Fatherhood.

21 06 2015

This cartoon is one of the best representations of the shock and awe of fatherhood I have seen. Bob Moran, a cartoonist has put together his very personal experiences for the UK’s Telegraph. 

Father's Days

Please click on the image

For me, the experience was somewhat different. Mandy was brought home by a work colleague at around 1600hrs. She’d earlier collapsed in a bank, passing out and hitting the floor because of the pain in her tummy. So, arriving home, she looked very unwell, and my immediate reaction was to phone our obstetrician. Eva was brilliant and decisive, after describing Mandy’s symptoms she just said “get her into maternity now and I’ll see you very soon.”

So, calmly, but inwardly panicking, I drove Mandy to Auckland City. I parked outside and grabbed a wheelchair, as she clutched her stomach. A hospital volunteer told me to “bring the wheelchair back once you’ve finished with it!” I didn’t respond, so she decided to accompany us all the way up to maternity telling us en route “we never get these wheelchairs back, they just go missing you know…” I couldn’t have cared less.

We presumably arrived at floor 9, it’s the maternity wing, and were immediately met by a team of lovely nurses at which point Mandy was admitted and transferred to a single room – the volunteer, pushing her way in past all of the clinical staff to grab the wheelchair, amidst all of the hullabaloo, couldn’t have been a more surreal spectacle. I was in disbelief and so were the nurses.

I felt relieved that Mandy was at last in safe hands. But she was in pain, lots of pain. So they tried to help her by increasing her oxygen intake because her breathing was shallow. Examinations continued, the pain wasn’t abating, Mandy told them she wasn’t getting anything through the line but they didn’t believe her. Increasingly worried, I asked them to check the line and so they changed the face mask. Concerned at the lack of relief still, after 15 minutes I decided I’d had enough and looked at the equipment myself finding that they’d not turned it on!

There was a sudden hush among the nurses as a registrar appeared accompanying Eva, our obstetrician. Initial examinations of Mandy gave cause for concern, not just for Mandy, but for Darcey too. Her condition was inexplicable. I remember them vividly trying to ascertain Darcey’s heart beat, but no-one could find it. Mandy was meanwhile fighting back the pain. Eva continued to examine her and after five minutes – it appeared to last a lifetime – Eva took the decision to ‘get Darcey out, and see what’s going on…’

There must have been a shift changeover because I remember the moment a nurse pressed the red button above Mandy’s bed,  as if by magic with the red lights flashing and the alert sounded, we were suddenly swamped with nurses, they came from everywhere. It was actually quite terrifying, because for me it underlined how serious the situation was, it was a real emergency for us the like of which I’d never been involved with before, with potentially serious and unknown consequences; but for the clinicians this was a ‘normal’, practiced and rehearsed, emergency procedure. They were all calm and focused, each with a role to perform. It was impressive.

Mandy was effectively stripped of everything she was wearing, studs, earings, rings and even in her pain, battled to retain some dignity by holding on to her black nail varnish on at least one finger. However, by now there were swarms of nurses and clinicians around us. Mandy was readied for theatre and I accompanied her as they wheeled her bed along the corridor…we didn’t have a moment to kiss and say ‘goodbye’, but my hand grabbed hers and she was gone. A heavy mancunian accent spoke to me, as a senior nurse put her reassuring arm around me.‘Let’s get you settled chuck with a nice cup of tea’ and I was escorted out into the landing area of the ward. Tea arrived and a reassuring chat with the nurse ensued, but soon she was gone and I was all alone.

Time passed me by and the security doors to the wards were closed. I was now shut out. The hospital had no cafe, the restaurant was closed, there was nothing and I feared leaving in case I missed something. There was no-one to speak to – how was I going to find out about Mandy and Darcey? Who was going to know anything anyway? Mandy was no longer in maternity, technically, or was she? Was it surgical now? I didn’t know anything. Silence.

I paced up and down and several hours went by. I picked up one of the wall phones to speak to the ward and nobody answered. I tried again, the result was the same. Three hours had now passed by, it was 2100hrs, and suddenly Eva arrived with what turned out to be a registrar from general surgery. ‘Has no-one been to see you?’ they asked. ‘No, it’s been a very quiet and anxious time for me’ I said. Apologising, they explained that Darcey had been delivered at 1942hrs and had been rushed up to NICU. Mandy had undergone an internal examination by general surgeons who found that she’d had a cecal volvulus. ‘So. All good. Congratulations. Someone should be along shortly to take you to see Darcey.’

Another hour and a half passed by, this time, I’d managed to get the ward to answer, and they were now ‘searching’ for Mandy. I was on floor nine, the maternity floor, but they thought she might be on floor seven.

Just after 2300hrs, a nurse appeared through the doors and said ‘Mr Page, would you like to come and see your daughter?’ I followed her excitedly. I don’t really know what I was expecting. I was feeling out of sorts, I’d missed her birth (she was my first), she was in NICU and my wife had gone missing. I was tired, hungry and anxious. Turning left into the NICU ward, I saw posters, large wall mountings, each unique, beautiful, colourful and personal describing the journey of other poor little souls who were born early. They had all seemingly graduated and left the care of this fabulous facility, safely and alive, each returning to their homes to live a normal life.

I was now very worried and began wondering what on earth almost 10 weeks of prematurity might look like. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. The room was softly lit, and there in the furthest left hand corner, under the window, was an incubator. Tubes, cables, wires and straps went in and circled around the plastic box in which Darcey was lying. She was obscured by a quilt which had been placed to keep the environment dark. There were two other little ones in the room too, the pings, bongs, and mechanical sounds resounding through the room made it a very noisy place to be, but beyond that there was a calm and tranquility. I stood there at the end of the incubator, and the nurse removed the quilt, and there was our little darling…

Darcey in NICU, 3 hrs old

Darcey in NICU, 3 hrs old

I was shocked, delighted, tearful, horrified, amazed, left for words. She was so small and wasn’t breathing on her own, with CPAP and its monitor noisily regulating the flow of air into her lungs. All of the tubes looked huge compared to her. She was no bigger than my forearm. It was hard to comprehend. I’d never been to a NICU before and to see this image of Darcey, our little girl looking so poorly, so red skinned, with a concave chest, with tubes and bandages all around her was quite a shock. As far as we knew at this time, she was ‘okay’. Tests would reveal she had a large ASD and was potentially deaf on one side.

I wished Mandy had been there with me, but it would be another hour before we ‘found’ Mandy, and another two days before she was well enough to venture up to floor 9. Her experiences are another story entirely.

The arrival of one’s first born is usually a time of immense happiness, celebration and jubilation. This was and and wasn’t one of those times, although I thanked God for giving me back Mandy and delivering Darcey alive. In addition to the shock of the menace posed by the tubes and devices connecting Darcey to life, here I was standing over her, unable to pick her up, detached from the physical connection of holding my baby, I wasn’t able to touch her even. This was a traumatic time, it was a very lonely time but my dream had finally come true: I had become a father.

I caught up with Mandy in recovery on floor seven. Like Darcey, she had tubes coming out of her nose, her arms and tummy. She looked very unwell, but I was so grateful that she was alive. One of the nurses had provided a photo of Darcey. She shed a tear, squeezed my hand and she closed her eyes. As it turned out, Mandy would recover to full health, but it had been very serious and she had been lucky.

Darcey would spend the next 60 days in the wonderful care of Auckland City’s NICU.

 





My Privilege

27 04 2014

I often have these moments, usually at the weekend, where I look around me at what I have and I thank God for the privilege – my new life that is priceless and that no money can buy.

Just yesterday, I read a couple of blogs by people who cannot have children naturally and, so far, IVF has failed them too. Their sadness and their anger has affected me. It always transports me back to my previous life. That huge loneliness, the pain and the quiet suffering of two tormented hearts, striving for that ideal that others just find so easy, sometimes without even trying.

I wrote to both, and gave them a perspective from what I experienced. It’s a different array of experiences for everyone, but in effect, the risks are the same, the greatest of which I feel is not knowing the eventual outcome; or what other unintended consequences of remaining so focused to the one goal will be.

It is all consuming and it’s exclusive, downright personal and emotionally charged. We become different versions of ourselves, not the social, fun loving and outward people that we may have been. Our relationships with others become conditional – on them not being parents or becoming parents – on a shared existence of childlessness. It’s coping, it’s existing, it’s surviving, and it’s bloody painful. How my heart feels for these guys, going through the same journey that I did with all of those hopes, dreams and aspirations of parenthood.

The only real advice one can give is to encourage the development of a life that’s not dependent or conditional on becoming a parent. Enjoy the now, and let the future take care of itself. So easy to say, but it’s true. Couples need to nurture each other more during this time, when the chips are down. It’s so easy to move apart, emotionally. It harder to recognise that it’s happening. The anger you both feel needs to be channelled somehow, away from each other and family but dissipated in a way that doesn’t allow it to gnaw at you from inside and ultimately cause you to self-destruct. Nothing will remove the pain or the negative thoughts, but managing them and creating a broader perspective could prove more helpful than anything.

So, back to my privilege and a different reality. The living room’s been devastated by toys strewn all over the place, a dog’s grabbed a favourite building block, a fight has broken out over a small toy car, someone’s heart is broken and they’re in tears, by the smell of things, there are nappies to change, and according to the clock, it’s time to feed little mouths. Thank you God.

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Darcey and Alexander, April 2014

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Mummy and the family, Easter weekend 2014

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Darcey, April 2014 (3 years 7 months)

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Alexander, April 2014 (1 year 7 months)





“Daddy”

22 03 2014

Daddy

Me, Darcey and Alexander

“Daddy”. I never thought I’d hear this word, but I have and I do regularly, each and every day, and I love it. I’ve never forgotten that I thought for a long time that I never would, but it’s hard now to remember a life without Darcey and Alexander.

It’s an odd feeling at times, often contradictory, often guilt ridden, to try to remember what life was like before, and to imagine, just for a moment how it would feel not to have that responsibility, each and every second of every day for the rest of my life.

I yearned for 8 years or more to become a “Daddy” and now I am blessed with two children. However, I too go through periods of huge doubt, about me as a father to two under 4 at 46 years old. I worry enormously about my capability, competency and comfortability with it all. Sometimes I find it really problematic. I work extremely hard, my role is hugely demanding, it extracts every ounce of energy and every free thought that I have. Mandy also works extremely hard, with both children, each and every day, she’s a dedicated, non-complaining, caring and committed stay at home mum. She’s frazzled too, but yet still finds more energy to respond to their every need. I get home, yawn, eat and face walking the dogs then work, perhaps fitting in a bath at bed time for the children and occasionally a bed time story, before beginning yet more work, often into the early hours before rising four or five hours later. I am knackered, she is knackered, but apparently it gets easier.

So to complain, cry foul and not be the model of fatherhood has come as shock. I thought I could and would do it all. I can’t and never will. It’s time to accept I am human, and at the very least recognise two little people need an interaction with their Daddy that’s full, engaged and uncompromised.

I have at least built a castle, for the kids, that very shortly we will all enjoy! I might even find time to become a child all over. I guess though that my castle was a creative endeavour that allowed me to focus entirely on the children but at the same time enjoy, relax and experience something incredibly positive and nurturing. I am not sure I’d ever have built a castle, not now, but it was the sense of giving and seeing how excited the children were when I asked them if I should, that made me do it. Then I realised, I am doing what Daddies do, the world over. Perhaps I am not alone and we all struggle from time to time.

Bottom line, I would not give up these children for anything.

Their/my Castle.

Their/my Castle.





It’s never far away…

14 07 2012

Alexander David Archer-Page (26 weeks)

So, here we are, blessed again. This is the first time I’ve had the inclination to sit and write about our good fortune, for that is what it is. Alexander is now 30.3 weeks. He’s in the 95th percentile in terms of weight, placing him in the ‘large’ category and Mandy is feeling it, poor girl. It was exactly at this point, 22 months ago that Darcey came into our lives and is going well but is still small – 8.0kgs. However, she’s lively, bright and quite advanced developmentally, ahead of  her non-adjusted age group, when in fact she should be a couple of months behind, so that’s all good.

This week then had a psychological significance and every day that Mandy and Alex can hold on means that he will be safer, stronger and more resilient, whatever happens, but Mandy’s suffering increases.  We survived this week, but we’re taking each days as it comes, not as a given. Alex could arrive at almost any time over the next 10 weeks, if Mandy were to suddenly become ill, as she did with Darcey. Fingers crossed.

So, tonight, it was with sadness that I learnt that one of our friends has been unlucky – her IVF failed. It’s good that she’s talking about it, and actually we’re very pleased she’s talked to us. I remember that people who were expecting babies were the last on the list of people Jo and I wanted to talk to because they’d simply never understand – and in most cases, that would be true. In our case, it simply opens up the old wounds and makes me reflective of how far we’ve come, how lucky I, personally  have been, but what a painful journey I have ridden. It makes me think of Jo, her mum and dad, and how sad they’ve been not having children and grandchildren in their lives because of some unknown physiological condition. I cannot change that, but I can be very grateful for having been given a gift from God, not once, but twice.

But then there’s another friend of ours, whose IVF journey has been so tortuous for her and her husband. She’s gone off air of late, finding it all too hard. Of course, I totally get that. It’s so utterly devastating. It worries me that they, as a couple are not in the same place about this. It harks back to the advice I would always give which is be careful what you wish for and do not let it become all-consuming. At the very least, you, the couple, need to be strong, united and in one place. Ultimately, if one of you is only luke warm about continuing IVF or trying another procedure or process, you stand to place your whole marriage at risk. The marriage and love for each other came first, that, above all else needs to be protected. I pray for our friends, that they will find reconciliation and inner strength to overcome their differences and unite once more.

So here’s the thing. Soon to be a dad of two children, happily married to boot, but feeling terribly unworthy and guilty, because of  all those who have tried to become parents and failed but keep on trying and trying. Those scars I bear are so deep that I guess they will never disappear. From those scars, however, comes empathy, sympathy and understanding – the only support I can offer to those around us who are sad, feeling desolate and angry.

Whatever went before, it’s never far away.





Adoption before IVF? I don’t think so.

22 04 2011

Making couples attempt adoption before IVF is simply wrong.

I recently responded with a letter to an ignorant and ill-informed  post by Cristina Odone in the Daily Telegraph. The link to the blog is here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100084585/the-adoption-crisis-is-down-to-stupid-criteria-and-slow-bureaucracy-but-i-blame-the-ivf-industry-as-well . Here is my reply:

Cristina, I am not sure what I think about what you’ve written, because for me the whole issue is particularly highly charged. That said, I don’t think you really understand this subject at all. Indeed, your last two paragraphs clumsily stumble into the very essence or heart of the psychology of being a childless couple: the choices are just not rational, it’s all so unfair, and you’re both so damned desperate to become parents.

As the fertile half of a marriage (that is no more) that tried IVF (seven times, privately), donor egg (twice) and surrogacy (once, with the donor), and adoption at the end of this tortuous road, I understand something of the issues. My blog, incidentally www.djpnz.wordpress.com “How Green Is My Grass?” graphically describes some of those experiences.

The thought process between IVF and adoption is very different. Whilst there is every hope and a chance (ours was less than 5%) that you can become biological parents, you do it. It becomes addictive, obsessive and dangerously intoxicating. To think about adoption, to us, was to admit defeat and for me, the fertile half, it was the lurking thought that I could still be a dad naturally.

We spent 8 years in the vortex of IVF, donor and surrogacy issues and we came out at the end of it battered, bruised and undeniably holed beneath the water as a couple. However, my wife could not give up on the dream of being a mum, so she investigated the possibility of adoption (in New Zealand, where I am still living) of older children, because the race rules are strict here and for every white baby presented for adoption, there are more than 200 potential parents. She persuaded me, and so we embarked on yet another painful journey.

So, the children we considered were 7 and 9, brother and sister, and wards of court since they were born, practically – mum was retarded and dad was a convicted paedophile. Social services were keen for us to provide a home, placed us under immense pressure to become guardians immediately and were indecisive about what do with parental visitation rights (mum only, since dad had a restrictive order placed on him) – which disrupted the equiliburium (two weeks of bedwetting per child). Add to this both children were damaged, psychologically after so many years in care. And, us, inexperienced, wannabe parents. It was all a recipe for disaster.

Eventually I had to call time, it was destroying us, and social services had simply lied to us, we felt, to get the kids off their books. The children went back into care and we imploded. We’d been treated very badly and bore deep scars now, on top of all the other stuff previously.

It’s not actually about exercising a rationale choice Cristina, it’s about satisfying a need as a human being to do naturally what others seem to take for granted. Therefore, for the majority of couples, exhausting all of the assisted measures is the only consideration; and it has to be a horrific realisation that nothing is going to work, ever, that forces you to regroup into the minefield of adoption.

Adoption shouldn’t be seen as something to go into lightly – a softer, cheaper option, it isn’t. Its got to be considered very seriously and forcing couples to consider adoption in advance of IVF is simply cruel, unfair and unkind. It should be everyone’s right to have at least one IVF attempt before other options are considered, but psychologically, those prospective parents have to be ready, and all the time they are pondering their infertility, as a couple, they are in mourning, emotionally fraught and definitely not ready for someone else’s children.





I am Darcey’s grandfather, apparently.

13 03 2011

Darcey and her 'grandparents'

 

I waited a long time to become a father and only ever fleetingly considered what it would be like to be an older dad, some ten years or so past the average age of paternity.

I have wondered how Darcey would feel taking me to school events as the more athletic dads pummeled me on the race track, how she would feel when her name was called out and there was me, sitting there clapping furiously at speech day, prize giving day, or graduation day… meeting her post-pubescent teachers, shocking them all with my wisened looks, imagining the comment ‘goodness, that’s Darcey’s dad, he’s so old…’

I dismissed the ageist thoughts as irrelevant, totally, completely and utterly. Who cares, I thought, I will never let it get to me.

Well, on Saturday, I was talking to one of the staff members who knows me, at our favourite bar come restaurant, with Darcey bouncing and gurgling in my arms. She was making very polite conversation about babies in general and then she said it, “Is this your first grandchild?”. In the length of a nano second, I died, was resurrected and carried on living, all with a smile, as I laughed out loud proclaiming “…actually, this is my first daughter…” to which a very embarrassed young woman replied, diplomatically, “oh, yes, I am so sorry, how silly of me…”

The problem is, this was not the first time, but I had forgotten that is had occurred before. I was picking up my free iPhone (as you do, courtesy of Vodafone Complaints Resolution Department) from one of their friendly stores in Ponsonby, and proudly, I entered the stored with Darcey for the young guy there to ask me “how old’s your granddaughter?”. He was serious but very quickly became very embarrassed by his faux pas.

So, the questions remain, do I look like a granddad, or are these young people (both in their early 20s) ignorant, unworldly-wise or just plain rude? Well, I must admit, even when I was twenty something, I don’t think I was ever that brazen to make any kind of reference like that in the first place to a customer or someone I didn’t really know. I’d worked in retail for over 10 years and had seen a few odd situations, couples mainly, where you’d wonder if the younger one was a son or daughter rather than a partner… It might just be that times have changed and people think nothing of speaking their minds like this, without fear of causing offence or embarrassment – and, so, there we are, I am showing my age – the generation gap writ large – between these kids and me.

I wonder what it is then about my face, my build, my body, my manner – that when someone sees me with Darcey, with all that evidence amassed they wonder, seriously, if I am her granddad. Okay, I have no hair, I have hardly any wrinkles and no gray strands within the hair on my head that remains, so what is it? Inside, I am laughing to myself that if they think I am indeed Darcey’s granddad, then I’d love them to meet her grandmother, and whilst we’re at it for pure shock value, let’s introduce the great grandparents too, they’d be horrified!

There is something else here though, in their defence, which is the possibility that I remind them of their parents, since their parents could definitely be of the same age as me. It would be inconceivable to them that their parents could ever be capable of having kids, let alone enjoy a healthy sex life at the tender and ripe old age of 43, going on 44!  Hence, in their eyes, the only relationship I could have to Darcey would be as her grandfather, anything else is simply too horrible to consider. How funny. It’s feasible, I don’t really get it, but I guess it makes sense in their eyes.

Whatever the rationale, it’s not so much the age thing as it applies to me, I am really seriously perfectly relaxed about it (please believe me, I am), even if I am not looking as youthful on the outside as I thought I did. Actually, for me it’s the thought of how Darcey will feel. Whilst I am pretty confident that as her mum and dad, we will be more active still than most parents of children Darcey’s age, it does worry me that she will feel a tad embarrassed, for more reasons than those young people are about their parents in general.

One thing is for sure…I won’t be the source of embarrassment to Darcey for trying to look and act younger than I am – I can at least promise her this much, the oldest swinger in town I will never be!





It’s all my fault.

26 02 2011

Me, in blue jersey, in 1975 with sisters and cousins, at home in Seaford, East Sussex

The summer of 1976 was seriously the last year I can remember as a child where the birds sang, the sky was blue, the sun shone, all was good with my world and I was as happy as a an innocent 9 year old could be. It was pure bliss. For me, that was the last year of my childhood, filled with Enid Blyton’s Secret 7Famous 5 and CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. My youngest sister who was three and a half years older than me was still interested in playing with cars in the dirt, and accepted time and again having to endure being the Germans in our elaborately built WW2 POW camps that somehow incorporated live hampsters and their cages, inspired in part by having seen the first live screening on British television of that classic film The Great Escape.

It was also the year of a very long drought, James Callaghan became Prime Minister, and Denis Healey was Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was he who pushed in front of me at the Woolworths in Seaford as I waited to pay for my penny chews with my pocket money. I remember staring at him and couldn’t help wondering at the time if his bushy eyebrows were for real (for all those not familiar with this particular Labour politician he possessed enormous eye brows, giving him the look of an owl, and an impressionist by the name of Mike Yarwood used to mimic him relentlessly with the catch phrase ‘silly billy’, which he had never used up to that point, but later adopted and used freely whenever he could).

I loved my parents, I adored going to cubs and I had a great group of mischievous friends, with whom I would spend hours playing war games in the old battlements and trenches of the Canadian Army’s WW2 anti-aircraft batteries on the Sussex Downs above Seaford. Having watched repeats of the BBC drama Colditz, a friend of mine and I borrowed tools from our respective fathers’ garden sheds and began the long, dangerous and difficult task of digging a tunnel – to Australia. Needless to say, we didn’t get very far, but we got very dirty and into a lot of trouble.

From Seaford Head and all the way down to the Cuckmere Haven, in the sight of the Seven Sisters, this was all mine: where we’d walk and run across the cliff tops for hours, exploring and making ‘camps’; or taking picnics and cycling for whole days on end on forays into the Sussex countryside visiting places like Wilmington, Alfriston, East Dean, Friston, Rodmell, Newhaven and Bishopstone. That’s if I wasn’t going on secret undercover missions amid the undergrowth of the Old House, at the end of my road, a large, walled property, surrounded by trees with two sets of tall, solid wooden gates, through which no-one ever saw anyone come or go. Another favourite pastime was to hide in the bushes and remove golf balls in play from the fairway without the golfers seeing us – having previously removed all of the link numbers or swapped them around – accumulate our quarry, mix with older stray balls and then sell back to the Club House.

Naughty, well yes, a bit, but not deliberately destructive and disrespectful of others’ property (if you excuse the golf balls). Adult fearing, indeed, we respected our elders and did as we were told and shivered at the sight of the local constable. God fearing, absolutely, we all feared his representative on earth Sister Bruno and her slipper, at Annecy, our Convent primary school.

I was a normal boy, growing up in a family of three sisters and two hard working parents. From what I can recall, we were all happy children in a very protected, rural and seaside environment, a beautiful part of England, that I love and miss to this day.

Euphemistically, along came the winter of 1976. It was a bitterly cold winter with an average temperature that sunk to 0.8C (33.4F). I remember it well, not least because I got a brand new bicycle, a multi-gear ‘Hustler’ with lights and a speedometer, for Christmas! Mum had told me to get a blanket from the dining room because she was a little bit chilly, and unsuspectingly, I went to retrieve the blanket and to my utter amazement found the bike sitting there. I think I screamed in excitement. My eldest sister and I went on a bike ride later that day. I couldn’t wait to get back to school to show it off.

Sadly, that was the last ‘family’ Christmas we ever had.

In early January one weekday evening when it was cold and dark, mum and dad assembled us together in the lounge. I remember correctly forecasting to my sisters what I thought this could be about. But even then, nothing prepared me for the words that I didn’t really understand fully “…mummy and daddy don’t love each other anymore, and mummy is going to live somewhere else…”  I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards. I do remember that I cried in assembly at school the next day and in class. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but I do recall the stirring of butterflies in my stomach and feeling sick. Mummy and daddy were splitting up. The odd thing is, none of my friends from that point on right up to and through university were the products of a broken marriage – not one. I was always the odd one out. How I looked admiringly into the lives of all my friends.

In looking back, there were strong pointers to the inevitability of this whole situation. However, as a child, there was no way I would have had a clue that those signals had been flashing alarmingly, semi-permanently for quite a long time. So, the day arrived when mum packed up her little blue mini and left home. In my mind, that dark, overcast, chilly late afternoon in February 1977 was like no other: it was the day that my world blew apart. I felt nothing but guilt, it had all been my fault and if I had been good, she wouldn’t be leaving now. Perhaps it was the time that I had been asked to do the hoovering, where I had taken out the hoover, asked how much I was going to get paid and was told ‘nothing’, and promptly wound up the cable and returned the hoover to the cupboard under the stairs. I was wracking my brain, desperately trying to think how I had caused my parents to break up.

As mum hugged me, she was in tears, I can’t remember if I was or not. I hugged her back and as she drove off, I remember thinking why didn’t I slash her tyres to stop her? I went inside and hugged the dog, and felt totally and utterly alone. The girls couldn’t even bring themselves to come out. My eldest sister was about to join the army, so before long, with dad commuting, it befell my two middle sisters to look after me, cook, clean and manage the house. It was a long, unhappy Queen’s Jubilee year. Where everyone else was happily getting involved with events, we were still coming to terms with the ground zero devastation of the implosion of our family unit.

Before long we were getting into the habit of life as a family apart. After school on a set day each week, we would all troop to the Tuck In Cafe, a greasy spoon, where mum would meet us and we’d make a tearful reunion. Eventually, one or two of us would go and stay with mum at her flat above the Flude’s shop in Worthing. It frightened the living daylights out of me, Lord knows how mum coped as she slogged her guts out holding down three jobs, to earn money to survive and to occupy the sad emptiness of her new life.

We moved house, downsized to a bungalo on the other side of town, me, dad and two of my sisters. I remember getting depressed on Sunday nights. I’d always been anxious about going to school and it had taken me a long time to adjust to being separated as an infant from the girls when they were in juniors, and again when they moved on to senior school. The only two items of comfort I had was Minty, my cat and my glow in the dark rosary that hung at the end of the bed, demonstrating the presence of my guardian angel. Perhaps the real issue was that the country itself was depressing – everything was beginning to break down and from 1977 to 1979, every union took a turn at putting the knife in. Our family just fitted in with everything going on around it.

I know mum will be reading this, so for her and a wider audience that at this moment is possibly clambering for a variety of nouns to describe their outrage, please understand, I do not blame her nor I do feel rage or anger since I have done all that. Mum has endured the brunt of some of my outbursts, indeed, she’s borne the brunt of one hell of a lot of abuse from all of us, in some shape or form over the years, none of which could make any of us proud. She has more than made up for deserting our home and I love her very dearly. She’s been a tower of strength and a true friend and supporter.

When mum left, she was suffering from anorexia and she was dangerously thin and under-weight. There were other reasons too, more personal and more hard to comprehend, that forced her hand. I remembered a period where, and possibly this is my memory exaggerating a bit here,  she had been back and forth to hospital, for one major operation after another. I remember the last occasion seeing the distinct flashing of blue lights coming into my room at the front of Maurice Road, as she was taken off to hospital in the middle of the night. I forever remember her recovering in her dressing gown, the one with the mauve velvet straps, as I sat close, on the floor by her feet, often rubbing them or applying cream to her soles.

I cannot know what really went on in my parent’s marriage – indeed, such knowledge of those facts could be too painful for anyone to bear – but one absolute fact that is incontrovertible is that she was unwell and I think from what friends of hers have told me, that at the end of the day, it was either her marriage and role as mother and wife that were going to have to be sacrificed, or her own life.

The flight for survival then is the path she chose and was encouraged to take I think, quite rightly, by her parents. The pain of her guilt that she must have suffered, each and every day of her life since leaving home must have been immense. Who would not have been tormented by the image you saw in your rear mirror of your little boy, waving goodbye, a small figure in gray , as you left the family home for good. And then, to lose her parents, both of them, within the space of two years, must have been additionally traumatic – suddenly alone without the closest supporters you could ever want for.

We were part of a small community of 20,000 people in Seaford, a coastal town at the end of a railway line that was dominated by Seaford Head, a massive assault of white chalk that rose inexorably into the sky above the town and seemed to me as a boy, as if it were indeed the pathway to heaven. We attended a Annecy catholic school with only 200 pupils, a wonderful, innocent, time warp in a dangerous world. Everyone was close and parents knew each other from inter-related school activities, football, cubs, clubs and church – except for dad because he was a non-practising Anglican. Mum worked in the town and felt the heat of others’ judgements – always suspecting that another party is involved, but not really knowing the real facts. She endured gossip, whispering and shameful torture from supposed christians, friends’ parents and people we knew, who would rather cross the street than have to look mum in the face and acknowledge her. There were no good samaritans in Seaford, just a bunch of dreadful hypocrites.

Dad, for his part, had always been this rather remote, victorian figure, a less extreme version of his father whom I remember as cold and grumpy. Granddad had lived with us for a number of years but he and mum had never seen eye to eye. For all their differences though, he always said that she was a very good mother.

As far as dad is concerned my impression is that children, at that time, were there to be seen and not heard. I think this changed when he became a father again in his forties, to my half-brother Michael. A perception I have is that dad had more interest in, and patience for, the intricacies of an industrial mechanism than with the musings of a child. I can’t remember just ‘mucking around’ with him where he let his hair down, it was always rather formal. So, our relationship was formed around things military, air shows, the garden, mowing the lawn and digging the garden. Dad didn’t do football or rugby, but we occasionally did cricket, chess and draughts. I can only remember one occasion on which dad read me a story at bedtime; and the only time I can remember him bathing me, he used a loofah on my back and not only removed baked on grime but several layers of skin into the bargain. In his defence, he was probably very busy, working, commuting and constructing things.

Dad was, is, a perfectionist in everything from building houses to renovating them and constructing things from scratch. This made it difficult for him to teach me  – I simply could not do anything to his standard, he was impatient, overly critical and frustrated when I got it wrong – very odd for a teacher. I felt for years I was useless with my hands, and to this day I still think he despairs at my lack of DIY prowess, irrespective of some of the projects I have completed. He was the cleverest person in the use of their hands I have ever known, and remains so to this day. I could only ever aspire to be half as accomplished as dad and I feel very inadequate by comparison. He and mum together taught us an assortment of good values, manners, smart dress codes and controlled behaviour – they also had a no swearing policy and required us all to speak well and clearly.

When mum left, dad’s facade evaporated. Suddenly, there was a vulnerability about him, and I can vividly recall his agony, tears and sadness. Many was the time, having crept out of bed to listen, I heard dad unsuccessfully begging mum to return. He also told my oldest sister when she in the army serving as a nurse in Hong Kong that he missed her and that ‘she was the only one he cared about.’ He was if anything always effusive about her, she was his chink of happiness and pride in this sea of doom all around him. However, for once we were seeing a different, softer side to dad, but to be honest it was frightening and made me feel a lot more insecure because not only had mum gone, but my dad was now a different person as well. For a child, this was extremely hard to handle, there were no guarantees of certainties anywhere.

As an adult, I now understand mum’s motives and why she took her decision which to many is an action that is indefensible: to leave your husband and children and start a new life. Let’s be clear, without understanding all the facts it’s neither fair nor rationale to condemn. As we will never know all the facts and frankly, as it concerns my parents I do not want to know all the facts, no reliable judgements can be made.

It’s at this point though, that one’s understandable outrage at her actions needs to be replaced with compassion and understanding. I am not denying how I feel nor am I trying to justify mum’s decision that damaged everyone around her. However, if I am not prepared to condemn or to blame mum’s actions, then nobody else should either.

A course of events were set in train, the consequences for every family member were very different.  However, they have presented themselves in many forms: lack of trust, reclusiveness, huge insecurities, lack of confidence, lack of self esteem, social anxieties – eating disorders, panic attacks, irrational fears, morbid thoughts, in some shape of form, all four children have suffered  some or all of these problems. These may or may not have been a direct consequence of my parent’s marriage break-up, but it for sure compounded whatever genetic predisposition we already had.

I can see some real strengths from mum and dad though – resilience, perseverence, humour, emotional intelligence, drive, compassion, attention to detail, sensitivity, articulacy, numeracy, a sense of history, a love of nature and so the list goes on. Mum, for her apart, is a truly inspirational woman who has single-handedly achieved so much with so little through nothing other than hard work, drive and intelligence. Dad, in his own way held it together for his kids when he was left on his own – he could have behaved so differently, but he he didn’t – no alcohol, no women, no vices of any kind other than a searing cynicism for figures of the political establishment! It could all have been so different and I thank God that it wasn’t.

This story is about my take on a period which affected me profoundly – I own this piece of that experience and it is my story. It was Darcey’s birth that made me begin to seriously reflect on my earlier life and want to write about it. It made me think very deeply about what kind of foundation I would create for her and how I would leave my mark on her blank, innocent canvas of a psyche. Darcey’s arrival then has had a tremendous impact on my view of the world. As my sister Giselle said to me, ‘…as her father, you will be the first man Darcey comes into contact with. Make sure that her experience is a good one.’ We only have room for so much philosophy in how we run our lives, but that, for me was a catalyst. It not only preoccupies my thoughts about that father/daughter relationship, but about my relationship with Mandy, and what memories and influences Darcey will infer from witnessing how we behave as her mother and father.

This post then was written without malice or spite. It will serve to archive  a period that should not be forgotten, for there are so many things to learn from it. I also wanted to convey a message that faith in God, love and honesty are the most powerful weapons in overcoming any difficulty we face in life. If we lose sight of those three things we can become seriously distracted and struggle to make sense of anything.

I owe my parents a huge amount, particularly my mum and I wanted to publicly thank them both. Whatever happened during my childhood, I still think I have so much to be grateful to them both for and I pray to God that I might be as good a parent as they were, despite their issues, with Darcey.