Making sense of the unknown leap into fatherhood

Fatherhood; arguably the most important job in the world

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Friday, 20 October 2017

The Expendables – This Is Not a Movie Review

Like much of the UK, I too have been gripped by the BBC drama series Dr Foster. That dinner scene…pure television gold! The overtly voyeuristic invitation into the collapse of a pretty dysfunctional marriage sees the writers and the cast shove the ripple effect of marital breakdown so deeply down the throats of their audience. No other series which I have ever watched so blatantly, and with such escalating vulgarity, screams the collateral damage of the children affected by parents who will violently stop at nothing to strip one another of their dignity, worth, and ultimately any chance of recovering financially, and in many cases, emotionally.

Recent experiences have taught me that we as individuals are expendable. We are expendable in our jobs and the people we work for, expendable in romantic relationships and even expendable in friendships. Sometimes the world has a pretty sobering way of telling you that you just don’t matter. The ripple effect of decisions made by others are often overlooked or blatantly ignored so that the comfort of their echo chamber provides an invisible barrier which allows them to just “not go there”. It’s the ostrich burying its head in the sand. It is you and I making a decision but not wanting to face the reality of the damage caused to those we no longer hold any regard for…or those we love most in this world.

No other instance is so grossly untoward as that of children caught in the crossfire of those so blinded by their own agenda, their own deceit, their detest and their anger. In the series, the son is caught in the crossfire of his parent’s marital demise, so much so that he slowly wilts from the violent reverberations of the by-product of two, clearly, dysfunctional parents. All too often there is a winner and a loser; children become pawns in a game of chess where the king seldom wins and the paradox of the queen shouting “check mate!” deafens the young ears in her wake.  Watching Dr Foster highlighted the fact that the eventual outcome in martial failure is ultimately the same, but there are numerous roads one can travel to get there.  I’m not siding with either character, but a post I recently read summed it up perfectly. It reads: “I’m not against moms or dads. I’m against a**holes who use their children to hurt the other parent.”

This past week brought with it the most difficult experience I have had as a father to date. Holding my 7-year-old daughter in my arms as she sobbed, begging me for us to be a family again. I cried with her. I reassured her that all will be ok, and in her wisdom, she reassured me.  There we were, crying at the fact that our little family was no more…and hasn’t been for some time. Part of the solution was to call her mother, there and then, and over a speaker phone, the two adults reassured the thing they loved most in this world that she was loved and that neither her mom nor her dad will ever leave her just because the union of her parents did not work out. It was our choice to bring her into this world (with God’s grace and mercy) and our decision to separate; she did not ask for this, and that, in no uncertain terms, means that neither mother nor father should ever be expendable. I appreciate that not all relationship breakdowns can be amicable and harmonious; however I do believe that placing one’s children at the centre of one’s focus may realign what is most important when considering the possible collateral damage and the effect of those affecting ripples.    


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Fear & Love

I recently found myself lost in a local forest and I loved it!  An hour of climbing over fallen trees, ducking under low-lying branches and being sporadically poked by stinging nettles.  Unfortunately, with tingling skin and sweat on my brow, I decided to incorporate some modern technology.  Out came the iPhone and Goolge Maps was quickly consulted.  If I didn't need to be somewhere else within the hour, I would have played all day.

Whilst in the forest, I felt a sense a freedom, one which I haven't experienced since childhood.  I ran, I walked, I ducked, I climbed.  I was that very character which John Eldredge describes in his 2001 book, Wild at Heart.  Strangely, in my solitude, came a real sense of belonging.  At that time, in that moment, I was exactly where I wanted to be; in fact, I was exactly where I needed to be.  The words LOVE and FEAR kept playing over and over in my mind.  There was an element of danger in what I was doing, and the more fear whispered hints of caution into my conscious mind, the more I loved it.  A pretty feeble rush for those who find pleasure and leisure in extreme sports, but it was more than just a "rush", it was exhilarating and refreshing.

Many years ago, one of my oldest and most dearest friends, (let's call him Sean because that is actually his real name - insert smiley emojicon here!), said to me that the only two real emotions are love and fear.  I cannot remember the context of the conversation, and in all honesty, this type of conversation was not the norm - we never spent hours engaging in philosophical debates, it was always as simple as some girl he or I liked and whether she had smiled at us at school that day - but I somehow remember that it was Sean who said it and at the time I was studying my undergraduate in Psychology.  

I guess this idea has been swirling in my head ever since.  At the time I wanted to prove this notion false given that I was studying human behaviour after all.  One element in all of this which kept reoccurring, was that no matter how hard I tried, I continued to draw the same conclusion; I always came back to the same outcome - at the root of every emotion lies love and fear.

That was 18 years ago and there I was, 18 years later, lost in a forest, reciting the two words over and over again.

Is it really true that we are almost always driven by either fear or love?  I want to achieve something with my life, but fear tells me I'm not smart enough, good looking enough, brave enough, strong enough...and so apathy sets in and mediocrity becomes my mundane reality (thanks FEAR!!).  Or how about passion?  I love doing this or that and so I am driven to discover more, learn more, engage more (thanks LOVE).  

Racism, hatred, ethnocentrism, apathy, disinterest, loneliness, lethargy, stoicism, etc, etc, etc - FEAR FEAR FEAR!

Passion, wonder, exploration, interest, kindness, joy, discovery, etc, etc, etc - LOVE LOVE LOVE.

I am so hard pressed to find Sean wrong.  Eighteen years of studying people and their emotions, eighteen years of engaging, discovering, learning, asking, telling, advising, being advised, counselling and being counselled, and all I can come up with is LOVE and FEAR.  And you know what?  That's fine!  I like it like fact, I love it like that.

Fear cripples me whilst love drives me forward.  Fear restricts me whilst love lends a hand at discovery.

Bringing a child into this world is both utterly terrifying and with it, so wonderfully joyous.  We react our of fear.  Fear of what they will turn out to be.  Fear of whether we are doing right by them.  Fear of failing.  Fear of falling short.  Fear of not meeting expectations as a parent.  And underneath all that fear, thankfully, lies love.  We are terrified because we love.  We are concerned because we love. We want to do right because we love.  We don't want to fall short because we love.  We want to meet expectations because we love.

Fear can drive love but it can also cripple.  The beauty in this, is that we have a choice.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

It's Not My Party, But Can I Cry If I Want To?

Standing, alone, in a family home, celebrating a child's birthday.  You see the black and white family photos on the wall. The collage. The smiles, the warmth and the memories made. You stand there and your heart sinks.

Your heart sinks and the unrealistic notion that it is somehow getting smaller and smaller crosses your mind.  Its size is diminishing just like the package which is rotated from one little hand to the next in a game of pass-the-parcel.  The layers are peeled away and with them a small consolation prize appears.  It is the reward of chocolate or a small toy, but for your heart, it may be, perhaps, the start of a brand new day, waking up healthy...or it could be the prize of knowing that this day could be the day when you adopt a new lust for life. But the parcel continues to rotate until nothing is left.  You sit there, your mind dwindling into deep, dark thoughts of self-pity and shame. 

Everyone around you knows your situation.  They know that your child is the one whose parents are no longer together.  You wear the pain in the extra 15kgs/33lb/2.36st you've managed to collect along the way; food and alcohol are now the cruel substitutes to happiness and mental freedom. Your clothes stretch to accommodate the new frame just like the over-stretched balloons which decorate the living room doors.

Memories of what once was fade one-by-one.  Their fast-fading existence resembled by a growing lack of available seats in a fast-paced game of musical chairs.  With each new round the support in the shape of a chair becomes more and more scarce.  One is removed at a time and options slowly run out before your very eyes.  All the chairs are now gone and the winner sits perched on his throne. That's not you, your seat, the one supporting your new-found frame, went months ago. You see the life lived. You feel the family spirit around you and you mourn at the fact that this was never you even though the perception was always there.

You mourn your efforts.  Each past effort is extinguished just like a candle on the cake.  Each one blown out, one stick of colourful wax at a time.  Each one expires, the little flames no longer burn and you stand there, forgetting that the celebration is not for you and you realise that you are the one making all the wishes.  You repeat the words in your mind on rotation...I wish...I wish...I wish. And when your mind returns to the room, to the moment, you see that she is there.  The most beautiful creation in your opinion.  Your beautiful child. Your articulate, quirky, loving six-year-old...and you find yourself wishing once again, repeating some sort of mantra...

"I wish...I wish that she continues to be happy."

"I wish that she will be ok at the end of all of this."
"I wish that as she grows she will understand why."

...and when the wishes in your mind cease, you hear someone shoutout with jest, "world peace!"  Laughter follows and we start to sing happy birthday in unison, rounding it all off with a few hip hip hoorays! 

But in the end it's you who leaves with the prize.  You leave with her, your smiling daughter. You've won. You've won new memories of her smile, her excitement, the excitement of the party bag and the accolade of pass-the-parcel champion.  You've won because you got to experience that.  This was your day and you were present.  You look forward to the drive home because you know there will be memories shared of the day. You'll laugh, you'll joke and then when it's all done, you'll sing along with Taylor Swift at the top of your lungs - one small voice and one broken one.

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