Fatherhood II

In 1990 I was thirteen years old. An awkward teen with a younger brother, living with my mum and her new partner in Grimsby. I was never very happy. I resented the new man in my mums life. I idolised my Sgt Major dad. He was living in Germany or Belgium, had been living in Canada, and despite the distance was never far from my thoughts. My dad had remarried a German woman and I had a second brother, Josef. I never saw dad very often. He was a whole other country away, but he would write to me and in the summer we would go see him in whichever country he was currently making his home.

Thirteen year old me received a letter in 1990 from my dad. In it he explained that he would not longer have anything more to do with us whilst we lived with my mum. I’ve asked mum about this letter. All I remember is my gran coming over with the letter (he didn’t trust mum to give it to us) and me being sat in a wicker backed chair. I don’t remember the words. I don’t remember the tone. I don’t remember anything about the letter other than the core message; Alan, you will never see your dad again. He has decided he no longer wants you. You are rejected. You. Are. Alone.

And I had never felt so alone. My sour relationship with my stepdad meant that door was closed to me. My mum, I’m sure, saw this as validation of her opinion of the man. I couldn’t talk about it. What thirteen year old boy in the early nineties could discuss how he was feeling? Instead I internalised those feelings of loss. I withdrew. I had put all my eggs in one basket. It didn’t matter about my mum, about my brother, about school, friends, anything. I had my dad. It took me a long time to come to terms with just how central he was to my existence.

And then suddenly, he was gone. He made the conscious decision to abandon me. To reject me.

And for that reason I avoided emotional connections for a long time. I still do. If you don’t connect you can’t be hurt. If you don’t give yourself to someone they cannot reject you. I didn’t realise I was doing it, being cold, keeping people at arms length, but when I look back over the last twenty-five years I know that is exactly what I did.

What my dad did to me had an impact which has lasted twenty-five years and may last twenty-five more.

In part one I discussed how Tom’s mum made a decision to stop me seeing him. And how I refused to accept that decision, how I fought against it. Always in my mind as I went through that awful experience was the long term effects upon my son if he didn’t have his dad in his life. Having experienced first hand just how terrible that is, there is no way I was going to allow Thomas to suffer the same.


Fatherhood I

One of the most frustrating, rewarding, humbling, enlightening, difficult, joyful jobs any man can do. Being a dad is probably the most defining element of my existence. Suddenly, ill equipped to deal with life’s dramas and struggling to look after yourself, someone else is thrust upon you.

In 2007 I became a father to Thomas. Things have not been all sweetness and roses. Things have been difficult, painful, hurtful. I’ve tried to do my absolute best but I’m always wracked by the feelings that my best is just not good enough. I’m no longer with Tom’s mum. It was just entirely natural to assume when we split that he would live with his mum and I would see him when I could. A part-time dad, a weekend dad, absent father, call it what you will. I went from having each and every day Thomas to seeing him twice a week. He really struggled with it too. I can’t imagine how hard it was for him. People talk about the resilience of children, but this was all he had known and then, through no fault of his own, through no choice of his, due to someone else’s actions, someone else’s words, another’s decision, he – just like that – loses full time access to his dad.

I struggled. Christ I did. I remember coming home from seeing Tom after I first moved out and being torn by such an extreme sadness. A despair like which I hadn’t ever felt before and wouldn’t feel again for some odd years. It’s grief, quite simply. It’s a loss. Of a life, of an opportunity to be the best kind of influence. You go from steering the life of your boy to being a casual observer as others do that for you. You go from being able to guide and nurture to being a spectator. The person who means the absolute world to you and suddenly because of a relationship breaking down you’re shut out.

Its funny, because you try to then get on with your life now that you’re a part-time dad. You have time to kill and a void to fill. You do this through other interests, new relationships, moving on, living your own life. From time to time you drop back into the life of your child. I remember feelings of such guilt seeing Thomas after a week, or even just a few days and knowing that I had moved on with my own existence. I had accepted that he was now a facet of my life, no longer the focus.

I remember speaking to Tom about something, I can’t remember the details, but I’d said to him, “but we don’t live together anymore.” To which he replied, “Yes but you live in my heart and I live in your heart.” I was stunned into silence. What do you say to something like that? The kid is five and he grasped the very fabric of our relationship on a level which this bumbling old fool could not? It makes me happy-sad to think back to it. Even after three years. It’s one of the things I will always remember. A snapshot in time where I realised just how incredible my boy was.

In 2012 Tom’s mum stopped me from seeing him. She pulled the plug and just like that I was no longer allowed to see my boy. I remember it keenly. Sadly I think Tom does too. At some point he is going to have questions about that period – that thankfully short period – of our lives. It was mere months before common sense prevailed but it was damaging. I remember hearing something said along the lines of [to Tom’s mum], “if you stop him seeing Tom he won’t fight it, he will just accept it”. For reasons I will come onto in Fatherhood II that was never going to happen. When I was thirteen my dad stopped seeing me. And, that decision made by him without any thought of me, was the defining point in my life. It has affected everything I have done since. It turned me into someone uncomfortable with emotion. Someone uncomfortable with showing feelings or form relationships. If you don’t feel you can’t be hurt, right? I guess that what happened to me twenty five years ago was, in some respects, the catalyst for what happened in 2012. Recalling the damage which was done to me by my dad I was not prepared to visit that some trauma upon my son. It’s time to break the cycle. I don’t want Thomas to suffer as I have and, in turn, visit that suffering upon his children.

In the end all you can do is try your hardest and hope for the best. Hope that no matter how much you fuck it up things’ll work out okay in the end. Hope that your child will grow and develop and be more than you could hope for him to be. You have to just keep your fingers crossed that despite the unintentional emotional damage you do, things are gonna be alright.

You can do whatever you want to do

I’m currently reading (amongst others) a book called Masters of Doom by David Kushner. Subtitled, “How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture”. It tells the story of John Carmack and John Romero. Of Doom, Quake, and id Software. I’m about half way through. In book terms, Doom had just been released, and I’m eager to find out what happens next.

But reading it has given me pause for thought. When I was younger, when I was in my first couple of years at secondary school, I was a huge fan of arcade games. These aren’t the same arcades as you would expect to see in America, but I used to go to the local arcade after school and battle my way through Golden Axe and other total classics such as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. I’d take trips to the seaside and pump pounds worth of 10p pieces into the machines. Always action, side scrolling ‘beat ’em ups’ or shooters. I was hooked.

This all came to a stop when I was seen by my mother and forbidden from using the arcade machines. Then I was forbidden from even entering the arcade. We never had much money. She saw me putting money into an arcade machine as throwing it away, but I loved the escapism from my life. I loved to venture into fantasy to escape reality. The reality of not fitting in, or being apart from my family, from being the black sheep. I never felt wanted when I was in my early teens. Games gaves me a method of denying the destructive feelings of isolation. Things finally came to a head when I was attacked from behind by my mother when I was playing the aforementioned Golden Axe. I remember it so well, even though it was so many years ago. The year would have been 1991 or 1992. Eighteen years have passed but I still remember the humiliation I felt being dragged out of there by my mother in front of the kids from school. I still remember the hot tears and the stinging shock of that slap. I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted to do.

I think back to that and I wonder what damage it did to my aspirations. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not going to sit here and proclaim to have missed my calling, or to be the next Sid Meier yet discovered and undeveloped. But games is something I wanted to do. I have always loved games. Who knows what I could have done had I been encouraged and not slapped down all those year ago. Who fucking knows….?

He may not yet be three. But I told Thomas today, I promised him, that he can do anything he wants to do. I promised him that if he wants to be a sportsman, or a writer, artist, musician, dancer, game designer (!) then I would support and encourage him in his dream. I promised him that I would never hold him back from pursuing his path or try and coerce him down a route that I want for him. It’s his life, and I will be there to help him in any way that I am physically, mentally, emotionally or financially able. Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about, but the words were for my benefit not just for his. I want him to have the life I never had. Christ that sounds fucking shit, doesn’t it? I haven’t had a bad life. Far from it. But with Tom I want only the best. That was my promise today. Tom can make his own choices, and I’ll be right behind him, supporting him on his way.