I have spoken a lot about subversion, collectivism and the need for change in my blog. It is something I apply to workplace cultures and societal attitudes to gender roles in parenting. One area I can say I am not so keen to change is that of traditional family events and the opportunity to bring people together to celebrate something special. Yesterday was my son’s Christening and we had a wonderful day celebrating one of his first life milestones in the church that I grew up in. It felt really special to share this day with my family and some people from the church that I have known for years. During the day and afterwards, I reflected on how important it is to have events like this that bring people together in mutual celebration.
I have some personal issues, related to ideas of masculinity, with patriarchal events that symbolise men’s ownership of women, but yesterday’s christening was absolutely about my son (or any person) and his welcoming into our family traditions and the wider church community into which we hope to continue to involve him. I am not a great believer in the extravagance of the wedding industry, nor the commercialisation of many family events, but I do still value the togetherness these days enable. I thought it would be useful to write a bit about my feelings on the day and also relate that to my research. This is partly for me, partly for my son and partly for catharsis.
The weekend itself was a great family occasion. On the Saturday, we met as more nuclear family with the grandparents to have a lunch together and spend some quality time. I reflected on the reality of the limited occasions when such lunches might occur in the future (aside from birthdays, christenings etc.) and the importance of appreciating them. It felt very balanced with each member of the family having their own identity outside of traditional gender roles. This is something I love about my family as I have previously written about the influence of women in my life. I hope my son will also learn to appreciate the unique qualities of all his relatives as he grows up and internalise this level of respect for family as he gets older. It was very important to me that the grandparents were together with us as I want my son to know them as a collective as well as separate entities. For me, this is because I remember the pleasure I got from seeing my own grandparents getting on together and socialising, it is one of the great joys of two families joining together and something that can break down social divides that could exist if we only met those we chose to meet.
The christening itself was a wonderful service and highlighted the unique joy of bringing people together from a range of backgrounds. I am incredibly grateful to the parish vicar Fiona Mayer-Jones for her warm, collegiate, emotionally intelligent approach. From our first contact, she has been exemplary and made us feel comfortable and involved every step of the journey. The service was delightfully informal with music and humour and togetherness. She spoke with great feeling about the warm embrace of the church for my son and she guided us with great sensitivity and calmness through the service. It was at the font, when she held my son that I felt one of the greatest surges of pride that I had experienced in a long time (I held myself together… just). It really solidified my connection with the church (as a building and a collective) as a something that meant so much to me growing up. As a parent, it confirmed of me the importance of the wider community in the education of children.
Afterwards, we had some lovely informal family time together at my parents home with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and close family friends. It was a time to chat, eat and just be together without any pressure. I am so grateful to my parents for hosting it as I know how much my mum gets anxious about events like this. Mum and Dad, it was brilliant and something I will always look back on with happy memories. I wanted the day to be as informal as possible as I feel this is the best way to create events that challenge the rigidity of patriarchal tradition. I believe the same principle applies to the workplace too as the more hierarchical events and groups become, the more likely they will reproduce patriarchal structures and imbalances. Avoiding formal structure and hierarchy was one of the great joys of yesterday and something I hope to apply in the workplace too.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who made yesterday special. Everyone at the church and in my family who joined us for our son’s special day as equals in celebrating our son’s christening. It meant the world to me and we have memories and photos that we can look at and smile for the rest of our lives. This is what family should be about and it affirmed my belief in the great good that many of our traditions can continue to support in contemporary and future society. Yes, they (our traditional institutions) can, and should, adapt to modern attitudes and expectations, but equally, we as a modern society, should appreciate the many beautiful things that happen as a result of our traditions and the simple act of bringing people together.