Being Father II
This has been a difficult week. When considering this post, I realised how easy it is to write certain things into fiction rather than baring all as real people. Because when we put our experiences into fiction we can hide behind our imaginary characters, because we know that you, our readers, know that we know you think everything in our books is autobiographical, when it actually isn’t. Or is it?
My son had his heart set on going to a particular university. He didn’t get in. It stopped us in our tracks, tears were shed, black holes of future contemplated. If I had wanted him to succeed for my sake, it would have been easy for me to put this disappointment to one side. But because I wanted it for him, for the amazing man he is growing into, it has cut me deeply, and I have been paralysed into inaction in almost everything I do, because I keep going back to the dream we both had for him, of all the things he wanted to achieve at that particular place. And now the dream’s done, and we find moving on really difficult.
The point is – there are always new, seemingly insurmountable, obstacles in parenting, each challenge a new one we haven’t encountered before, one we’ve received no training for. Even those of us who have been parents for nearly twenty years aren’t experienced enough to deal with these problems easily, completely, perfectly. I feel I’ve let him down. I feel like I should be healing his damaged heart, but I can’t find the medicine anywhere, but I haven’t got the skill to. All I can say to him is that there are other good universities out there, that he shouldn’t jack everything in now, that we’ve got to look forward instead of regretting the choices we made. But it hurts, because he hurts, because I see the pain in every difficult movement of his body, hear it in each scuffing step on the stairs and each sigh behind his closed door.
But this will happen over and over again in our children’s lives, that they will have their hearts broken – in education, in work, in love, in family life, in friendships. And we, as parents trying to be good parents against all the odds, we won’t be able to help them every time, we won’t even be able to help them once, because they have to get through these things on their own. Because we aren’t them. We can’t lead their lives for them, can’t lead our lives through them or let them lead theirs through us. That doesn’t make it any easier, any more painless, but I guess it’s the way it has to be.
I wonder how much pain I caused my parents, how much they longed for me to get the things I wanted, and how bitterly they wept into their dark bedroom when I didn’t succeed. I wonder how often they worried about me when I’d finally moved away from home, when I was living it up somewhere and they were sitting at home, in front of the telly, Mum in her comfy chair, Dad in his rocking chair, holding hands, waiting for the clock to move forwards to the next day when they could reasonably hope for me to call them, or for the postman to stick a letter from me through the letter box. And were probably disappointed and doubly concerned.
The thing is – it doesn’t end. Once we have children, that’s it. We are tied to them for life, committed to our emotional vulnerability. We will always bleed when our children do.