I remember as a kid, when school enrolment or administration moments come around, we would have to fill up among other things details of a next-of-kin in case of emergencies. For that, I would typically put down my father’s name.
This went on for pretty much all of my academic life as I progressed from one level to the next.
Made sense, since he was my father. He was the oldest in the family and head of the household. Most importantly, he’s the one who paid my school tuition fees, and gave me regular pocket money! And whips me if he finds out I’ve failed any assessments!
I noticed this next-of-kin declaration to be pretty much true also for many students of mine.
You see, before each of my teaching semesters begins (I still teach on the side even though I remain a stay-home-dad), I go through the records of my new students to get to know them. Three out of five would put down their dad as the emergency contact; the rest would put either their mom or a sibling or an aunt or grandparent (usually the grandmother).
Lately, however, I’ve started to wonder: Are these fathers my students list down as emergency contacts more next-of-kin, or “next-of-skin”?
We know next-of-kin, but what’s “next-of-skin”?
Alright, I’ll come clean. I’ve only just whipped up this expression “next-of-skin” by way of making a wordplay with next-of-kin. But you, my dear reader are so smart you probably figured it out already, and are trying your level best to be polite and not roll your eyes at me! (No by all means please go ahead and roll. I don’t mind. Can’t say I blame you)
But no matter. I’m laying claim to it here, so there!
Now that I’ve gotten that outta the way, thanks for still staying with me and not changing tabs or swiping to another screen. I’ll do my best hereon to honour your perseverance and indulgence of my whim. There is a connection I’m trying to make here, so please bear with me alright?
Now we all know a next-of-kin is someone who’s your closest in terms of blood and familial relations. So a married spouse would list his/her significant other as next-of-kin, a child his dad/mom, and so on. But what does that really say other than the fact that you are related by marriage or birth?
Now a “next-of-skin”, that’s a whole other realm of connection.
As the expression makes plain, a next-of-skin is someone who knows you so well in every possible way, he/she feels almost like a “second layer of skin” on top of your own. Can’t get any closer than that!
Which brings me back to the question earlier: are these fathers my students list down as emergency contacts more next-of-kin, or next-of-skin?
Do my students have “next-of-skin” relationships with their dads?
In a few previous posts on my blog (starting with this one), I’ve made clear the Grand Canyon of a gulf that existed between my father and me while he was alive.
Meaning of course that for me, he’s always been just a next-of-kin rather than a next-of-skin.
For me, it’s not for lack of wanting things to be different that’s for sure. Which child doesn’t crave love and acceptance from their parents right? Even if, or especially when, the parent in question is emotionally unavailable like mine was.
Each time I filled in those forms and listed down his name as my next-of-kin, you can bet a big part of me unconsciously wished that he would not only be my next-of-kin but more so my next-of-skin.
Instead we live like him landlord and me tenant; him farmer, me farmhand; him the boss and me the dispensable staff.
No surprise then when I go over my students’ records and see that the next-of-kin stated is a father, I can’t help but wonder at the bond they have with their dads.
Especially the male students.
(As a father of two sons and no daughters, it’s understandable I will focus more on father-and-son than father-and-daughter relationships)
Or are their relationships even more than mere next-of-skin deep, but is instead way “‘neath-the skin”?
From next-of-kin to next-of-skin to ‘neath-the-skin
We’ve all heard the expression getting ‘neath another’s skin.
It’s often used to describe a relationship where one gets the better of the other; one knows which buttons to press so to speak that would get the other to capitulate or just plain fall to pieces.
Not so here.
Here, I use the term ‘neath-the-skin to illustrate a level of intimacy that I desire to build between myself and my sons. I don’t just want to be their dad or next-of-kin. I want to be their friend for life, their confidante, their one-stop-service centre even!
Now I’m not so ridiculous as to desire that to the point of blind obsession or (worse) fatal attraction.
But I do want them to know that at every stage of their lives, they can come to me for anything so long as I’m still alive. I’m not just a next-of-kin name that’s used to fill up a space on a school admissions form or a job application template.
I am more than that. I’m the father who diapered them, fed them, taught them stuff, trained their fitness, nourish their minds, expand their hearts and uplift their spirits whenever they need it. I’m the one who at a point that was needed, gave up a safe career to spend more time with them.
Not a band-aid but a vaccine that will teach their T-cells how to fight whatever viruses or problems the world hurls at them.
That’s what ‘neath-the-skin means.
More than next-of-skin.
And definitely more than next-of-kin!