Tag Archives: family

The emptiness of Father’s Day

18 Jun

Its Father’s Day here in the UK today. All day long my social media feed has filled with messages from doting children talking about how great their fathers are, or how much they miss their dead dads. Friends and relatives closer to my age are celebrating recent births and there’s hardly a bad word to be spoken.

My own relationship with my father is frequently fraught, long-time readers know this already. But it is my own status that leaves me a little torn up as each father’s day passes.

I’m not a father. I haven’t passed on my genes into a miniature person. I’m still very much alone in the world, and while that’s mostly okay, its also a little sad. I’ve been a stepfather, I am a godparent, I am an uncle. But it isn’t the same. Every father’s day I find myself dwelling on the children I didn’t have. Not the decision to not reproduce, but a series of miscarriages between me and partners. I’ve talked very little about this publicly over the years out of a desire to protect myself, and the other people involved. Not all the incidents as it turns out were pregnancies at all, and that has left its own mental scars. But at least one seems to have been an actual foetus that terminated its journey. I’m still reeling from that if I’m honest.

We talk so much (and rightly) about women’s experiences with miscarriages – they are the nurturing vessel that protects the developing child, and the ones with the most intimate bond. But we too often forget that fathers-to-be have a place in the stories too. The knowledge that we created a life that came and went too quick, is overpowering. I wept, wandered confused, completely stricken by the events that unfolded for me. Looking to confide and talk to a partner that was also trying to deal with the situation in her own way. I still wonder what might have come of the relationship and that family unit had events not overtook us. I wonder was that my last chance at bringing a life into the world with someone I actually trusted and cared for, and knew would be a good mother. It wasn’t in the life plan at that stage for either of us, but I am sure we would have made it work.

The only way to keep going seems to be to push it to one side. To bury the feelings that a conversation about it encourages. I’ve had to write off biological fatherhood in my head, as something that simply isn’t for me. The reality is, that after being lied to, to then go through the whole process again with someone who was being open and sincere, I’m not sure I could cope again. One day I guess I’ll have that conversation with the person I need to.

So Father’s Day – the day that reminds me that I’ve failed at being a dad. Meh.



Another solo Christmas 

11 Dec
Merry Fucking Christmas. Billy Bob Thornton down on his luck in Bad Santa (2003)

Merry Fucking Christmas.
Billy Bob Thornton down on his luck in Bad Santa (2003)

I’m used to it, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t had a happy couple-y Christmas season since 2008. Two further ones spent during a relationship were difficult to say the least. But most of the last decade I’ve found myself sitting down with various groupings of my family, finding myself increasingly awkward and retreating into myself as the season and big day itself goes on.

Christmas for me, as it is for many others, is tough. There’s always a risk of depression hitting (I see from my notes I took a massive downer last year), and coupled with my solo status the moods can get very bleak. As everyone else in my vicinity is coupled up, and/or with families of their own, I feel very much like an outsider.

Platitudes around all the things I should be happy about, how you never know what’s around the corner, and how they’re all there for you, really doesn’t help. I tell you I’m happy alone, but I’d love to be waking up in the arms of another on Christmas morning, indulging in festivities, and draining the port after dinner and watching Doctor Who while snuggled into a lover’s bosom. Each of you that has this has no grounds to attempt to console me or those like me with words because you have what we don’t, and what we crave.

I’m set against the idea of winter affairs because they play out against the high pressures of Christmas and Valentine’s Day, skewing our expectations dangerously. But, ye gods, it’s fucking lonely out here. Everyone engrossed in capitalist overkill, making wild love declarations, and playing at fucking happy families. It doesn’t matter that it might all be bullshit, you get to pretend. And I bet for at least some of that time, being with someone else really makes your holiday.

It’s doubly hard after glimpsing the inside of a relationship again. My suspicions that it wouldn’t last til Christmas were well-founded as it turns out. But my bought of genuine heartbreak in its wake has left me vulnerable, untrusting and more alone than ever. And it means this year I’m even more likely to retreat away from everyone else.

Don’t confuse this with depression though. It’s hard seeing other people happy, or pretending to be, when you’re not where you want to be. I’d much prefer to be sitting in a field with my dog Bowie as company than sit at my folks’ with the siblings. Not because I don’t love them, but because it just reminds me of me. Makes me self-aware. If the right person offered, I’d disappear like a shot.

I’m not doing presents this year. Please don’t give me any. And I wont give you one in return. It isn’t needed. I need less stuff, not more. Give to someone else, give to charity, give to yourself.

Being rejected because of who I am – because of the way I am – has killed a lot of ego, the same ego I had just begun to accept (and once you’ve been properly replaced you know the problem was you and not them at all). I know I’m a lovely person, would make a great partner, but I don’t think anyone is prepared to put the little work in it actually needs to sustain an ‘us’. I’m a bit top heavy – there’s more work at the start as my barriers break down. But I’m not a bullshitter, I don’t lie, and I’m not going to impose my rules and ideology on anyone else because that isn’t healthy. Communication, trust and picking your battles are paramount. Why is that so hard to accept?

There’s what, two weeks to go before Christmas. I’m unlikely to have this turned around before then. No new relationship. No hook-up. Not even a date. And so the frustration of the fantasy continues. And don’t even get me started on New Year…

A rose by any other name…

5 Oct

Rose in Winter. Image © Robert JE Simpson.

It’s a matter of public record that I am a divorced man. There’s little escaping that, and I will be reminded of it from time to time in legal matters. But I’m lucky. There’s nothing to tie me to that past, no messy alimony or children or shared property to deal with. And so, I don’t see why that former contract should define my existence.

I don’t get why (at least in my situation) I need to fill in forms or declare myself as ‘divorced’. I’ve had other relationships that lasted longer but they aren’t acknowledged in any way formally, and yet people can look at you a little different when they know you were married. Breaking apart from a long term stable relationship doesn’t carry the same taboos or connotations. Is it because with formerly married couples there is often a baggage of financial and domestic ties? I have friends who were never married but who carry similar experiences, so why this prejudice? 

If asked to define my status I would say ‘single’ because that’s what I am. I might be dating, seeing someone etc, at any given moment, but I’m not quite ready to say this is me in the throws of full-blown relationships. Unless I am, in which case I’d probably make that clear. The mental scars I carry from the past are hardly unique to ex-marrieds. 

One of the problems with relationships is that people do tend to view you purely within the context of that coupling and loose sight of you as an individual. Asserting independence is desperately important. You’re with someone (hopefully) because you like them, because you enjoy those shared experiences, but you have to keep a sense of self that exists outside that coupling. 

Marriage as a convention still places emphasis on the mingling of individuals – fusing them together in a display of patriarchal persistence. It remains the man’s family name that becomes adopted by spouses (in heterosexual marriages) and there is a sense of giving over to that. 

I’m still surprised by the number of strong feminist friends that have bought into this status quo. I wouldn’t want to change my name for a partner, so why should we men demand that our women should?

Regardless of my relationship or marital status I remain me. I carry the name I was given at birth and which identifies me. But for a woman it can be more complicated. Statistically nearly every other marriage ends in divorce. So adopting the name of your betrothed can lead to an association that lasts long after the decoupling, maintaining a psychological and perceived tie that is potentially harmful. 

I can just about understand why partners of some celebrities have kept their married names – it gives them a weird celebrity status by proxy and can ensure a career in the media (Angie Bowie for example – a woman from whom husband and son both have distanced themselves).

Beyond the marriage it might suggest a stability and dependability that is otherwise undermined by the embracing of a maiden name. Certainly flitting back and forth as relationships come and go could get complicated. It’s for these reason I wouldn’t ask a partner to take on my name. Kids might be different – and I might be more likely to suggest double-barelling and creating a new dynasty with a unique identity.

Names have meaning, and a change of name may indicate a different aspect of personality. Maybe a nom de plume for creative purposes? A way of avoiding unwanted intrusion into one’s private life, or to evade perceptions.

Being the third person in three generations to carry my given name it’s little wonder I cherish my middle names as my personal identity stamp, but to be subsumed into that of another, no thank you.

Ultimately does it matter? One can change one’s name or status as one might an outfit or hair colour but there’s no hiding the person inside. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Bruised but not beaten

14 Oct

One of my friends last night happened to post on Facebook about an ongoing harassment issue they’ve been having over a period of many years. They’e been continuously targeted online and the person dishing out the abuse appears to have suggested that they will stop targeting her if she agrees to stop mentioning her accounts of the abuse (both on her and others) – something which she has very sensibly not agreed to. For in agreeing to do so “that is trying to coerce me into silence”.

Its a not uncommon tactic for the bully/abuser to engage in – a variation of the ‘I’ll leave you alone if you keep my secret/give me your lunch-money’ mentality. It shames the target of the abuse into silence, which in turn allows the abuser to retain a semblance of control in the situation. Its also a way of allowing the abuser to never accept responsibility for their inappropriate actions. A carte blanche for the abuser which will only incense the abused.

In this instance, the harassment and abuse is well documented, and not just by my friend it seems – I’ve been able to read quite a bit about the campaign of abuse on various websites. Though no amount of public exposure seems to be able to stop this individual.

There are of course two sides to every story, and I have little doubt (my speculation here) that my friend’s abuser has crafted an alternative narrative in their own head, which puts on the blame onto their victim, switching roles and suggesting that they are only acting in retaliation for abuses perpetrated by my friend. I’m obviously a little biased, but when one starts to see the evidence with one’s own eyes a judgement isn’t that hard to make.

My own abuser harassed me, and inflicted various abuses of a physical, emotional/mental and sexual nature. I have an extensive chronicle of the abuse cycle, but I’m not in a position where I want to expose it publicly, name names, or detail the ins and outs. Seeing my friend’s comments yesterday brought much of my own processing to the surface again, and I continue to be left in a numb, frustrated state, angry at myself for allowing myself to become victim. Some of my abuse was played out in public, and some of you may even recall incidents that sat uneasy with you. For the most part, it was conducted in a private setting.

Unlike my friend’s abuser, I cannot say whether mine has targeted others, or to what extent if they have. I have no doubt that they will have friends who either wouldn’t believe what they are capable of, or wouldn’t see it as abusive behaviour. Unfortunately we are all prone to skewing in instances where our friends and family are concerned – because they are loved ones, we give them a pass we wouldn’t permit for others. Loyalty is one thing, but enabling someone to behave in a controlling and coercive manner is not acceptable.

While I may not have the strength right now to publicly document my abuse (and to be honest, I don’t think it would be that helpful to anyone for me to do so), I’m far from silent on the matter. That cycle has had an indelible impact on my life, and I’ve had various authorities and specialists dealing with it and helping me come to terms with what happened. Abuse nearly cost me my sanity, but once you learn to speak out you start to wrestle control of the situation from the abuser. Just don’t give in whatever you do – don’t be bullied into silence because that’s what they want.

2nd Annual Review – 2014

13 Jan

When I wrote my “1st Annual Review” on the blog this time last year, I was in the middle of a very unpleasant legal matter that threatened to drag me emotionally back into the dark days of 2012. I was decidedly drained following months of turmoil, and had begun to lose sight a little of what was happening around me. In among the pain, there had been a string of happy occurrences and rich experiences which promised to help me put my life back on track. I voiced my tentative feelings about 2014 – a cautious optimism that things would improve. Twelve months later and its time to see how I got on.

Undoubtedly this has been a year of change for me. Massive, overwhelming change in some instances. And I’m trying to capitalise on those changes going forward – attempting to learn from the mistakes and take the best I can out of everything – even the pain (The darkest days of the year ended up uniting the family in a way I hadn’t expected). I am undoubtedly still some distance from where I want to be in my personal and professional lives, but importantly the cautious optimism of last year has been borne out repeatedly.

I don’t make New Years Resolutions as a rule. I think they’re fraught with expectation and pressure, and goodwill which leaves one open for a fall. But there are promises I am making to myself too, and while not traditional resolutions as such, are probably worth voicing. I’m going to push myself this year with various projects, embracing the creative streak which has remanifest itself this year. I’m going to look forward with more positivity and open-mindedness. I’m going to put myself out into the world more.


There’s something about January, its a rather bleak and depressing month for many of us. For me it was the hangover from 2013, as I darted back and forth dealing with a legal action I’d initiated at the end of 2013. The scale of the situation threatened to throw me off-balance just as something more positive showed up, but I stuck with it, coming out the other side with a peace of mind I’ve not had in years and a resolve to speak up for the truth. It looks like I’ll be able to put the whole chapter behind me in the next few months – though I appreciate there are ramifications of the experiences which are going to hit for years to come. Bridges burned. Lessons learned.

On location in the Cathedral Quarter for The Arts Show

On location in the Cathedral Quarter for The Arts Show

Thankfully January also offered the opportunity to refocus my career potential and I started a broadcast media course in a bid to supplement my decade-plus of experience with some proper qualifications and an unprecedented (for me) opportunity to work in television on a regular basis. Being thrown in among a group of 20-something aspiring media types brought me right back to my university days. Unlike my BA days, I made a point of joining in whenever possible and not turning down any opportunity. I could shout at myself for the opportunities I let slide by a decade ago – I’ve wasted a lot of time since then, and there’s always a little worry that as I hit 34 this year that I’ve maybe left things too late, that I’m written off as ‘too old’ before I even get a chance to demonstrate let alone prove my capability.

The classroom forced me back into writing, which is never a bad thing. And with the focus on radio production, I experimented a little with audio work – something which I’ve never done enough of. I got a massive kick out of a little acting for short pieces we produced in class, restoking that desire to perform I keep trying to bury. I’ve bunged some of my experiments on Soundcloud – putting things out into the public sphere is the only way I can get feedback.

Part of the course involved producing a short documentary piece, and I ended up developing several when plans started to fall apart during the process. Material which I’ll have to use when I get the chance. You can read about the experiences ghosthunting onboard the Nomadic here; and there’s another piece about Belfast City Cemetery I’ll publish soon. The final piece was loosely on the relevance of the cinema experience (and contains only a fraction of the recorded material).

We also dabbled with a podcast format – The Bunker – with me taking on the role of host. Conceived as a sort of magazine programme dealing with NI culture and politics, it was a worthwhile experiment, but one for which momentum was hard to maintain within the group. That said, I’d be keen to return to the idea and redevelop the format, something I might look at this year – if I can find a group willing to work on it.

As the classroom sessions ended I threw myself into pitching projects again with varying success.

February saw me attend my brother Ben’s wedding down in Killinchy. The weather was seasonally inclement, and my paternal grandparents weren’t able to make it owing to ill-health, but that didn’t mar the day. Ben and his wife Briony asked me to do a reading and of course in the middle of it I found myself chocked up with emotion. Amazing how these sorts of events can hit us. That’s both my baby brother and sister now married – very strange how we’re all growing up so fast. And somewhat disturbing.

I made my first visit to Donegal in several years for a weekend of head-space with some close friends. After recent stresses the trip was welcome if brief. There’s something about getting away from absolutely everyone that’s good for the soul.

March/April brought the Belfast Film Festival, and for the first time I was very involved with the main festival, hosting two on-stage events at the QFT. After many years of involvement with events around the UK and Ireland, to take to the stage in my home town at last was very welcome. I brought my dear friend Renée Glynne over from London to talk about a lifetime in film. We barely scraped the surface of Renée’s work, and if anything I perhaps spread the conversation a little too widely for the timeslot available. But I was delighted that we were able to bring her to Belfast for an event for the first time.

I also played host to an on-stage discussion with comic book and Game of Thrones storyboard artist Will Simpson. Built around his dual careers in comics and film/tv, it was an engaging couple of hours (judging by the comments we had after). The chat would have been fun already, but Will is also my uncle, and this marked the first time I’ve ever done an event closely related to family. In the past I’d shied away from anything like this, but having built a reputation on my own merit, and working on other events with the Film Festival, it felt like the time was right to do this.

Filming on The Arts Show at the University of Ulster

Filming on The Arts Show at the University of Ulster

With festival fever dying down I found myself moving on to the placement part of the course, and spent the next few months working on The Arts Show for BBC Northern Ireland. I’d spent a couple of afternoons in rehearsals as a stand-in for guests on The Nolan Show, and helped out at a couple of other events during the first part of the course, but this was a full-time posting which gave me a much better understanding of the television environment (I’ve worked on radio shows as a guest, tv is something I had very limited experience of). I knew presenter Marie-Louise Muir slightly from appearing on Arts Extra for Radio Ulster in the past, but the rest of the team were new to me. I tried to make the most of my time at BBC NI. From handling social media, behind-the-scenes photography, to liaising with guests (some of whom I knew from my previous life), interviewing, question setting, researching, and video editing,  it was a packed period and creatively rewarding.

I spent a bit of time researching a piece on the old North Street Arcade for a radio pitch I’d made. Of course, I managed to screw the package up, so it wasn’t used, but I did salvage some of the material for an article for BBC News, and in turn some of that fed into the content of the Cathedral Quarter Special of The Arts Show back in May, which was satisfying. There’s still quite a bit of material unused which I’ll publish before the spring.

In May I found a new outlet for my creativity (and to be fair, a little bit of self-therapising too) via the Tenx9 event run at the Black Box. Nine participants each have up to 10 minutes to tell a true story about themselves based around a theme. I debuted on the theme of ‘We Are Family’ on 28 April – telling a deeply personal tale few had previously heard. The comments afterwards were fantastic, and bitten by the bug I returned several times in quick succession – for May’s ‘Bodies’ (my story also known as ‘The Tale of The Willy Watcher’),  and July’s ‘Labels’ (a partially unscripted piece about my experiences of mental health issues).

The summer seems to have been spent in a round of gigs. I’m far too cheap and put off by big festivals like Glastonbury (unless for some reason I’m ever asked to host or perform something there), so it was with a little trepidation I made my way to the Bushmills – turned out to be a lovely event, with some great acts, and a fair bit of free whiskey. I caught Hayseed Dixie, and The Hardchargers (who had played at my brother’s wedding) down in Groomsport on a rather lovely if wet afternoon; another outing with Mr B The Gentleman RhymerDavid C Clements, and The Shires.


The summer also marked the start of the more regular radio appearances, beginning with a tribute to actor Ray Lonnen for Arts Extra. I was a guest on Revolutions Per Minute on Radio Ulster on 2nd August, alongside Bap Kennedy, Willie Drennan and host Steven Rainey to talk about The Doors’ album Strange Days, an album which provided part of the soundtrack to my A-level artwork. To add to the pressure, this was a one hour live broadcast, and kept the adrenaline pumping. I came straight from the broadcast out into a damp Belfast City Centre and caught my first proper glimpse of the PRIDE parade, something I’ve been meaning to catch for years.

Me and my niece Emily

Me and my niece Emily

The family expanded with the birth of my sister’s daughter Emily. When your baby sister starts having babies one knows one is getting old! One of the pleasures of the year has been watching my siblings and their offspring. Spending time with them never ceases to warm my mood.

My bus broke down en route to Dublin on 23rd August causing me to miss the opening minutes of the panel discussion I was taking part in for Shamrokon, (The Dublin Eurocon 2014) on screen adaptations of J Sheridan Le Fanu. Old friend Brian J Showers had asked me to take part, and I joined highly esteemed writers James Rockhill and Maura McHugh for the afternoon. This was a major strand celebrating the 200th anniversary of Le Fanu’s birth. I realise now I was lucky enough to be involved in the centenary commemorations of Bram Stoker’s death in 2012 too. Hopefully we’ve been successful in renewing interest in both writers. My own has certainly been expanded in the case of Le Fanu.

Everything in my world changed in September at the end of one of my busiest fotnights. I caught up Green Envi during a rehearsal with their new drummer (my brother Ben!), made my first appearance on Kerry McLean’s show for Radio Ulster, and then spent the best part of the next fortnight in Derry. Regular readers of the blog will already be aware my grandfather died mid-September – the first of my grandparents I’ve lost, and so it has hit pretty hard. There’s not a day goes by where he doesn’t get thought about, and the impact has been far-reaching.

During the last few days in hospital I had to come back to Belfast (giving others the chance to spend the nighttime vigil with him). I managed to keep a promise to Rachael B Kelly to help her with her book launch, and was honoured to host the evening at Crescent Arts for her. Dr Kelly and I have been developing a number of projects together and I hope we’ll start to see the outcome later this year of several. Rachael did tell me I didn’t have to come under the circumstances, but a brief soujourn back to relative normality and the comfort of a friend was welcome and revived me for the arduous week that followed.

There were further comments from friends and colleagues in private, and I cannot begin to tell you how much they meant to me.

After Granda’s funeral I ploughed back into work, signing off proofs on my contributions to a book on British Cinema. Then in October I was off to London for the first time in over two years for an event at the British Library as part of their Gothic season. I’d been a consultant on the Hammer part of the accompanying exhibition, and now the show is coming to an end I can probably tell you that its thanks to me that the huge US 3 sheet for Hound of the Baskervilles is part of the exhibit – I had lent my personal copy but conservation concerns and a pressing deadline meant that the Library found an alternative at the last minute  – a very nice linen-backed version. Its a reminder of how long these things take to develop when one considers we started talking about the exhibition in 2013. I joined old friends and colleagues Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby for a panel discussion on screen adaptations of Dracula, with Sir Christopher Frayling in the chair for the event (last time I spoke to Frayling I was interviewing him and Sir Jonathan Miller).

I was only able to do an overnight trip in the end, but made the most of it with a walk through Islington in search of the locations of some of the original Blue Hall cinemas (one for the Hammer completists). On the way home I flew back via Birmingham (somewhere I hadn’t been in several years) and met up with my 2nd cousin Emma for the first time. We made contact via ancestry.co.uk a couple of years ago and have stayed in touch since. Actually meeting one of the family members I didn’t know before (albeit a fairly close relative) was a real thrill.

Since granda’s death I’ve been in touch with several other members of the family, and have made further progress unweaving things. I’m glad I got talking with him about a lot of the findings before he died, as it brought me closer to him. Pursuing it subsequently hasn’t provided closure by any means, but it has given me some comfort.

I didn’t let up as the year drove to the end. I joined the ranks of the guest reviewers on the Banterflix podcast on a regular basis – something I’ve been enjoying a great deal. I look forward to working with the guys again this year. Sitting talking about movies with like-minded folk, what’s not to like?

I made another trip to Dublin – this time to witness my dear friend Joanna’s wedding to Jon. Its been a long-time coming, and was the one event I promised myself I wouldn’t miss this year, re-organising several other appointments just so I could be there. It didn’t disappoint, and provided a wonderful example of religious tolerance as they had both a pagan handfasting and Church of Ireland service. I hope they have many happy years together.

November saw another on-stage interview with Will Simpson, this time as a fundraiser for the F.E. McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge. Another lovely audience, and a very busy room considering the heavy flooding on the roads that night. The two events we’ve done together this year seem to have gone well so we’re open to the possibility of doing them again elsewhere.

As part of my grieving process I took part in another Tenx9, on the theme of ‘Grandparents’, telling a story about granda. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and the comments I had afterwards made it very worthwhile. I’ve added the story to my Soundcloud, and you can listen below.

I’d promised myself earlier in the year that I’d become more involved with the arts scene in Northern Ireland – part of my attempts to throw myself back into the creative world I’d shied away from thanks to years of academic pressure and insecurity. Last year’s inclusion in an exhibition as part of Art In The Eastside recaptured my confidence, and so it was I found myself accepting a position on the board of Creative Exchange Artist Studios in my home turf of East Belfast. Through the Art In The Eastside, I’d already become part of the extended family. I’ve been getting to know the artists and fellow board members in recent weeks, and am looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

The stage in the Black Box, set for Tenx9

The stage in the Black Box, set for Tenx9

Several more radio appearances before the year end including Kerry McLean and Vinny Hurrell’s shows, kept me attentive. And of course December would never be complete without my annual stint in the red suit and beard for charity.

Christmas itself was a little different this year. We had mum’s folk down with us for the day itself – something I don’t think we’ve done before – while dad’s mum was at my uncle’s just a few miles away. With my brother Jonny home, and my other siblings living close by, I did get to see everyone this year during the festive period.

In what looks like fast becoming a festive tradition I ended up at the Limelight for a gig at the year end. This time the big benefit for Terri Hooley. A chance to meet up with old friends and listen to great music, and take a few snaps for the portfolio. An excellent way to end the year.


So as I enter 2015, I’m able to look back at 2014 as a very strange transitional period. One that was filled with interesting things, and a good deal of progress professionally.

The challenge is to maintain and improve on that this year, in spite of challenges that will be thrown my way.  Last year I watched a lot of films, visited a lot of galleries, made numerous radio appearances, and progress with some writing. This year I’ve some further media work lined up, and am on the look out for more. Film will continue to provide a backbone, and I’m working on my writing once again. I’d like to start traveling again too. I have a trip to London lined up, and I’d like to make it back to Paris this year… we’ll see how things develop. Certainly compared to the travails of 2013, life has been good this last year.


My Future Family?

21 Sep
Baby on Scales - image from Flickr commons

Baby on Scales – image from Flickr commons

I’ve been thinking about kids again recently – probably due to the recent arrival of my niece. I now have one of each – a niece and a nephew, and with that there is a strange sort of completion in the family unit.

I’m fast approaching my mid-30s, and the eldest of the family, and yet its my younger siblings who are responsible for the next generation. Life of course doesn’t follow strict rules of chronology. This first born son of a first born son of a first born son has no offspring of his own. And finding myself resolutely single, I’m quite content with that fact.

There was a time, perhaps, in my teenage years, where I assumed the thing to do would be to settle down, marry and have kids, just like my parents did, and all before I reached 25. But as time grew on, real life interactions bring about a rethink.

I wouldn’t even blame it on bad relationships, because while not meeting the right person to have a family with is no doubt part of it (or not the right person at the right time), other things – education, work etc. – also play a part.

I’m sure many of us looking to our next event birthday as 40 (still some way off thank goodness, but a scary prospect all the same) begin to panic about a seeming lack of direction. No steady job, excessive debt, no partner, no children, no hope?! And as friends start to pair off, settle down, buy houses and have families one begins to feel left out. On the shelf. Alone.

Curiously while most of my male friends and relatives have settled down, I have acquired a select few female friends who find themselves in a similar boat to me. They’re all in their early to mid 30s, unattached, and unburdened. It is reassuring for the moment, at least until they too start to find new partners and families (yes, I’m assuming they’ll do it before me) and then like my male friends, we end up speaking maybe twice a year – at children’s birthday parties which I’m tokenistically invited to, only to feel awkward in the corner.

Do I sound prematurely jealous? Perhaps. Somewhat selfishly I appreciate being part of a wee club – bucking the tribal trends that dictate our domestic existence. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects which I can appreciate and to some extent aspire towards. There remains a misconception in our society that children equals happiness. While I have no doubt for some individuals that is the case, I’ve witnessed too many couples for whom children have aggravated relationship sores, leaving wounds open to further infection.

Being a man I’m aware that I have considerably longer than women (in theory) in which to reproduce – providing of course I can find a suitable female willing to take on the task with me. But as I get older, finding a suitable other will prove more difficult. With the advances in our technology I’m assuming children are an option for me at least for another decade, after which I’ll be on the way to 50 and less willing to take on such a task.

In the meantime I can rebuild my life after the mistakes and emotional turmoil of the last few years, and maybe even do some of the things I’d always talked about doing. If somewhere along the way I find myself acquiring a girlfriend then I might consider settling down and building a family, but it isn’t a priority.

As the family genealogist I’m very aware of the various genetic lines and the constant cycle of reproduction that is human existence; that position also leaves me feeling slightly guilty that my own branch of the family tree looks set (at present) to come to a stop. Is that an ironic state of affairs?

My life would have been very different if I’d had children by now I’m sure – I look at my siblings and friends with some slight envy as they embrace parenthood and bring up their own tiny terrors. I sit down and I play with their kids, feed them, put them to bed and chill, and a little part of me is in awe at their existence. But I don’t envy the responsibility, the commitment, the unending protectiveness. I can’t see that it would have been a viable option for me in the past, and as far as I am able to control it I refuse to reproduce simply for the sake of it.

That is of course the real risk as we get older. The body clock starts ticking, and as we find ourselves in a shrinking minority we panic. We make ourselves parents through some brief encounter that fizzles out either just before or soon after the birth, satisfying the ‘family’ need in a lacklustre manner. Or we make the decision and settle down in a mundane relationship with a partner we sort of care about a bit, but would rather not have bothered with. We form families because we feel we have to.

Maybe that’ll be me in ten years. Tired of being alone I find someone in a similar situation and we make a pact to end our respective solitude and form a relationship – warm but not sizzling – and build a safe family. When all is said and done, that does sound slightly more appealing than spending the rest of my days in isolation.


20 Sep

I’m not exactly a stranger to death. I recall the funeral for my great-grandmother Sarah (Sadie) Simpson back in August 1992. She’d made it to 91, and while I was fairly young (11), I felt a loss at her passing. We were too late, and probably too small, to be allowed inside to see her body, which left a strange sensation of something unfinished that took years to shake off.

Around the same time a young friend of mine called David, who I knew from the Boys Brigade, died suddenly of a heart condition. While I we weren’t bosom buddies, I looked forward to chatting with him on Wednesday nights up in Glenmachan, and I cried a little at his funeral, packed with friends and loved ones. A year or two later and another David died, this one a boy in my 3rd year class. I was one of the contingent of school mates that went to the funeral, though I had barely gotten to know him at the time. I was upset, but not as much as his proper friends who I recall being in floods of tears at the funeral. All in all it was very strange.

But it has taken until now for me to feel a personal tragedy so close to home, the demise of someone I didn’t just know a little, or admire, but one who I can say with all honesty I loved unconditionally.

Two years ago when it was first suggested that granda had cancer, we were told the doctors wanted to speak to the family. Naturally we assumed that the prognosis was probably only going to be a couple of months at best. I phoned round my brothers and sister with the information and the recommendation that we make our goodbye visits as soon as possible. Those phonecalls were incredibly difficult and I could scarcely hold back the tears as I talked.

But he pulled through, came home, and details on prognosis were sketchy. We’d effectively said our goodbyes, so each and every visit and conversation subsequently was a bonus. Further hospital stays occurred, and at home he grew gradually bed-bound. Always talking about getting up and doing something, but not able to act upon those words.

The second week of September has been the emotionally fraught in my entire life to date. Aware that things had taken a turn for the worst, already prepped for the news, once we were given a prognosis in the hospital all manner of emotions took over.

Sitting in the hospital room with him was difficult. Without the least bit of warning my eyes filled with water which seeped across my cheeks without any hesitation.

The emotional minefield that is death is something which I hadn’t really anticipated. Seeing someone you know and care about before you, knowing that your time with them is limited in days or hours (and eventually minutes), shakes you to the core. One drifts off on a tumultuous sea of conflicting thoughts. Happy stories and memories clash with the imminent ending of a life, promise clashes with finality, regrets and sorry lift their bold head high. One must try and savour every moment left while dealing with the build up of sadness.

People talk about grief in the wake of a death, but what doesn’t get mentioned is the pre-grief. The sorry one has while the person lives. While one still feels as if they should have the power to act, to make changes, to say things.

I wandered around the corridors of Altnagelvin hospital in the middle of the night, sustained on vending machine coffee. In something of a daze, I stumbled blindly into the cold outside air. I tried to stifle my sobs, not quite ready to let go completely. How can one weep when the person one weeps for remains alive?

Once again I made the phonecalls. Only this time they were daily, if not multiple times each day. Keeping the close knit family aware of developments as the day grew into an unexpected week. Glad for each additional moment with him, and yet aware that we were well into borrowed time.

I’m not convinced we human beings are prepared for death. Even with advance warning of the inevitable it still comes as a shock. There is endless talk of regret, sorrow, abandoned conversation. We can’t just flick a switch and move from “person alive” to “person not alive” in our understanding. Seeing them in pain brings us frustration, anger, sorrow. But seeing them peaceful arouses similar sensations. We cry for their presence. We mourn their departure.

I’m still going through the process now. The last few days have been a little easier. Possibly a disconnect caused by seeing his body. I didn’t feel his presence there in the side room at the funeral home, and so I cannot connect it to him as a person – even though the figure in the coffin looks like him. But there have been moments, bits of conversations, images, which have stirred the emotions once more. I’m looking at photographs and cannot fathom there being no more to come. Perhaps it is the continued presence of my grandmother that makes it okay. I’ve seen her without him before, so it doesn’t totally register yet.

I don’t think anyone goes through this sort of thing and not feel something. I continue to reach out for an embrace, a comforter to help me through. Someone to listen to my stories, my memories, my grief.