Anamaria Olaru (39) has two major passions: nature and books. She even manages a blog that bears that name: natureandbooks.com. Her twofold interest is also reflected in her work as a volunteer at the Jette library, where she promotes and organises workshops around the Romanian book collection and helps increasing the ‘Plantotek’ plant library. Therefore, it is not surprising that Anamaria chose a book that demonstrates how our natural environment inspires who we can become as a human being. Charlie Gilmour’s autobiographical book ‘Featherhood’ explains how a young magpie fell from its nest into his hands, and determined how he would develop as a future father. Original interview can be found HERE.
by Ewout Decoorne
What led you, a young mother of two girls, to an autobiographical book about being a son and a father?
I am very lucky to have a husband who is very involved in raising our twin girls. Looking back at my childhood, I realized that none of the men in my life were really involved in raising me. All efforts were attributed to the women in my life. I didn’t see a role for men in raising children. This made me wonder how I viewed my husband as a father. Did he have enough space and recognition in raising our girls? How did he feel as a new father? How would he define his role? All these questions made me curious to know more about fatherhood in our society and the challenges and struggles fathers face. I think women have more guidance when it comes to being mothers and we disclose much more our fears and doubts. I was curious to know more about sons and fathers and how they deal with their shortcomings.
Do you believe fatherhood – as a cultural concept – to be distinguishable from motherhood, or parenthood in general?
This is a hard question and a personal one. Normally, we should talk about parenthood. However, in societies or families where a mother or father was absent or not involved enough, I think some young adults are left scrambling for answers about what a parent’s role is, the feelings that come with it, how they should react to very challenging, emotional and triggering situations.
Personally, I saw some distinguishable differences between mothers and fathers in several Romanian couples. Most men who did not have involved or present fathers are dealing with feelings of inadequacy, while women adopt a know-it-all kind of attitude because they saw their mothers involved in all aspects of parenting. This causes a lot of frustrations in couples, with men wanting to get involved but not knowing how, and women being overcritical about how the men decide to do certain things which from their point of view is not the right way.
I think motherhood and fatherhood become distinguishable in the context of each family and society and the way it has been set up.
Being a young parent yourself, do you recognise the doubts and fears regarding raising children mentioned by Gilmour?
Absolutely! By reading his doubts and fears I was reassured that when it comes to parenthood, we are all scared of getting it wrong. We are paralyzed by the amount of responsibility for someone’s mental, emotional and physical state. Imagine seeing this fragile, small being entirely depending on you? Imagine becoming a role model, a mentor overnight? The thought alone makes my hair stand up… And the more generational trauma you carry, like abandonment or conditioned love, the bigger the doubts and fears. I really appreciated the authors’ shared vulnerability and sensitivity on the subject. It was really healing to read.
It was a magpie that inspired Gilmour’s own conception of being a father. Do you have any role models that defined how you position yourself in life?
Books have been my only guides when it came to parenting. I have read so many on the subject that sometimes I became confused and angry that no matter what I will do, I will still get it wrong. It’s hard when the answers don’t come from within. But then again, I have nature to fall back on. My inner voice and my animal instinct of protection and love. Nature and beings on this planet are extremely resilient and I have to believe that my children are as well, no matter the mistakes I make. I just have to be there and be as conscious as possible in my parenting role.
“Books have been my only guides when it came to parenting.”
In this book, the abandoned magpie reflects the author’s own estrangement from his father, and, at the same time, determines how he fulfils his role as a father himself. Have you got any similar experiences, where nature has taught you lessons in life?
Nature taught me the acceptance of constant change and transformation. Watching the changing seasons, I am constantly reminded that we must go through all phases in order to grow and although we might resist change, it will happen regardless. If we become in tune with nature, we can learn to flow more freely with the currents of life and accept what is coming towards us.
There is an interplay of multiple layers and subthemes: childhood and parenthood, nature and nurture, distance and proximity. Is this multilayeredness something indispensable in defining “good” books?
I love multifaceted books because they can speak to a larger crowd. If you are not feeling inspired by one aspect of the book, there is surely another one that could draw you in. ‘Featherhood’ combines so many aspects of life and looks at them through so many lances. This is why I think whatever you identify as in terms of gender, no matter what your family set up is, no matter how close you are to nature or not, this book will have an impact on your life and your mindset.
How can we, as citizens in a crowded and fast-moving world, be more receptive towards knowledge that is contained in our (natural) environment?
My only advice to become more receptive to nature and its teachings is to surround yourself with it. Go to a forest and let it speak to you. Be observant of what is around and let your mind quiet down. Looking at something in great detail is the best exercise of mindfulness and meditation. Buy a pair of binoculars and watch a bird for 30 minutes, look very attentively at a tree’s bark and notice all its indents, injuries and signs of symbiotic relationships. This is the only way to learn from nature and be inspired by it.
Photo credits: Saskia Vanderstichele