The Missing Piece of the Jigsaw…

It’s not an easy subject to talk about.

Trust me.

But that’s probably a very good reason for continuing…

Becoming a parent has been a life-changing experience. It’s changed the way I look at the world – and I’m talking about more than the blurred perspective of tiredness!

As a dad, I’m growing more fully aware of the role my own parents played in my development. There’s a dawning realization just how integral they were to making me… me.

Which brings me back to my main point, that missing piece of the jigsaw.

It’s been 18 years since my mother’s premature passing. She was only 45.

18 years, really?

Some days it feels like yesterday. If I choose to seek them out, I’d easily find the emotions attached to her death – the hurt, the pain – knowing they’re all still as fresh as if it were a recent event. Which is probably why this chapter of my life is often kept in a room that I keep locked – ‘Warning, do not enter, unhappy memories lie within’.

My mother died of cancer. A cruel and merciless disease. It tore a hole in my family 18 years ago, just as it continues to decimate the lives of people up and down the country every day.

The thing is, as a parent, I’m now necessarily pondering the ‘What ifs?’ of my life. Actually, that’s not true. I’m pondering one, major ‘What if?’.

It’s quite simple really.

“What if my mother had lived long enough to know my son?”

Part of me thinks that such a question should never be broached, it’s a cruel conundrum to burden myself with, as a useful answer can never, truly, be given. Even so, I think of her a lot at the moment.

I was (just) 20 when she died. Looking back on it all I can see that I was a kid, nothing more. So immature, so tied to the apron strings, so lacking in any meaningful life experience. My parents had managed to shield me from the worst of what life had to offer, which, I think, is a big part of your role, as a parent. This, however, had a unintended side effect. It made the savage, gut-wrenching, unfairness of her death all the more piquant.

I’m not going to go into details. It’s enough to say that the disease tried to rob her of her dignity. It failed, but that was only because of the sheer force of will she brought to the situation. 45 is no age at all.

As a father I’m now aware of wanting to have a positive and lasting effect on my son’s life. Something that lingers. None of us know what tomorrow brings, but thinking back to my mum makes me what to take a little more control of today. I’m sure that she had regrets. We all do. But the regret that my mum shared with me was, and is, an inspiration.

Speaking, just the two of us, during one of the precious moments that came between influxes of nurses, well-wishers and medication, my mum shared a thought.

“I wish,” she said, with a wistful smile. “I wish I’d roller-skated more often.”

The sheer whimsy of this statement, from a woman who was staring into the abyss, has stayed with me. I take her thought to mean that she wished she’d lived in the moment a little more, that she had taken more time to enjoy herself. Forgetting to have fun is a trap, even with her warning all those years ago, I frequently fall into myself.

So what do I take from all this? Where does it go? I’m not going to stop thinking about my mother, keeping her alive in the memory is a duty that I have been given. I also feel that it’s my duty to tell stories of her to my son. I catch glimpses of her in him every now and then, just moments that evaporate as soon as I’ve noticed them. There’s part of me that feels on some level, he’ll know the stories of his grandma already – passed down in his DNA.

What else?

Well it might not surprise you to hear that, as soon as he’s ready, Sam will be getting a pair of skates. I’m sure he’ll skate rings around his daddy, probably with the assistance of a set of celestial stabilizers.

 

Still Sinking…

The Out of Depth Dad

@OutofDepth_Dad

http://www.facebook.com/OutofDepthDad/

An Unbreakable Bond

“So, we meet again, Mr Bond…”

This week I learned that wouldn’t happen. In fact, I’d never meet him for the first time. The legendary Sir Roger Moore has shuffled off this mortal coil to the great expensive-looking finale in the sky.

I’ll be honest, it’s left me feeling sad. His passing marked, for me, the end of an era.

You see, though others hold Connery dear or have a soft spot for Dalton or Brosnan. Mr Moore, will forever be my Bond. He may not have had Timothy’s good looks, Sean’s alpha male dynamism or, for that matter, Daniel’s lunchbox, yet, to me, Roger was the man.

To put this into context, I’ve always been something of a Bond obsessive. The bit of the brain many other men leave for football is, in my case, stuffed with Bond facts and figures. Something about this most cinematic of franchises clicked with me and has never left – thanks, mainly, to Mr Moore. During the hard times in my life I’ve always looked to these films for (A Quantum of) solace.  I know them backwards, I speak the lines along with the characters karaoke-style. Like a comfortable slipper, I put one on and know I’m at home.

But there’ll be no more Moore, and that makes me sad. I had planned that watching Roger’s canon of Bond-fare would be a pivotal rites-of-passage moment for Sam and I. A father & son bonding (no pun intended) moment. It’s just a shame that Sam will always know Sir Roger as someone who’s dead. I don’t mean this churlishly. I was born 6 months before John Lennon died. My mum, now sadly no longer with us either, was a HUGE Beatles fan. I mean obsessive. So John was a big part of the landscape of my childhood, but as someone ethereal, a person I shared negligible time on the planet with. I knew he was important but always felt robbed by the impossibility of a (highly improbable) meeting with him. So it must be with Sam and Sir Roger.

You see, in Moore’s Bond, I learnt a lot about being a man. He was confident, cocky sometimes, but only with a heavy dose of irony. He didn’t take himself too seriously. Moore’s Bond wasn’t so tied up in his own machismo that he was impenetrable to others. Most of the time, when he got into a fight, you worried for him. He threw punches that looked as threatening as WI coffee morning. When he did a karate kick I worried he’d throw his back out. His hair was always perfect, even when his acting wasn’t. His Bond was a bit crap at times, and I loved him all the more (Moore) for it!

I’m no flag waver. I don’t like the Last Night of the Proms, or Union Jack underpants. You’ll never hear me putting that extra syllable in to England (Eng-er-land). But that moment, in The Spy Who Loved Me, where Sir Roger skis over the edge of the cliff and falls into the abyss – only to open a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack. Well, it makes the hairs on my neck stand every time – and I’ve seen it hundreds. It makes me proud to be British. British in the way Moore’s Bond was, aware of a great tradition, with a tongue firmly in its cheek.

Sir Roger was, of course, much more than Bond. He did amazing work for children all around the world through UNICEF – a role which made him (in my eyes) far more heroic that Jimmy B ever did.

So what’s all this got to do with being a Dad? I’m aware Sam will find his own heroes, people who represent values he aspires to emulate. Whoever the role models Sam chooses are, I hope he gets as much pleasure from them as I have from Sir Roger’s work over the years.

For me, nobody did it better.

RIP Mr Moore.

Still Sinking…

The Out of Depth Dad. 

@Outofdepth_dad

 

Are you a SAD SAK?

It’s all changed since I was a nipper.

Back then kids (like me) didn’t have a clue about fashion. I mean, I really didn’t have a clue. Not only that, being badly dressed was a staple ingredient of the whole ‘childhood experience’.

Let me give you an example. Growing up in Manchester, with its trademark rain, the first decade of my life was spent feeling never less than semi-damp in purple cagoule. I was 13 before I realized most people didn’t rustle when they walked. I suffered all the faux pas of the period, shell suits, bumbags, cycling shorts (while nowhere near a bike) – sometimes all three at once. But this was all par for the course. As a kid, you wore what your parents put you in, and that was that.

Things have changed. Now I’m aware that Sam, at 11 months, is nowhere near old enough to choose what he wears. That’s not my point. My point is babies aren’t just shoved into generic baby grows anymore. Oh no! They have mini versions of adult clothing. Sam’s got, hoodies, ironic T-shirts, tracksuits trousers, chinos, cords, lumberjack shirts you name it. Having an unfashionably dressed baby is just not done down at the local baby group. You’d be thrown out of the Wacky Fun House if  your tot was sporting last-season’s looks. Sam has far more outfits than me… and the collection is growing by the day.

In what I think is a telling contrast, I have very few fashionable clothes. Actually, I’m sure anyone who knows anything about fashion would say I have none at all. I have a pile of T-shirts (some of which are old enough to remember the Clinton administration) a smaller pile of shirts (with dwindling numbers of fully-attached buttons) and some jeans. That’s about it. The idea of having time in the day to think about looking trendy is ludicrous. To be honest, if I’ve not got a conspicuous sick patch on my shirt, I think I’m on to a winner!

This is a social phenomenon that I don’t think has been properly documented:

Shabby Appearing Dad – Slickly Attired Kid or “SAD SAK” as I call it.

Are you at SAD SAK family? It’s time to stand up and be proud.

Be proud of your stains.

Be proud of your un-ironed wrinkles.

Be proud of your unfashionable garb.

Be proud that your child looks to belong to a much more fashionable family than you do!

These days finding any time to do the things most human beings regard as normal is such a struggle. I shaved for the first time in months yesterday – mainly because I was beginning to look like I was missing a basketball friend called ‘Marshall’. I don’t own a comb, I remember to put on deodorant on days when my morning trip to the bathroom isn’t accompanied by screaming – this isn’t often.

I just don’t understand how the trendy parents do it. You know the ones: women with perfect hair and makeup, men who look like they live in the gym and wear clothes that appear to have never come into contact with puke. They hang around in huddles rattling the keys to their hybrid 4x4s discussing how their kids have never eaten processed food.

Personally, if I can get through the day without rocking in a corner I think I’ve done well.

If you’re a SAD SAK do let me know. It would be good to know I’m not alone.

Still Sinking.

The Out of Depth Dad

@Outofdepth_dad

 

Time gentlemen please!

I spend a lot of time scratching my head.

No, I don’t have lice; not that I know of, at least.

I scratch my head, because, for the life of me, I can’t figure it out. What on earth did I do with all that free time I had before Sam arrived?

I mean seriously?

I don’t remember feeling like I had loads of free time. Quite the opposite in fact. My biggest memories of the years before the little one’s arrival are of stress at not being able to fit all the work into one day.

I’ve always been a worrier, so ‘turning off’ is something of an issue. I never turned off before Sam (about work, at least). Yet, even so, I must have had some free time? I don’t remember it, but it must have been there.

Don’t get me wrong, I went to the pub, I went out on my bike and I watched the telly. I remember doing all of that. These are all activities that these days seem to belong to the Halcyon times of long ago (except the telly bit…  I still watch it, in a half-asleep zombie-like state). Yet I don’t ever recall feeling like I had loads of time on my hands – great yawning expanses of minutes with nothing to fill them, nothing except any whim that took my fancy.

“Why am I getting all philosophical?” – I hear you cry *.

*Note: I don’t actually hear you. It’s a figure of speech. I haven’t lost the plot – yet.

Anyway, what am I talking about time for?

Well as a dad of a baby, it’s the thing that I seem to lack the most. Time to do anything that isn’t baby-related. It’s just weird. Eating, drinking, walking, talking, washing… even going to the loo are all hurried affairs usually observed by Sam, who’s always on the verge of either crying or getting his mitts onto something he shouldn’t. Trust me, it doesn’t make for a relaxing time.

I know that those of you who’ve been parents for years will scoff at this.  “Why is he stating the bloody obvious?”, you’ll cry.  It’s just I didn’t realize this would be the case. I genuinely thought I’d have a baby who’d sleep 23 hours of the day, who’d then magically transform into a kid who wants to go out on bike rides and play computer games. I didn’t envisage my current situation, where, in order to get long enough to write this post,  I’ve deployed white noise, lullabies, a dummy, along with much cooing and head stroking to get Sam to sleep for around 20 minutes.

I’m not complaining. Well I am, a bit. But I don’t expect sympathy. I know as Sam grows, I’ll eek back time into my life. Who knows, by the time he’s five  I might be able to watch a movie without interruption. That’s my five year plan, impressive eh?

Maybe.

I’ll tell you something. When time drifts back into my life again, I’m going to enjoy it.

Got to go, Sam’s awake. Time for a walk, I think.

 

Still Sinking…

The Out of Depth Dad. 

@Outofdepth_dad

Pretty Fly for a little guy…

The woman opposite me picked up the phone and cleared her throat.

“Ehem, ladies and gentlemen,” she said, in a strong New York accent. “Welcome aboard this American Airlines flight from New York JFK airport to Ronald Reagan international.”

There’s something about the vaguely bored tone air stewardesses give when speaking over the public address system that I find comforting. It says it all. Mainly what it says is ‘I’ve done this a million times before, and it’s all ridiculously routine’. This tone is the perfect antidote for the more sweaty-palmed flyers (such as myself).

The stewardess opposite me – I was in the first row of seats, taking advantage of the extra legroom – could barely have sounded more bored as she spoke. We were about a minute into a flight, climbing steeply with takeoff, and I was looking up to where she was seated – shoulder straps securing her to the cabin wall.

“We’ll be flying at an altitude of…”

This is where things changed. Suddenly the bored tone had gone – this had probably something to do with the climbing plane’s sudden loss of altitude. Rather than talking, this seasoned air stewardess screamed (I do not use that word lightly) into the telephone.

“AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGH!”

If an stewardess acting nonchalantly makes a passenger feel calm, seeing one panic has quite the opposite effect. I don’t know how long she screamed for, it must have been several seconds as the plane plunged towards the ground.

“AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Then, as suddenly as it started, the plane’s descent halted and we began to climb once more. With this, the air stewardess straightened her clothes and continued in her previous tone.

“We will be climbing to a height of…”

At that moment my lack of enjoyment at flying became a full grown phobia.

It is into this context that a flight home to Manchester, with Sam and his mum, can be placed. It was only a short internal hop – less than an hour. But I’d been dreading it for weeks. People kept saying “Oh… it’ll be nice to head home for a few days…” to which my (non-verbal) reply was always – “Yes, if we survive the flight.” This is the fundamental thing that those who have no qualms about flying don’t truly understand. For me, although I know it is much safer than a common or garden car journey, I feel like getting on a plane is a dangerous activity. Something to be survived, not savoured.

When I get on a plane I scrutinize my fellow passengers, casting them in an airborne version of the Poseidon Adventure. Who will be an asset in an emergency? Who’ll be Shelley Winters?

So you can imagine getting onto a plane for the first time with Sam and his mother was a little – read ‘massively’- stressful. What if he does nothing but scream? What if we have turbulence? What if..?

So how did it go?

Seriously I wish I’d always taken a baby with my when flying. He loved it. Sam giggled through takeoff and spent the flight either sleeping or chewing on the safety briefing laminates. As a side note – I wonder if there are any other objects on the face of the planet that must taste more strongly of stale sweat than safety cards on a flight? My palms are clammy just thinking about one.

Having another focus, beyond myself and my fear of impending doom was so useful for a terrible flyer like me. He took me out of my head and into the moment  which – although it was thoroughly strange to be in a metal tube among the clouds – was nowhere near as bad as my imaginings of what could go wrong.

I’ll look forward to many more flights with my little lad, who at 10 months is a jet-setter.

PS:

If you’re an air steward or stewardess and you see me on a flight, please try to look bored.

Still Sinking…

The Out of Depth Dad

@Outofdepth_dad

The Empty Nest…

I know that this is going to sound ridiculous. I can hardly believe I’m writing it myself.

But Sam and his mum are away, visiting her family and I miss them… loads.

That, you may note, is not ridiculous in itself. Missing my partner and my son is not a strange thing – of that I’m aware. But stay with me on this…

I feel like Morgan Freeman – sadly I don’t share his sonorous tones – in The Shawshank Redemption. I assume you’ve all seen it. If you haven’t, what on earth are you doing reading this? You must stop immediately and watch the movie. I’m not joking.

Good. They’ve gone.

In the film, you’ll remember that Morgan’s character ‘Red’ gets out of prison, after a long old sentence, and suddenly doesn’t know what to do with himself. All of those things he’d promised himself that he’d do don’t have the same attraction when he’s actually out. In fact, Red would much rather go back inside the prison. He likes its routine, its certainties.

Now, before people start screaming at me, I know very well that fatherhood is not a prison. It does, however, share some similarities. What I’m thinking of is a lack of self-determination. You can’t just do what you want to do, when you want to do it. There have been many times in the months since my son and heir was born during which I’ve just craved silence, a nice cold beer and a Bond film on the telly. I’m a man of predictably simple tastes.

So now, here I am in a silent house, with every Bond movie at my fingertips and a fridge full of beer and what do I want?

My family.

Don’t get me wrong. I will have a beer at some stage, and I might even spend an hour or two watching the hi-camp antics of one Mr Roger Moore. It’s all good. But now that I’ve got what I thought I wanted I realize it is a pale whim compared to spending time with my little one and his mum.

I don’t write on here to be unnecessarily soppy, that’s not how I’m built. I’m just telling you how it is. Parenthood is a weird thing, it pushes you to the limits of tiredness, of sanity of… well everything really. But it takes a little break from the daily grind to remind yourself how much you actually enjoy it. How happy you are.

That’s enough profundity from me.

Carry on as you were, I’m off to get used to the temporary peace and quiet.

Still Sinking…

The Out of Depth Dad. 

@Outofdepth_dad

Daddy Brain…

I’m not saying that pre-Sam I was some kind of intellectual super-power.

Far from it.

I’m the type of guy who gets quite smug after answering a few questions correctly on The Chase (my favourite Chaser, should you want to know, is The Governess. I don’t have a good reason for this. I probably should stop there).

University Challenge leaves me universally challenged.

As for Mastermind, I think I’d fall down on the General knowledge – I know nothing about Generals*.*

**That was what’s known in the trade as a ‘Dad Joke’. Since Sam’s arrival I am (officially) allowed to tell them – joy!

Anyway, despite not being a candidate for Eggheads, I always prided myself on having a brain that worked – kind of.

All that has changed since the arrival of our little monkey. I have a suspicion this occurrence is the result of a combination of lack of sleep (the standard parenting complaint) and being permanently unnaturally enthusiastic – unnatural for me, quite a monotone Northerner.

Together these elements have created what I like to call ‘Daddy Brain’.

I’ll give you an example of how ‘Daddy Brain’ manifests itself:

Yesterday I went to the loo. Quite a mundane activity, I’m sure you’ll agree. I won’t give details of whether this featured an odd or even number. Anyway, I did what came naturally and flushed the toilet. On doing so, for no good reason, I said out loud:

“There’s a good boy! Well done.”

I was on my own. Seriously. Sam is nowhere near being ready for toilet training. Why I said it is beyond me. Sadly, it got worse. For some reason, saying this caused me to roar with spontaneous laughter. Laughing by yourself in the loo is not (in our culture) regarded as a good thing. My other half called through the bathroom door to check if I was OK – all I could do in reply was snigger.

That’s Daddy Brain for you.

Another Daddy Brain incident happened to me when, at 7 in the morning I made my way to the kitchen to make a brew. I opened a bag of ground coffee and, rather than emptying it into a the jar, I emptied the whole thing into the cafetiere. Once more this triggered deranged laughter from me, and concerned inquiries from my other half upstairs.

The strangest incidence of Daddy Brain occurred to me today. I was going around the supermarket, alone, and without consciously being aware of it I was singing (loudly) “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands!”

When I say that I was singing loudly, I’m not lying. In fact, I was singing with such gusto that, just as I passed the dairy section,  another customer joined in with my rendition.

Before, in my pre-Daddy days, this would have been so embarrassing to me that I would have stopped, dumped my basket and run home to hide. With Daddy Brain, that didn’t happen, We harmonized for a moment before I continued with my shopping.

It was all very strange.

So that’s Daddy Brain for you. I can’t wait to see what I do tomorrow, something weird, no doubt.

Still Sinking…

The Out of Depth Dad.

@Outofdepth_dad