Changed by a Child?

7 March 2009 – West Oxfordshire, UK Six-year old Ivan Cameron, the son of David and Samantha Cameron, was buried  after a private funeral at the  Church of St Nicholas in Chadlington, Oxfordshire, on Tuesday, March 3rd. The choir sang “You are so beautiful to me,” in a service the Guardian called a celebration of Ivan’s life. It isn’t perfect but it contains some nice pictures of Ivan and his family.

This short video slideshow includes a some pictures the Cameron family along with a musical background.

Ivan had Otahara syndrome, a condition that is characterized by a severe seizure disorder, intellectual disabilities, and cerebral palsy. The seizure disorder is generally intractable to treatment and  progressive. the Video below is one of many tributes to Ivan currently in circulation.

His father The Right Honourable David Cameron has headed the conservative party and since December, 2005 and serves as the Leader of the Opposition  in Parliament. In view of the 10% lead in the most recent poll (Angus Reid, March 6, 2009), Cameron is often referred to as Britain’s Prime Minister in Waiting. As such, the news coverage has in some ways been more about the father than the son.

This post is not extending condolences. If there was something I could do that would ease the pain of Ivan’s parents or his brother or sister, I would love to do it, but I doubt that the sympathy of strangers  is what they need right now.

This post merely asks a series of questions. In what way (if any) have David and Samantha Cameron been transformed by the presence of Ivan in their lives? Of course, very parent’s life is changed by each child, but why do so many parents of children with significant disabilities report life-changing effects on their worldview. Many years ago Dale Evans Rogers wrote of how her daughter Robin “transformed the family.” In her view, Robin and children like her were messengers from God sent to enlighten us. Much more recently, Singer-Songwriter Neil Young wrote about his son:

Every morning when I look in your eyes
I feel electrified by you. Oh yes.

Transformer man, transformer man
Transformer man, transformer man

Nobel Prize Winner Kenzaburo Oe, wrote extensively about existential choice and how his son Hikari changed his life. Christopher Robin Milne (yes, Winnie, there was a real Christopher Robin) wrote about how he was changed by his daughter Claire, and (Opra Columnist) Martha Beck’s  book Expecting Adam is certainly a story of transformation.

Perhaps the best collection of parent transformation stories can be found Barabara Gill’s 1997 book Changed by a Child is perhaps the best collection of parent transformation stories. And of course, it’s not just famous parents who report these kinds of changes.

But what about David Cameron. Has he been transformed in some way? If he becomes Prime Minister will he be a different one? … A better one? Well there are a few suggestions that his perspective might have been changed. The BBC reports:

Friends have said the experience of caring for Ivan broadened Mr Cameron’s political outlook and made him a passionate supporter of the NHS, which helped provide the round-the-clock care Ivan needed.

“The problems that Ivan had in some way shaped that family and shaped David as a person,” said George Osborne.

In a 2007 speech, Mr Cameron described how he cared for the “severely disabled” Ivan.

“It’s what I do at the start of each day. It’s sharpened my focus on the world of care assessments, eligibility criteria, disability living allowance, respite breaks, OTs, SENCOs, and other sets of initials.

“But I would not dare to call myself a carer. The work that full-time carers or those with little extra help do is unbelievable.”

This same BBC page contains a clip from a 3-minute 2006 interview with David Cameron talking about Ivan.

A story in the Mail on February 26, 2009 takes this theme further: “How the short life of Ivan turned David Cameron from ‘cocky toff’ into passionate leader”

Almost imperceptibly, the talented young politician whom most had labelled as just a bit too upper-crust ever to get to the very top, seemed to be changing.

‘His marriage became stronger, he became tougher – and that’s when some of the gloss went off him,’ says a close friend.

‘For the first time in his life he was able to feel and understand the pain and suffering of ordinary people.

‘Ivan’s birth gave him a much greater sense of purpose and ambition. It spurred him on. In recent times when he has talked of his admiration for the NHS it hasn’t been for votes but because he had seen it at its best, through Ivan, and knew what the service meant to the country.’

Is all this real or wishful thinking? Time will tell.

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