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.