not an uncommon story, I would think even to this day.

When we are chasing career and income to make ends meet, with debts to reimburse and children’s education to provide for, we often do not realise the impact that this has on family life and children. Lucky are those children who have grandparents around to take them to and from school, care for them at home until mama and papa come back from work, and look after them during school holidays. Unfortunately, with the spread of the nuclear family in the past couple of decades, the situation has changed in perhaps more households than ought to have been the case. We call this modernity. It’s more like a collateral damage of industrializing societies, of which we are the willing victims.

In several surveys carried out in advanced countries that I recall reading about, one of the most common responses of hi-fi executives is that they missed time spent with children – and the converse also was true, that children complained about not having enough time with their parents to play with, to answer their questions and so on. In a number of cases, many a parent gave up jobs which involved too much of travelling or long hours and settled for occupations that gave them more time for the family, although that meant reduced incomes. However, with the advent of the internet and email, etc., some parents, especially the mothers, were able to work from home, which allowed flexible timings but more importantly being there for the children.

With such arrangements where they have been possible the problem is perhaps at least partially solved for children. When it comes to adults in industrialised societies, especially older ones whose children if any have moved out to be on their own, the elderly and senior citizens now living longer whose childhood friends and acquaintances are no more, and others still whose situation has changed because of ill health or having shifted to other locations from where they have grown up or stayed earlier, there are many issues that they face. Diminished faculties, disabilities, disease and ill-health top the list. Added to these are finding themselves in homes for the elderly – often reluctantly –, social isolation because of the difficulty of finding or making new friends, and not least these days the distancing that the epidemic of smart devices is causing though this affects the younger crowd too.

An article titled ‘Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health’ in the New York Times of June 12 quotes findings from studies that show how maintaining social ties is so important for the emotional, mental and physical health, as well as longevity, of men and women at all ages. In this connection, mention is made of the Hot Black Coffee cafe in Toronto which has declined to offer Wi-Fi to its customers, because the aim of its president Jimson Bienenstock is ‘to get customers to talk with one another instead of being buried in their portable devices.’ And don’t we know that we do literally ‘bury’ ourselves in our smartphones! Will we change..?

Come to think of it, though, do we really need such studies to show us that we need to ‘connect’? At least I can say from my experience — and I have no reason to believe that it is vastly different for others in our country –, that we are luckier here: we like to visit relatives and friends, and we have no great difficulty making friends either.

In my own case, for example, several years after retirement when I started to walk at Trou-aux-Cerfs there was not a single person that I knew. And yet today I am in the warm company of many new friends, and by the by we have mutually weaved our way into each other’s life beyond the daily walk, sharing family, emotional and other personal experiences as if we’ve been together since many more years than those of our purely chronological acquaintance.

Socialising is in our islander genes I think, and we shouldn’t lose this important dimension of our life if we don’t want to go the way of other countries. Come, let’s have a drink to that!

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