I’ll end the AUGUST2020CHALLENGE with an announcement. One of the reasons behind the challenge was to increase the number of good news and positive entries into this blog which has served me well in times of adversity.
In February 2021 we’ll be welcoming a new brother or sister for Tom and Lucas. After going through a miscarriage in September last year this is a most excellent turn of events and we’re all very excited to welcome the next addition to our family.
We are very much looking forward to welcoming the newest addition to our family.
Say hello to the as yet unnamed baby Smith.
Today is Tom’s birthday. He’s thirteen and growing up too quick. I asked what he wanted for his birthday and he said he just wants money so he can put it towards a new Xbox since his is ‘glitching’ badly. He will get a card and it will be stuffed with cash. I think, sometimes, that all I can give to him is money. Perhaps it is a sign of his age now but he doesn’t seem interested – much – in doing anything other than playing Xbox and going out with his mates. Dad gets relegated to a supporting act; I know this and I expected this, but it still stings.
I still remember the day he was born. Mum went into surgery and left my boy and I for a few hours. I held this new life in my arms and knew that at that moment I loved him unconditionally. I promised, silently, to always love and support him and to do my very best for him. I don’t think I have kept that promise. I wish things were better between us. Due to my job and the rigours of shift work I don’t see him as often as I should. I feel guilt about that but when I do see him its often difficult to know what to say to a teenager. What do you talk about? I don’t feel like we have very much in common and I get a feeling that when we are together he can’t wait to get home again.
Tom is very attached to his mother. We went through an arduous series of meetings with CAMHS to try and understand what is going on in his head. Tom played along but wasn’t invested. I want to push him to realise his full potential but I feel it is too late and he never will. His mother is the primary influencer and, whilst I know she loves him totally I don’t feel she is the best influence on him. I want him to be an independent, adventurous, inquisitive soul but instead he’s a home bird and still essentially attached to the apron strings.
Maybe one day he will reject the status quo and venture out on his own but as I type this, on the thirteenth anniversary of his birth, he won’t even sleep over here or at a friend’s house. We tried to understand why; that was the purpose of the CAMHS meetings but it didn’t make any difference.
What to do, what to do. I feel as if his development is being restricted by his attachment to his Mum. He plays up for her and she panders to him. I won’t and I think that is perhaps one of the reasons why he doesn’t like to stay here. Children need structure and routine. His routine revolves around his bedroom, his Xbox, and staying up until 3am before sleeping all morning and getting up in the afternoon. This whole coronavirus lockdown situation hasn’t helped as it played right into his hands. When he was required to stay in that suited him perfectly. I’d like him doing sports and clubs and activities which don’t consist of playing GTA V until the early hours.
I have to take some responsibility for the situation. When I left his Mum I caused this mess and I have never been able to fix it despite my attempts to do so. I believe we both want the best for him but neither of us can provide it. She lacks the strength to go against his wishes and I lack any influence to push him down a better path.
The future is uncertain but fills me with worry. What on earth should I do about Tom?
Oof. This might be long. I come from a big family. Not big as in Victorian England big, but big compared to most modern western families. I’m going to ignore the extended family for this as there is not enough time in the day or the year, for that matter, to cover all. Additionally I’d be sure to forget someone given just how large the clan extends. To give that some context, at my Gran’s funeral many years she was mourned by twelve children, over fifty grandchildren and a dozen great grandchildren. Those numbers have swelled in subsequent years (and that doesn’t consider the paternal side of my family or my stapdad’s family either!). So let’s keep this closer to home.
First there’s Fran and I – we have a child, Lucas. I also have a child from a previous relationship; Thomas. That’s our core. I’ve always been so pleased with how welcoming Fran has been towards Tom. She doesn’t treat him like her own child and he’s not so I wouldn’t expect her to do so, but she’s kind, patient, considerate and interested. I can’t ask for more than that.
Tom doesn’t live with us but we see him as often as possible – actually, that’s a lie. He’s 13 this month and has his own life. We see him when he can fit us into his busy schedule, which is not as often as I would like. Here he is yesterday with Lucas. Lucas loves him a lot.
Outside of our little group I have my Mum and step-dad. They’re the glue that tries desperately – and often fails – to hold us all together. I say us all as my Mum was blessed with four sons:
I also have another brother, Josef, who is from my Dad’s second marriage. I’ll write more about Joe another time. I wish he was very much an inclusive part of the family but we live so far away and have such different lives it’s a struggle.
Mike is the main cause of angst within our family. There’s a divide between us and it causes anguish for my parents. I’ve wrote a lot about Mike and our non-relationship in the past. It is a constant source of torment:
We are currently still estranged. I think about him often but I cannot bring myself to set aside my principles for an easy life.
Eton is the first child from my Mum’s second marriage. Half-brothers is such a terrible term. He’s my brother and always has been. Perhaps due to the age difference we don’t see each other often. We have different friends, different interests, different lives – despite sharing a career. He knows I’m there is he needs me.
Ellis is the youngest of us. He has struggled with mental health for the last decade and it’s been tough for all involved. He’s getting better, he’s outgoing, smart, passionate. I have a lot of love for the wee guy. Its sad that he hasn’t developed into the charming, successful, independent man he was destined to be, but that is down to mental health and beyond his control.
Here we are: Eton, Ellis, Byron, Lucas, Al (me), Laura, Mum and Fran.
They say you can choose your friends but not your family. You get what you’re given. Tell me about your family. Do you get on with them?
So angry. Gave Tom £10 to get his mum – the ex – something for her birthday. He spent £5 and kept £5 for himself. Infuriating as there is NOTHING I can do about it. I have no control, no say in his parenting.
I’m at a loss at what to do. He won’t be punished for it. He didn’t even care to apologise.
On Friday we learned that our expected baby didn’t have a heartbeat. Devastated isn’t enough to cover the feeling of loss. I know that he didn’t have a life yet. I know that he wasn’t really a baby being so early in the pregnancy but that doesn’t make the loss any easier. I am trying to hold it together for Fran. The loss is felt most keenly be her; her body preparing itself for carrying and nurturing a new life and now just an empty void remains. How do you pull yourself together and move on? The simple answer is there is no other option:
He needs us. Entirely unaware and immune to what has happened. He is such a wonderfully happy child. He smiles and we smile. He is the reason why we pull ourselves together and move on.
It’s hard though. Her physical pain. Our emotional pain. I’m back at work and listening to well meant platitudes.
“It just was not meant to me.”
“These things happen.”
But that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s like people don’t know how to act, what to say. They’re waiting to respond but baby-loss is such an uncomfortable subject. People simply do not wish to talk about it.
So we share our grief with each other and with no other. I’m putting on a very brave face, but just this morning cuddling Lucas, dancing in the lounge, I cried. I smiled at my boy and I cried for the one who will never share cuddles. Never play in the sand. Never go out for walks. Never feel the wind in his hair. Never reach for comfort.
Good bye baby. We never knew you but we will love you forever.
I should be going to sleep as I have work early in the morning but I have to get this out. I have to cleanse. It’s like a poison, like when you have eaten something bad and your body needs to reject it. You have to vomit. You know it is going to be unpleasant but it is for the good of you. This is for the good of me. Writing is Therapy, remember?
Tom told me today that his Grandma and Grandad on his Mum’s side doesn’t like me. Firstly, this doesn’t come as a surprise, it doesn’t come as a shock, I already knew. It’s clear they never have. Even when we were together they didn’t agree with my life choices. I refused to marry their daughter. I refused to adhere to their demands to join their family. Then I split with their daughter and ruined this perfect image they try and project. Perfect catholic parents with perfect catholic kids and perfect catholic grandkids living their perfect catholic lives.
But not me. That didn’t work for me.
So I’m not shocked at all that they don’t like me. To be honest the feeling’s mutual. First I reserve a contempt for most who believe in invisible sky fairies, second they stood by – or worse, supported – her when she stopped me from seeing Tom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is unforgivable. They stood by and supported her when she stopped my parents from seeing their grandchild. That is more than unforgivable, it’s evil. Ironic really, these catholic dogooders acting so terribly, with a four year old child at the heart of their machinations.
That single act by her did more to ruin the relationship I had with my son than anything I could imagine doing. He went from spending two nights a week with me to spending a couple of hours at a time. We never recovered from that. We still may, as he grows older, but the damage it irreversible. And it was caused by that family.
So today Tom tells me that, according to his Grandad I’m not a good father, I am not a good role-model, and this is because I didn’t have my father around when I was younger to teach me how to be a good father. Note: There is no book on How To Be a Dad. Being a Good Dad comes down to heart and instinct. At first I thought maybe he was making it up. He is prone to exaggeration from time-to-time. But that phrase, ‘not a good role-model’ from a ten year old? That sounds too awful to not be true.
It’s okay that they don’t like me. It’s okay that they think I’m not a good dad and that I’m not a good role model. That’s fine. I am okay with that. Their opinion of me matters not. However, when you tell that to my ten year old boy it’s an entirely different matter. To put it simply; how fucking dare they?
Tom remains unaware that his mother stopped me from seeing him because I would never want him to think any less of her. The day before she stopped contact we had a fight and she shouted a now forgotten insult at me in front of Tom. He said, “If she says bad things about you, Daddy, I’m going to say bad things about her.” I told him he wouldn’t because he was not to be rude to his mother. She would not let me see my son for almost two months. I had to seek legal advice to get access back. The first thing he said to me when I saw him after this was, “I’ve missed you so much, Daddy.” and it damned near broke my heart.
Her parents, her holier-than-thou catholic parents, sat back and supported her in doing this to Tom. Not to me, to Tom. I’m a big boy, I can look after myself, but Tom was four years old when they, as a collective, ripped him from his father against his will. Disgusting behaviour by any standards, yet I am the Bad Dad, the bad role-model. It infuriates me, it frustrates me, and I’m not going to do a single thing about it.
After Tom told me this I told him that nobody else’s opinion mattered and as long as he liked me (and he said he does!) it’s all okay. I told him that what they thought didn’t make any difference to us as long as we had each other. He said that when they said these things to him he told them to stop and that he didn’t like them talking about his Dad like that. I question whether he would do this, but the thought was there and that’s good enough.
The only answer I can have to this is an answer for Tom, not for them, because they mean less than shit to me now, but to Tom I need to be the absolute best possible. I have to be the one he relies on, the one he goes to when he’s in trouble or when he needs help. The person who teaches him life’s lessons and accompanies him on life’s journeys. I have to be, for his sake, all the things that they say I am not. A Good Dad and a good role-model. Someone who didn’t have his Dad around when he was younger but is better and stronger for it. A guide, a mentor, a bank and a taxi. All these things I need to be and more.
And I will be all those things because I can be. I’m far from perfect, and my copy of How To Be a Dad was lost so I made it up as I went along with heart and instinct. I continue to do so and I know I make mistakes. But I learn from them and I apologise when I get it wrong. I forgive those who wronged me because it’s the right thing to do. I continue to be that person and allow them to think ill of me and speak ill of me.
The only person I have to prove anything to is Tom.
I saw my brother today. We didn’t speak. I don’t think he even looked at me. He didn’t sit with our parents and I, and he left after the funeral service avoiding coming to the wake. It’s the first time I have seen him since we fell out and now that I am home again I wish I had said something; even if that something was just ‘hello’. Perhaps it just wasn’t the time and place.
Today I explained to a good man the reasons why we fell out. I explained why – from my point of view – our relationship broke down. I don’t know what his point of view is. Maybe I never will. This man impressed upon me my responsibilities in this. That my brother is making a mistake which he will, one day, suddenly and quite horrifyingly wake up to. His abandonment of his child; in itself a terrible act, is mirroring the actions of our own father. That I suffered and my brother suffered means I do not wish to see his child suffer the same.
My reaction was to turn my back on him. He was a fool. He was making a huge mistake and I could not be expected to stand by and watch him do what he was doing. But was that the right reaction? I don’t know any longer. Speaking today about it, and talking about it at the weekend, maybe I am wrong. Maybe what I instead need to do is confront and educate? Inform and explain? Will it make any difference? I simply do not know. BUT if there is a chance it won’t make any difference there is equally a chance that it will.
And even if it does not make any difference at all to his decision with regards to seeing his first-born, perhaps in time he will come around to see the sense of things. Perhaps between us, my parents and I, with him not being on the outside looking in but rather and inclusive member of the family; perhaps we can make him understand the error of his ways.
I asked The Boy the other day what he wanted to do on Saturday. I had a full tank of diesel and a reasonable swedge of cash available. The world was our oyster. “Let’s go to Roseberry Topping” was his reply. Deal.
Saturday morning I pick him up and we head off into the Cleveland hills. And do you know, my boy is growing up! And I think that sometimes if you don’t stop and think about it, you miss it. You miss the development of infant into child into young man. Driving along listening to him natter away. Pointing out cars he likes (“COOL FORD FOCUS RS, MATE!”) as we swing through Yarm. Telling me about getting detention two days in a row because “Peter is a grass”. He’s his own little person and I wasn’t paying attention to that. Guiltily, I wasn’t paying attention to that; to him.
We walked up Roseberry Topping, stopping along the way to rest and to chat and to look out across the scenery. Kids are inquisitive aren’t they? They observe stuff. “I can see your car” and “I can see the sea”. A helicopter flew overhead, “Do you think he can see us?” Parts were slippery. He insisted on holding my hand. I don’t think it was entirely for balance either. These are the moments kids remember. Tramping up through the mud towards the summit. Holding onto Dad. The years and months pass by so rapidly. Soon he won’t want to do that. Soon he’ll forge on ahead and leave his old man behind, I’m sure. But for now my boy wanted to hold my hand, and that’s a feeling I won’t ever forget.
We got to the top and looked out over Teesside. North towards the sea, south towards Captain Cook’s Monument (I’ve promised that next year we will walk all the way there and back). He wants to sit on the edge and dangle his feet over. NO! Funny how invincible kids think they are.
We start the walk down and he says, “This is awesome.”
“You and me doing this. Mum said if she wasn’t going out she would have come with us but I said in my head, ‘I don’t think so, it’s me and Dad time’.”
Which is when I thought, you know what? This is what it’s all about. It’s not about spending money. It’s about spending time. Your time is invaluable. You’ll never get that time again. The greatest gift you can give to someone is your time.
(If you click the image you’ll get it full size)