Friday, 6 November 2009

Of Mothers, babies, storks and nation states

Valuing human relationships is a tricky business.
Is a relationship between two people quantifiable based on years spent together? Is the amount of money spent a better criterion?
Maybe it is just about family. Orthodox Islamic law seems to think so.
Upon my death, my male first cousins inherit a part of my assets. Even though I have not met many of my cousins for decades, I have no choice in the matter. That is Islamic law, as applicable to Muslims in Singapore.  
It's not that I am a bad boy and avoid my relatives. But coming from a large family in a globalized world it's tough to keep up with relations!

Anyway, back to relationships. The subject has been bothering me since a friend related the following dilemma to me.
Mary (not her real name), a 26 year old wife and mother, has decided to divorce her husband. She wishes to return to her family. As Mary does not work, she is seeking her father's help in maintaining herself and her two month old son.
The father is insisting that Mary abandon her son and make 'a clean break' from the marriage. He will not accept the son into the family home. The son must be left with Mary's husband or she is not welcome to rejoin the family.
While it is fair to point out that Mary's father opposed the marriage in the first instance, it does not seem relevant to the new reality.
The father's proposal is a no-win situation. A mother may abandon her child physically but the guilt will surely swallow the remaining years of Mary's life. At 26, Mary has many more years of living left.
Mary's only other option is to reconcile herself to a failed marriage. A partnership she has already annulled in her own mind.
Perhaps the approach is part of a complicated psychological strategy? The father will ultimately relent. The mother and son will be allowed to stay together. A ploy to ensure that the marriage is dissolved for good and neither party has any thoughts of settling their differences in the future.
Being proved right is a sweet sensation. The urge for revenge is human and normal. But family members are meant to provide unconditional support to each other, rising above even major differences.
Blood relationships are not measured. There is no formula to plug into an excel spreadsheet. I am not a father. Maybe I cannot understand Mary's father's thought process.
Still, my sympathies are with Mary. It is against the grain of human justice to separate a mother and child, especially to a potentially uncaring husband.
Mary's son is defenceless. He has his entire life ahead of him. Who can blame him if he grows up to be an angry and bitter man - discarded by his own mother.
The circumstances make me wonder about the wisdom of the modern nation state. Post colonial countries where international boundaries were drawn by civil servants. Families were separated and cultures arbitrarily divided.

Nationalism and patriotism has its place in the world but much of our fate is predetermined.  The proverbial (baby carrying) stork drops his baby into a home randomly.  
Our family, culture, history and nation are presented to us, fait accompli.  

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