Three

Please don’t go. Stay here with me. It’s not my fault, I’m only three. I’m only three!

Giving adult voice to the thoughts and feelings of a three-year-old who misses their parent, this song tears me up: in more ways than one. It hit me like a silken sledgehammer with all those feelings of loss, of separation, all the guilt and recrimination that go with it,  and the “what-if” / “what could I have done differently?” thoughts that torture and taunt.

How old were Jake and Ellie when our separation became formalised?

Three.

‘We’ had been living here in Wales in a good-sized family home we were renting while we tried to sell our old place in the Midlands.  I was splitting my time between there and the little temporary place we first moved into which is now my home. The twins were just starting pre-school and only for a few hours a week, so I was still spending a lot of my time looking after them there. It was a ‘trial separation’ in all but name; “need some time apart” I was told.

I’d found a great new home for us all, right next to their school, in a quiet cul-de-sac; with a good-sized garden, a communal green outside and with friends they could play with nearby. It was perfect for ‘us’. I’d stayed up all of Christmas Eve cleaning up the incredible mess that a family with 3-year-twins will inevitably make, and finalising the packing and moving. I then drove through the night to London to join the family with my in-laws for Christmas. I didn’t want to miss opening the presents around the tree! It’s such an important and joyous time for young children.

I did all this in the full expectation that this would be ‘our’ new family home, that we would all be moving in there together as a family. I was wrong. That’s when our separation started for real.

They all moved in and I stayed where I was. Separated.

My wife had gone back to work after her maternity leave while I carried on looking after the twins when they weren’t at school, so for financial reasons (I thought at the time) it was only her name on the title deed. I hadn’t stayed overnight there so I couldn’t claim any right of residence.

I would still come over for evenings, have dinner there & play with them until their bedtime: that’s when it it became – for want of a better word – ‘difficult’.

In my life I’ve experienced grief and pain. My favourite uncle died when I was a young boy; I was a pallbearer at his funeral. I had to take the day off school and I think I spent most of it crying. My Dad died in 2005; he’d lived to a good old age, and I’d seen him only a few months before, but it was still tough. I’ve had abscessed teeth (several times), I’ve woken up in the middle of the night after a knee operation when the anaesthetic had worn off in such pain that – as an agnostic – I prayed to die.

None of that compared to what I experienced here though. As it became time for me to go the twins would become distraught. They would plead for me to stay, shouting, screaming, crying uncontrollably. They did everything they possibly could with their little 3-year-old bodies to stop me leaving. They would grab a leg each and hang on as hard as they could, gripping me like limpets and refusing to let go. They would throw themselves between me and the door to try to stop me from leaving: all the while screaming, crying & shouting “DON’T GO DADDY! STAY HERE!”. They’d try distraction, delaying tactics, everything they could think of, to stop me from going.  And I didn’t want to go!!

But what could I do?! It wasn’t my house! They were no longer under my care!

It was, is, and I think always will be the most painful, distressing thing I’ve had to go through.

You say you love me, then you walk right out the door; I’m left here wanting more.

I was left high and dry and didn’t feel I had the means or resources to look after them as they needed any more. They would come over to my little place, and still do, but when it became time to leave it was the same distressing scenario all over again. This went on several days every week, for many months. Over the ensuing years it’s lessened but it’s still there. To be honest, I’ve lost track of time for it all now.

I only found out quite recently that they blamed me for all this. They thought that I had left them, when the opposite was true!  It’s only in the last year or so as they’ve grown mentally and emotionally that I’ve been able to explain to them what actually happened – that I didn’t leave, didn’t want to, it wasn’t my choice and that it was the last thing I wanted to do! They thought this about me, that Daddy had left them, betrayed them – for all this time! Awful!

They’re great kids, balanced, largely happy, smart, doing well at school and socially, etc. I still see a sadness in them however, a Dad-shaped emptiness, and I just can’t help feeling – despite the circumstances – that I’m to blame. All those “if only”s!

Looking back I can think of things I might have said and done differently that may have made a difference. Who knows? I can’t rewrite the past so I’ll never know. “Hindsight is always 20-20”! At the time I was so shocked, distressed, confused, struggling with my own personal circumstances and, yes, depressed that I couldn’t see any alternative.

They were only three.

They’re older now, but they’re still children: my children. All I can do is try to do the best that I can for them with what I have, and that’s what I’m doing.

DIY Daddy
Shank You Very Much
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Music, Music, Music. And More Music.

CDs? I have a few!

Even though I rarely buy them these days I still have a pile that I haven’t played & am getting to know. Despite my enthusiasm for new music I’m still old-fashioned enough to be into ‘albums’, not just single tunes. When I play a new CD I like to ‘get to know it’, as an entity in itself, not just a collection of individual tracks, so I’ll give it a good few plays before adding it to my collection and moving on. Unless of course, it’s rubbish! Then it gets fewer plays…

Being CDs, often ones that I bought some time ago,  they tend to be of older music, unlke the Spotify choices in my last post which were mostly newer.

Often they’re for playing in the car; I haven’t quite got my act together with digital music there yet – but I will. Because of that I like to have them in some specific and different flavours.

There’s the Mellow One: for winding down, relaxing. I often stick this on when I’m driving home late at night and want to relax before bed.

Then I like to have an Up-Tempo One. Something fast, lively & uplifting. Great for driving on a motorway or in preparation for a night out! Uusually fast, energetic rock or some bangin’ dance tunes!

At the moment I also want a Feel-Good Summery One. Warm weather: chilled, but uplifting, happy songs for a hot day. Yes, I live in Wales: never say I’m not an optimisist! And we do get some lovely warm days here y’know!

Aside from a few sundry picks that I just like the look of I also have a Wifely One! Yes, the “Separated and who gets the CDs?” thing! No fights here though: we seem to have been pretty clear about whose was whose. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been into music more than her, although she has some great picks. I’m onto the last one – it feels momentous…

What I’m playing at the moment? These:

The Mellow One: ‘The Sound of Bread’

I did say there was some older music here! ‘Bread‘, fronted by David Gates with Jimmy Giffin, were a laid-back Los Angeles based ‘soft-rock’ band that was popular in the 1970s, known for their slow, countryish West Coast ballads. They’re sometimes “a bit sad Ted!” but they have some great songs, & my pick from this “Best Of” type album is the iconic ‘Guitar Man’. It wasn’t a big hit at the time but remains one of their best-loved songs.

 

The ‘Wifely One’: Original Music from the Motion Picture ‘Shine” feat. David Helfgott

I love many different kinds of music, including ‘classical’, and this album is a pleasure from start to finsh, full of wonderful music. ‘Shine’ is a bio-pic about David Helfgott, an Australian-born classical pianist who struggled with the mental illness schizophrenia. Superbly played (as an older man) by Geoffrey Rush, the film highlights his musical virtuosity and his personal problems, although his family have been very critical of its portayal of the latter. Helfgott himself provides the piano soundtrack. Anyone who’s seen the film will understand that there can only be one pick for a top track from this, the infamous and tortuously difficult ‘Rach 3‘!

 

The Feel-Good Summery One: 37 Brits 2001 Hits, Disc 1

You’re driving around in your car, it’s hot, the sun is shining, you have the windows rolled down, people around town seem almost happy: all seems right with the world. This is the sort of music I want playing! This is a mixed bunch, as you’d expect, with some stonking tunes & some – let’s be honest, rubbish – but overall I love it. Best of the bunch – although probably not the most ‘summery’ choice –  has got to be the fantastic Iggy Pop (again!), this time with Death in Vegas playing the stunningly sinister “Aisha”. (Warning: the video is quite ‘steamy’: best avoided if easily offended!)

 

The Loud One: The Freeborn Brothers, ‘Gypsy Hobo Trash Grass’

I’ve never seen anyone even remotely like this lot. The Freeborn Brothers  are a bunch of young Polish guys who are all incredible musicians. Every year as part of their Europe-wide tour they stop off to perform at a tiny pub in my small Welsh town, and just for the cost of a donation or two. They are honestly one of the best live acts I have ever seen, not only unbelievably talented musicians but also terrific showmen, taking their music into the realms of performance art. They are also very funny. Musically they’re hard to classify: a combination of traditional Polish ‘folk’ music, bluegrass & punk! I think. They simply have to be seen to be believed, and I am very grateful that I’ve been able to. The track I’ve picked is called ‘Down to Hell’.

 

Another Summery One: ‘Sounds of the Summer’, from ‘The Big Issue’ Magazine

I’ll be honest: I mostly chose this one from the title. It’s not my idea of ‘summer music’. Summer nights in a sweaty night-club or at a festival maybe, probably not for pootling around in my car! I first played it while in the kitchen cooking with my daughter Ellie (8); in hindsight probably a mistake. We both noticed about the same time “Daddy, they’re saying some rude words!”. I put on the Brits CD instead: that was better! I do like the music though, even though it wasn’t what I was expecting. My favourite so far is probably the seriously funky, Mark Ronsonesque ‘The Turnaround’ by The Herbaliser.

 

Dermot O’Leary Presents: The Saturday Sessions 2013

This album is taken from the former X-Factor host’s BBC Radio 2 show where top musical acts would perform live in studio, often doing covers of well-known songs. It’s full of beautiful live music, and this is among its best: James Blake just on piano covering Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You‘. Entrancingly beautiful!

 

Let the music play on….

 

A Design For Life

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

The ‘Epicurean Epitaph’, a quote attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, often now used at humanist funerals.epicurus-3

I found myself thinking about this yesterday, prompted by a Facebook meme.

It doesn’t just apply to a way of looking at death. It can also be a way of looking at life.

The basis of Epicurus’ philosophy after all, his lifestyle and that of his friends and followers, was looking for the things that make us happy and then as much as possible having those things in our lives.

Not in Hedonism: self-indulgent and unrestrained behaviour – a common misunderstanding of his ideas – but more in a satisfaction with life: involving moderation, respect for others and friendship.

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

This could just as much be about happiness as it is a way of coping with the concept of our mortality. We all have peaks and troughs in our lives. There are times when things seem to be going well, when we’re making progress, when we’ve achieved some of our goals and are looking to continue onwards.

There are other times when life seems bleak, when nothing seems to work, where everything is going wrong – even to the extent that we give up hope.

Basic needs like food & water, shelter, safety, health, relationships. Simply said – not so simply achieved! Certainly not all at once. Sometimes we seem to have them all; other times none of it!

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

‘A while back’ – I’m shocked sometimes when I think about just how long ago it was! – I was living and working in and around London, working in Finance.  I was “doing OK”, not great, but “OK”.

I met a girl, we moved in together. She was also “doing OK”. We went to restaurants, pubs and gigs: together and with friends. We travelled a lot. We moved to Brighton, then to Sutton Coldfield. We got married, then had children. Twins: Jake and Ellie. Great kids! Having been made redundant earlier I became their full time stay-at-home Dad: for 3 years, until they started pre-school in preparation for school proper. By this time we were here in Wales.

Now, 5 years later, we’re separated. I live alone, in a small house: fine just for me but nothing like our old family home. The children who were my life I see now just 2 days a week: most of 1 day on the weekend and 1 evening after school.  And to be honest I’ve struggled to pick up with my career where I left off. The industry is very tech-driven and seems to have moved on, irrespective of all my experience. My age counts against me too I think; having to start again as it were a lot of the jobs I am qualified for I think are taken by young people.

We had a big house, and a good lifestyle: travel, good food, fun. Now I sometimes struggle even with the basics. Then I spent nearly all my time with my beloved Jake & Ellie; now I often feel like I hardly know them, like they’re growing up without me.

It’s very easy to look back and think things were perfect though isn’t it? I know they weren’t, even then.

Further back –  in New Zealand, for instance, before I found my feet career-wise here – I sometimes struggled, financially and socially. Even after I moved to the U.K. there were difficult times: I got caught up in the mortgage interest rate crisis of the ‘90s, and leaving the somewhat extreme religious group I got mixed up in was necessary, but still difficult, not least as it meant cutting myself off from all my ‘friends’ & having to start again socially.

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

I had tough times before, some good times, and now difficult times again. Life has its ups and downs. It’s just a question of perspective isn’t it? I’m trying to be grateful for what I do have. Great children who love me, food & shelter, safety, reasonably good health, friendships.

That’s more than millions of people all over the world can say. In many ways I’m lucky, despite what the reality of my life seems to be a lot of the time.

“I had not; I did have; I do not have; I do not mind”

I’m trying very hard to improve the things I can, while learning to accept and make the most of life as it is.

Thank you Epicurus: those are indeed wise words.

Separated

“Separated”.

What a word. What a big word! A word loaded with meaning.

“removed or severed from association, service, etc., especially legally or formally”  Dictionary.com

“severed”, “removed”. Reminiscent of surgical amputation, or tooth extraction: it sounds painful!

And it is.

Not quite married, not quite single. Both, and neither.

“But I’m not really married!” isn’t the exactly the world’s best chat-up line is it? Damn, I even wrote a song about it!

But that’s not the worst part – not for me, anyway. I don’t think it would help anyone – me, my children or their mother – to drag any recriminations, whys and wherefores all over the internet, and I don’t intend to.

“Separated”. Not just from my wife, from what is now the ‘family home’, but also – and most importantly – from Jake and Ellie. That’s the worst part.

Jake and Ellie. Who I’ve described as “the best thing I’ve ever done with my life”.  In low moments “the only good thing I’ve ever done with my life”.

Jake.  The Jake who I held “skin on skin” when he was born and who promptly stopped crying, then relaxed enough to relieve himself all over my chest. “The happiest moment of my life” I called it at the time.    DSCF2769

Ellie, my “Tiny Dancer”. The countless hours I spent cuddling her and singing her to sleep night after night, not leaving until I was sure she was soundly asleep.

That first year I spent with them, along with their mother, as a full-time parent was at once the richest and one of most demanding of my life.

The (for the first year at least) twice-daily walks in the double buggy, in all weathers, to give them the naps they needed. The vomit, the nappies, the sleep deprivation, the tantrums. Their first steps! Their first words! I remember tweeting “Teaching my little boy to roll a ball. Happy.” And I meant it. All those precious moments I spent with them, helping them live, learn and grow: three years a stay-at-home Dad.

DSCF4388

They’re now 8. At school, doing well, making friends, making music, playing rugby, and much more: so grown up! I see them so little by comparison. 1 day on a weekend and 1 evening during the week. I feel like they have been and are growing up largely without me.

It’s painful.

I’d defined myself and my life around them. And now we’re “Separated”. I left my heart with them and it’s still there: Separated.