Archives for the month of: July, 2012

Friday July 20th

Feeling restless, going up to school in an hour, allowed to meet him today because it’s the last time. Will position myself away from the masses and take photos for him and then, en mass, we’re going to the park where I’ll watch from a distance and note how he’s changed and enjoy the excitement in his end of school face. I’ll feel his whipped up, giddyness at leaving and the bubbling buzzing chaotic energy of their rites of passage.

This morning I approached assembly in a trance. He’d left ahead of me so for the first time in ages I made the walk and heard my footsteps, a quick and gentle fall on familiar gravel and saw how the leaves had changed since I’d last been that way. I heard us through the years, the mornings of another world, the hot sticky hand that I hold in my mind and the slow slipping into who we are now.
And it looks like every other walk but it’s never been more different. I think I’m early and plan to sneak in but everyone else had the same thought and there’s just one seat left at the front. I’m sandwiched between two people I can cope with, that’s the best I can say. And I feel an unexpected sadness for the laughter and connections that I had with these few people and how they usually keep a safe distance now. But an ingrained pattern remains, even now and I can’t help joke with a face from the past and it’s a bubbling, potent mix of fear, love, disbelief, pain and pride.
And the seat is perfectly placed, puts me in a straight line with our son and the keyboard behind him just under a display shouting ‘Courage‘ made of tinfoil. And I stare at the letters hearing the message and tap away as the chatter hums and builds. And it hurts when I laugh with this person and remember how you’d worked with her by chance just at the end of the old world and we smile at the current situation like we used to years ago, while I feel oddly calm and brittle at the same time.
And the other face ventures a question about how our son is feeling and she says Jack will miss his friends, while I note what that word means to us.

In this anticipating hub bub I’m invisibly present feeling every single second in the deepest way.
A tiny sibling finds his feet and wobbles towards me, drops his bottle and I watch it spin-dribble on the floor, swirling me back to toddlerdom and feeling the thread that connects.

So I sit there aware of all our previous hall moments. The Christmas productions, his kangaroo with my sneezy fur sack hanging from his tummy and he started to look pale, coming down with something and was ill on the last day so you took the presents in for us. And the following year, the set of antlers, sparkly and copper, that I constructed with him for the whole group and blustered them up to school in an enormous bag on the windiest, wettest day possible.
And we always sat at the front and you videod it on the big clunky thing that Al sold you just before it became obsolete. And in Key Stage 2, too grown up for animals, he became a shepherd and then a king. In year 5 he wore the bright gospel outfit that I spliced together the night before from cheap t-shirts and you couldn’t come because you had a meeting and I sat there alone trying to work the brute of a camera while all around me tapped and clicked and made tiny whizzy beepings on their small black things, while I cranked and creaked the silver machine in an aim to capture the footage.
And we somehow arrived at last year and I crawled through both performances of Year 6 speaking parts and him in huge glasses playing the Boffin, which you would have loved. I got through the show flanked by huge pillars of friends sandwiching me with support until the second showing where I sat by an empty chair and couples doubled around me like they do now and it looked like the space belonged to me and no-one asked to sit there. So I breathed through the final Christmas show, encased in an obvious space, like I sit here now while some of the dads have been let out with time off for this last key event.

And all our school moments pass before me like a parade of who we were and the tension builds while my pretence is stretched at the seams. I sit here thinking of all we’ve done in this new world and how I’ve eased us limping to this point.

So I breathe steadily through it all in a quiet, tortured pride. I edge through the moments, manage my way round the songs, surprise myself at my composure until he plays the keyboard. And I see him practicing with you and listen to his careful notes, watching the progression of his commitment through the pain. And I’m held and surrounded by immeasurable things while the pretence cracks just enough when they give him something silver that neither of us saw coming and I can’t work the camera in the mess of joy and pain.

I huddle around the outskirts afterwards as t-shirts are signed and the clutter of emotions continue. After the presents had been dispatched we took his cup and photographed him in the reception class, back in the place where we left him playing with trains on his first day seven years ago, when I felt the tug of the bond and thought I understood separation.

And now I need to get ready, time to leave the settee and the soft ticking clock that has marked my time in this world and that one. The fingers that crept round through every pick up time that announced we’d be back home soon. The dial that hands brushed over when one world became the other, when our son sat here with his grandparents and I was somewhere else, about to faint, when time stopped completely despite appearances.
Same tick, same measurements of time, entirely different world now and it will still tick in the background later when we finally come home, when I bring our son back from Primary, a final fading of that background colour of his life that gave us some much needed structure when we shifted worlds.

Circles of loss

Time to say goodbye – again…



Another venture to the Secondary environment but this time with me for a uniform evening. Anticipating the walk back with bags full of the future, held together with a mess of pride. 

We hit the hall, packed with families out in force. Dads bought out for the evening, helping holding bags, standing around looking awkward and keeping an eye out for a familiar face to bond with. Piled high with plastic bags folded, polyester creases in place, bored, restless children being reeled in, to try on and size up. I bump into the usual suspects who I hung with at the start of Primary and now here we all are at next phase, although our worlds separated months back.  The dads hang around like clothes horses, observing shoulder fit and  nodding and we rustle passed them, I try to stay focussed on my job.

We started out well but our sons strop wasn’t far away and it built steadily, gaining strength alongside my frustration, holding it in, holding it together and I coped through the rugby shirts and even the jumpers with a vivid flashback to him bouncing on the bed in his bright red primary sweatshirt. But now the blazer is wrapped around him and the shoulders are slightly big with sleeves that need adjusting and you should have been there to help, to share, to probably have skulked off and sat somewhere out of it while I joked and compared notes with the mothers. But you weren’t holding the bags or guiding us on the fit of a jacket and he looked up at me for a second with your eyes, with his messy end of day hair and I felt it all and saw how we’d got to that place. And how that point in space-time had bought us to the shiny buffered hall floor, with us hot and tired and grumpy, with him reluctantly being turned round and tucked with flappy penguin sleeves that I’ll sew up over summer and my patched up house of cards fell around me while I saw it all for an endless moment.

Doing it, getting on with it the best we can, as your Mum would say ‘making a do’. And I remembered how you hated clothes shopping, always kept things till they came round again like the awful green shirt that could only be worn out of irony and I flip back to the protesting Saturdays, the buying of the new suit and how the right girth made the sleeves too long but with the right sleeves it wouldn’t do up at the front.
And I’d do my best to advise you and it was ok in the end. And the blazer you bought with your Mum, way before her decline when you’d both ventured into Manchester and you would only wear it on a less formal work day when you could get away without a tie and we joked it was your Terry Wogan look. And none of these things could be referred to or laughter about because It was just me managing and judging it, in this world and getting through the bare necessities as quickly as I could. 
But if you’d been there physically you’d have felt it, you’d have recognised the moment too and you’d have got something in your eye.

And we bundled ourselves out into the quiet playground and darned up our issues in time to walk home. And we retraced the steps past the other school, the one where we’d watch the firework displays and you’d always bump into Phil and disappear off by the burger van and we’d walk home carefully through the darkness, herding children with our friends, lit with tubes of snapped fluorescent light while you chatted to the gardener discussing seeds of thought. And we’d tumble through the doorway, watering, smokey eyes ready for hot-dogs and hot mugs and it was all so very normal – but not today.

Today I walked through darkness in the early evening dusk, bouncy yellow bags blaring out the new school logo, banging on my legs while he swung his bagged up blazer, half chuffed, half annoyed. And we were lit by our resolution to mind the curb and keep walking, one tired foot in front of the other, with new things to wear in a new world with the first of many jackets to come.

A careful necessary stepping out to a point when the sleeves aren’t too long and he’ll look in the mirror to shave and see you looking back.

I left home with our son, a seamless echo of the boy you knew but came home with a teenager, a flash forward to the man ahead.




I close the door as he strides off on his Secondary school taster day.

He walks away down the path, the way you used to go to Starbucks, with a stride increasingly like your amble, off to meet Alfie and Tom and do the walk for the first time.
I run upstairs and watch his back for as long as I can and half way down the path he diverts left and I know he’s paused at the tree swing. He’s put his bag down, the rucksack that we last used on our last journey North, crammed with pens and activity books and we stuffed ourselves into the car with our over night things not knowing it wouldn’t happen again. And now I’ve shaken the crumbs from the rucksack and packed it with lunch and sharpened pencils and it’s slightly too big for him but he’ll grow into it like everything else.
And he’s out of sight but I see the branches sway with his weight, pulled down, waving to me, showing me where he is and I feel the weight. I remember his weight, learning to hold him, to lift him carefully from the cot and bend my knees and keep my back straight and I feel him in my arms now, smelling warm with the morning, soft and wriggly before our day ahead. And while you worked and managed issues and put up with their politics, we crawled on the floor and made up silly songs and you smiled at us later, dancing to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with the old throw on the floor. And he sat across your resting legs as you bounced him up and down and we were us in our silly ways and we were us in all our moments.

And I sit here on this side of the bed where we first watched Teletubbies and you and your Mum stood here after your trip into town that first week, when our son was tiny and she bought us the heavy brass photo frame with the thick black velvet backing and you started to worry about her, her button brightness starting to tarnish. And now I sit here in silence wondering how far down the route he has travelled and imagining the chatter as they bundle their way to the start of something new, feeling unsure and excited and grown up but still a child.

And I just get a text from him now to say he’s got there and the cold tightness leaves me.
I sit up and lean forward, I look past the small clay dish piled with your spare change, the one he made for you with squashed out sides from small pushing thumbs. I look past the bottle of water, the inside speckled with old condensated bubbles, an uneven line of them sit just above the still quiet water level, punctuating the plastic and from this angle the flattened out oval reflects the milky sky. And beyond it the path where he walked an hour ago and swung on the wood before marching away.
I focus on the leaves in the distance, the branches swaying slowly now in the air, moving with nature.

I sit in the quiet stillness and listen to my breath, the cursor flashes with my heartbeat.
Somewhere further away than normal but closer than I can describe he’ll be buzzing with his friends, listening, thinking, learning what’s next, putting one foot in front of the other as he navigates steadily on his path, like me.

Holding him invisibly,
3.30 can’t come soon enough.



The recent Fathers day was about our son writing his Star Trek post for you. But I couldn’t get your Dad out of my head and wondered how he felt only getting one card from his eldest son on that Sunday and did it cross his mind as he felt the sharp tear of paper cut across his fingers that he wasn’t getting two, that the other card, the safe, bland, difficult to find one, wouldn’t be up there on his dusty shelves next to the smiling photos of years of pretence. And did he give us a thought as he laughed with his eldest over some other in-joke, did he send us his thoughts through the ether? He certainly hasn’t sent thoughts through the many electronic ways he could communicate. He knows all our addresses and he even understands our new world himself, yet his silence is deafening.

Your Step Mum went quickly and it was our sons first time then for an ironed, starched shirt and I still can’t process the fact that three years later he’s worn the shirt twice more. Your Mums service was our lowest point, and our son sat between us with his small arms barely reaching around us both and we thought we knew pain. We worried for your Dad, losing both women from his life within eight weeks of each other and we made the calls and checked in with him and tried to bridge that gap, to understand, to reach out.

I’m not sure what I expected from him but I didn’t expect this.

Your Dad continues to be totally absent though in the world physically and while I lie here warm in the duvet listening to our sons steady breathing I feel a growing anger, a distilled mess of my disappointment wrapped up in your rage, your pain at the years of needing, searching, longing for the respect you deserved with every atom spinning inside you. And I remember our first visit and how I geared myself up for his ‘wit’ and wore a ‘meeting the parents’ outfit and curled my hair in the long mirror in your Mum’s bedroom. The bedroom with her little white door to the cupboard of treasures where you found the tiny Santa from your childhood and broke down in the days before it was my turn.
And in the afternoon you’d visited him while I poured over photos with your Mum and as usual you tried to talk to him, to aim to connect, a hope to reach him on that level and as usual made a little progress and we visited later and ate delicately arranged food. And he was in full effect and I was bating it all back, making them laugh, giving as good as I got and you knew I could take him on in my own way and you both liked it. And it was alright as I bought into the long standing issues and we dissected it all into the early hours and we were at the very start.
And the morning afterwards your Mum would quiz us on what happened and what had been said. Always needing reassurance because the second wife could cook and host and the house had doilies and rugs and a little gong to call us in for dinner. But it couldn’t have mattered less, it couldn’t have been more irrelevant, because she was where the love was, the unconditional understanding, immeasurably for you and not far behind for us.
And I couldn’t relate to it, all your issues were alien and strange. It wasn’t a pattern I’d grown up with. You’d already met my Dad, you saw the love, the always-there-ness of a way you craved and all the established visits on Fathers day because they were relatively local and we could. And in all the silliness of presents for Grandad you must have felt the loss of the relationship you sought so much but you focussed on your own job then, receiving your own carefully chosen or handmade card and some bit of nonsense that would get lost in the house. And the day was marked as you developed your softer punch down the years, as you became the dad you didn’t have.

Now I drift here surrounded by four fathers, yours who still brings out a rage in me, though I have to remember your last chat in the month before, when you stumbled to a reasonable place and shared the book that he quoted from one month later when our son wore the shirt again.
Mine, who has only ever been there, even when he wasn’t. Who has tried his best to support us though these months of hell despite the agony of not being able to make it better and who I just can’t visit on Fathers day because I can’t take our son into that environment of memories, to open cards that underline our pain, so for the second year avoidance was the way through. There’s not much I’ve avoided in this new world but to stay away then made the day more manageable.
And you’re the third father, finding your way, becoming the silly Daddy that only we saw and instilling in him a love of many things that are just showing through now. And now I come unstuck
and can’t find the words, can’t express the emotions triggered by remembered conversations and how you wouldn’t allow yourself to be like him and you were different and we knew it and I’ll make sure our son knows it in the years ahead. And it’s that bit, that part that I can’t compute, doing your part too for you but I can feel you, I can sense you guiding me.

I hold him carefully, filling him with a knowledge, a sense of love and respect and guide him through the love to find who he is growing into, in this world that neither of us knew. My Dad is with me, I’ve grown as an adult surrounded by love with him still there physically, you grew as an adult with your Dad there physically but absent in too many ways but our sons world is very different.
He has a new experience, one neither of us can relate to, he is growing up, growing into the loss, his sense of self is being carved out now, the man he will become is formed of these moments and a world without you physically. But god knows you hold him and encase in him in love at a level we can’t understand and as long as there’s breath in my body I will show him who you were and feed him the love and respect that you gave him without bounds. He will know a different level of love to the lives we lived through, he has a different journey and the years ahead and the love around will allow him to be who he needs to be.

And one day maybe, he’ll be the fourth father, as I hear him waking now on the day he’s going to write about Star Trek, because that helps us both and I think he understands its part of his grieving.
And one day he may take all that we have given him, assimilate the pain and joy and become a father too, feeling the thread that connects us all, imperceptibly, undeniably linking through the life and love he has known, becoming more than his experience, protected by the love that holds us close now.
And whoever he becomes, father or not, he will know, he will feel our pride, our respect, he will feel the love surround him.

There’s more to fatherhood than physical presence.