FEEDING THE KIDS TO THE SHARKS by JJ Martin (Papua New Guinea)
“Maybe you and Mommy should hav thought a little more
before you had us kids!!!” — Devon Martin, age 7
The attempt to be a stay-at-island dad was, at first, a failed experiment. I blame biological evolution. My wife points to me losing the kids in a jungle on the side of a mountain.
Someone once said, “In bringing up children, spend on them half as much money and twice as much time.” In an effort to do just that, we left our whirlwind workaholic world in Washington, D.C. with our two daughters, then ten and seven years old, and moved to Micronesia – specs of sand stretched across one million square-miles of water in the Western Pacific Ocean – where my wife accepted a position as the Peace Corps deputy director for the region. At long last, time was on our side.
Be careful what you wish for. As a stay-at-island dad, I soon discovered a new culture, a new way of life and, by spending twice as much time with my kids in the hot, humid jungle, the notion that maybe sending them away to a boarding school in Romania wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Other “discoveries” included:
One of the few options for schooling was the Calvary Christian Academy, a strict Baptist school where we were to sign a document promising there would be no alcohol in our home and … at that point I fainted and didn’t hear the rest, but my wife later confirmed they added … no singing or dancing in our home, and that we would allow corporal punishment in the school. (The stick was known as “the rod of God.”)
- Organizing a search party to look for a lost child in the jungle has none of the frivolity one usually associates with the word “party.”
- Belief in a god or deity increases significantly when you’re out of gas on a small boat in a large ocean with no land in sight.
- Not having proper documentation for your 8-year-old daughter in Manila and coming under the scrutiny of police checking for child trafficking is an inconvenience and can be disruptive to your overall travel schedule.
- Attempting to separate said child from her mother by the Manila police can be REALLY disruptive and is generally frowned upon by mothers everywhere.
- Sakau, a local narcotic “kava” beverage made from a pounded pepper root, can be used as a relaxing sedative when the kids won’t go to sleep, although they’ll have trouble getting you up the stairs and into your bed.
Sink or swim is an apropos idiom on an island, and on the open seas of parenthood I learned to swim fast. Over the course of two years I managed to cook and clean, cajole and console, correct and, most importantly, connect with the kids. For a man, even a modern-day man, this is saying a lot. Yes, it’s 2021. Yes, we’ve come a long way baby. No, we still don’t see the irony in yelling at our kids to stop yelling.
Feeding The Kids To The Sharks (A stay-at-island dad copes with fighting, biting, and feeding frenzies in Micronesia)
J.J. Martin (Papua New Guinea 1989–90)
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