Goodbye 2016, or ‘what I’ll do differently in 2017’.

People keep saying that 2016 has been a really shitty year. Mainly as a result of the celebrity deaths we have experienced in the last 365 days. It’s very easy to jump on the bandwagon on death and disaster. The rise of Donald Trump The Anti-Christ, for example, and #BREXIT as a decision made by 50% of the UK population to be isolationist, backwards and to undo decades of progress. It’s very easy to look back at 2016 and think just how terribly awful it has been. And I very nearly got sucked into that pit of despair.

But then I stopped. I thunked for a bit. And remembered. You know what? My bad years have passed. 2014 was brutal. I lost Clare in the most wicked, cruel and evil way. Taken by cancer before turning 40. My world collapsed and I didn’t know how I would get through each day. 2015 wasn’t much better. I fell out with my brother which ultimately lead to our family being splintered and me not being invited to his wedding. Those wounds have yet to heal.

2016 hasn’t been bad to me. I have had my fair share of crazy experiences and dangerous liaisons, I’ve had stresses, I’ve tolerated fools. I’ve fending off stalkers and compulsive liars. I’ve been mis-sold on an idea which didn’t manifest in reality. I’ve been gullible, deceived, shallow and vain. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in my personal life.

Professionally it’s nothing but positives. There are no complaints.
I’ve maintained friendships with those I’m interested in and cast aside those who bring me down.
I’m closer to my parents despite being estranged from my brother. They see my side of things. We’re allies.
I’ve been to Portugal, I’ve been to Lanzarote. I’ve bought a car. I’ve made improvements to my home. I have more money than I have ever had. I’m far from ‘rich beyond my wildest dreams’ but my bills are paid, there’s money in the bank, and there’s wine in the fridge.
My relationship with the boy’s mum goes from strength to strength. My relationship with the boy evolves as expected with a nine-going-on-nineteen-year-old. He’s stubborn and headstrong. He is his father’s son.

As the clock ticks over to midnight it’s time to consider what I’ll do differently in 2017. One criticism I’ll level at myself from the past year is my tendency to rush in. I’ve been so keen to capture that which I lost before that I have thrown caution to the wind and involved myself in situations too early and too soon. Too deeply. Too personally. I’ve opened myself up to people and given myself to them before I first weighed up their worth. I’ve invested time and emotion in people who did not deserve my time or my emotion. I’ve been stupid. I’ve been kind. I’ve been cruel.

2017 is to be a year of standing still and taking stock – I’ve said that before. I have plans to do interesting things and read a lot of books. I might even move house, but if I don’t or if I can’t I’ll make my current house more of a home. I’m going to go on holiday; maybe twice(!) (maybe thrice!!). I’m going to enjoy life and living it.

But there’s going to be No More Mister Nice Al. It’s time for me to be careful, calculated, cautious. Rather than taking people at face value I need to wait until the big reveal. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. It’s time, 2017 is going to be the time, for Al to no longer be foolish.

I’ll see y’all on the other side of the bells.

It takes two

We live in a modern world, do we not? We live in the 21st Century. Modern day. Gender roles have blurred. Sexualities have blurred. Expectations have blurred. None more so than in the world of dating and relationships. Boys make the first move, girls make the first move. Relationships are casual, monogamous, polygamous, open, sub/dom, DDLG, permanent, transient, relaxed, serious. It seems that anything goes. And I like that. I like that there are so few typical expectations placed upon relationships, regardless of gender identity.

Listen, if two people are attracted to each other, it should not fall to just one of those people to steer the course, make the moves, push to see the other. If you want to see someone, ask. If you want to speak to someone, call. If you miss someone, tell them. If you want something, go and get it. Do not expect the other person to do that for you.

And, finally, if you throw your toys out of the pram because the other person doesn’t make the first move, doesn’t send the first message, doesn’t make the first call, don’t be surprised when you’re dismissed as the petulant child you have proven yourself to be.

Relationships are tough. I hope you all find what you are looking for out there.

Fatherhood III

What I am going to tell you now is what got me thinking about being a dad, having a dad, and the important relationship between father and son in the first place. Parts one and two are intended to give an idea of where we came from, what we experienced, and why this situation just does not sit right with me.

I am no longer speaking to my brother. I cannot bring myself to speak to him. He’s getting married in August and I have no intention of being there. Harsh? Maybe. Will I regret it? That’s possible. Do I feel like I have a choice? No, certainly not.

I discussed previously what happened when me and my brother were younger. I was 13, he 11 when our dad decided to abandon us. This decision by him, that we innocent children had no influence over, has affected both of our lives. How could it not? There was nothing positive that came out of what he did. We have both suffered from his selfishness. We continue to suffer, perhaps in different ways.

Later in life Tom’s mum tried to stop me from seeing him and I fought as I should be expected to do against that. He’s my son, and he needs me in his life. No one is going to stop me from seeing my son. Knowing from personal experience just how detrimental it can be for a child to not have a father I was not prepared to put Tom through that. My brother had that same personal experience.

Years later my brother met a girl. They split up, he met another girl who quickly fell pregnant. He then rekindled his relationship with the first girl who knew about the pregnancy. The baby was born and girlfriend, who had become fiancée by then, made her feelings very well known. She hated that child. She hated everything about him. He was such a beautiful happy little boy too, yet she hated the very air that he breathed.

Eventually things got so bad that fiancée stopped brother from seeing his child.

If someone told me that I could not see Tom they would be cast aside before the words had left their mouth. Him? No, he accepted it. Accepted that this awful woman would not allow him to see his own child. Despite what we went through. Despite the fact that we didn’t see our dad. Words cannot describe how angry I am with him.

Last year this beautiful little boy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Has ever a boy needed his daddy more…?

A man who chooses a woman over his child is no man and is no brother of mine. Not when such a man can claim to have experienced, first hand, such action taken against him when he was a child.

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.