The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Happy Birthday Dad …
September 16, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, My Fatherhood

Tomorrow would be my Dad’s 84th birthday.

That means he’s been gone 24 years, approaching half my life.

How is that possible?

But of course it is … demonstrated by the fact that I’ve been using the same photos of him on birthday posts for entire time this blog has been going.

Which is over 16 years.

They’re the things that reinforce the time he has been gone.

And yet he’s still here.

Maybe not as much as he was in the past, but where it matters.

Mum and Dad … this seminal duo in my life.

There for the big things in the first and second chapters of my life.

The good and the bad.

Of course I’d love them to still be here.

As I’ve written many times, the fact I have not been able to talk to my Dad about the life I’ve found myself living is one of the great sad parts of my life.

He’d have been thrilled.

And full of questions.

Which I would have absolutely loved to have answered for him.

I sometimes try to think of all the things he would have asked.

Some would be obvious, but his brain was so wonderful he would have thrown out some very unique questions. Questions that would make me think as much as he would be considering the answer.

Wanting to understand.

Wanting to connect.

Wanting to grow because of it.

That’s the kind of man he was. He deserved so much more than he ended up getting … but what he offered as a father was unsurpassed.

Even with the bits that used to drive me nuts.

Like the love of his sweet pea flowers, which were treated like new born children.

I still remember the time I ran in the house from the garden and trampled on them – as he’d left them in boxes by the windows to care for.

That was NOT a good conversation … hahahaha.

But I never doubted his love for me – and hopefully he felt the same – which for a parent, must be one of the greatest accolades a kid can give.

Hopefully Otis will think that about his old man.

Because I definitely think that about his grandpa.

Happy birthday Dad. Give Mum a big kiss from me.

Rx

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Glimpse Of A Past Life…
September 14, 2022, 8:10 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Fatherhood, Jill, Love, Otis

I was going through some photos when I came across this …

It feels like a million years ago, but it’s less than 2 years ago.

It was taken around Christmas 2020 …

We were living in England and we’d recently bought that house.

We knew we weren’t going to be in it for long as I’d accepted the job at Colenso … but we wanted to enjoy it as much as we could while we were there.

And so we did.

But the snow added a new dimension to the experience.

It came down a lot over a few short days and so for the first time since I had left the UK 25 years earlier, I was in a place that had enough snow to mess about with. For Otis, it was the first time he could … the first time he properly experienced snow … and after he’d accepted it was bloody cold, it was a bloody challenge to get him back indoors.

Oh the fun.

Snowball fights.
Building snowmen.
Slipping and sliding.

It was amazing.

All topped off by us getting into our giant hot tub in the garden to get warm, while it snowed around us … which was a bizarre – yet awesome – feeling.

And while that house is pretty much isolated in the countryside, so the small roads were all ice rinks, something about that week made the whole thing even more special for us.

A chance to connect to that house. To build a memory with that house. To be a family home.

And yet, when I saw that photo it seemed like another life.

A world away from the one we live in now.

Yet it’s still our home.
We may well one day return to it.
And we still utterly love it and its garden.

Lots of people talk about their ‘forever home’. I get it …

But the reality is while a place you grow roots in, is very important … the thing we forget is we have to do the work. It doesn’t happen by itself. Those 4 walls require the interaction of the people in it to build something worth remembering it for.

And while that house only had us in it for 6 months [so far] that photo will forever remind me that sometimes, that’s all you need.

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Testing The Limits That It’s The Thought That Counts …
September 2, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Anniversary, Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Love

It’s Fathers Day in NZ this Sunday.

A day where we are supposed to be loved and spoiled.

Or at least acknowledged.

That said, I at least tried to buy my Dad some thoughtful stuff.

Or at least personal.

Like a Ms Piggy from The Muppets doll … or a Rolls Royce pencil sharpener.

And while they sound naff, my Dad LOVED both Ms Piggy and Rolls Royce’s exemplified by two things.

1. He kept them his whole life and we placed them in his coffin when he died.

2. I chose to remember my Dad with a tattoo of Ms Piggy.

And while I accept with hindsight, they hardly scream ‘respectful Dad gift’, it’s still waaaaay better than this …

Yep, that’s real.

Which means either someone at the supermarket either wasn’t thinking or they just want to exploit Father’s Day for profit in whatever way they can.

So to all Dad’s out there – past, future, present – I hope you have an amazing day.

And to those who get a gift of Stayfree Ultrathin pads … remember, it’s the thought that counts.

Allegedly.

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Why I Am So Glad I Didn’t Get Everything I Wanted For Christmas …

I had a blessed childhood.

I had unconditional love … continuous support and a caring, family home.

But I never got Electronic Battleships.

Hell, I didn’t even get to play shitty paper battleships.

And frankly, I didn’t care except for the fact when I was a kid, the idea of an ‘electronic’ version of anything was cool so I wanted it.

Then there were the sounds it made.

Or at least the sounds it made on the TV ad.

Holy mother of god. This was 25th century technology.

Kinda.

But did I get it?

Did I hell.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I was spoilt over the years with a lot of electronic stuff …

Blip. Demon Driver. Astro Wars. Philips G7000. Game and Watch. Merlin. Tin Can Alley … which was the most rubbish thing ever made.

But no Electronic Battleship.

And the only reason I was able to deal with it is because I never really liked board games and my Dad hated them even more … so even if that wasn’t the case, only my Mum would be available to be an opponent and war was not something she rightfully wanted to encourage.

For 52 years I lived perfectly well without having Battleships in my life until one day I came home and found Otis had got a set and wanted to play.

Not Electronic Battleships [still being denied all these years later] but battleships all the same.

So we sat down at the table … facing each other and prepared to unleash naval hell on one another.

I should point out Otis had never played Battleships before.

I should also point out he’s 7 years old.

So you’ll understand why my view of Battleship has evolved from indifference to hate because 37 minutes after commencing our game, my son had blasted all of my stupid, crappy, cowardly ships out the water.

Crap game anyway.

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Chased By The Black Dog …
July 22, 2022, 8:00 am
Filed under: Dad, Emotion, Empathy, Family, Health, Jill, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis, Paul

So this week has been a rollercoaster of posts hasn’t it.

Some daft … some attempting to be useful and far too many about postboxes.

So as the final post of the week, I’m going to leave you with something serious.

Suicide.

Specifically mine.

Just to be clear, I’m good. But something happened recently that reminded me of a time when I wasn’t.

A couple of weeks ago I was driving home pretty late when the song Nights In White Satin came on the radio.

Within seconds, I was transported back 37 years.

At my desk.

In my bedroom.

In my family home.

The reading lamp to my right hand side, shining brightly against the yellow curtains that were closed against the dark night sky.

That song playing in the background.

Deciding if I was going to kill myself.

I don’t mean that in the dramatic fashion of a 15 year old kid who is having a bad day. I mean it exactly as it is written.

I had never told a soul about this – no one – until I talked to my wife two days ago.

In some ways, I’d kind-of forgotten about it – or I’d convinced myself I had – except the moment I heard that song, it all came back. Tumbling out of me like an uncontrollable mass of messy feelings, memories and emotions.

Where every detail was so clear, I could almost smell it, let alone touch it.

The thing is, it was not even a particularly hard time in my life. I was to experience much more challenging stuff in the next 5 years, and yet I never considered ending my life then.

I distinctly remember thinking how Mum and Dad would feel if they found my dead body. Wondering if they’d understand it was nothing to do with them. Hoping they wouldn’t blame themselves. Then wondering how I’d get on with doing it.

My Mum and Dad were downstairs in the lounge. Literally beneath my feet so I knew I had to choose a method that wouldn’t attract their attention.

Obviously I didn’t go through with it.

In fact I didn’t go further than running the edge of the blade up and down the inside of my arm. But hearing that song reminded me how focused I was about it. How much I was considering it. How much I wondered if it would set me free me from the pain I was in.

And yet no one knew or would know how I was feeling.

To most people, I was happy and full of life. And I was … but there were times where I felt darkness would just turn up to fuck with me.

An all-consuming blackness that would envelop me in the blink of an eye. Set off by the smallest of triggers. Sometimes so small, I didn’t even realise it.

Then gone just as fast.

Something I’d put down to ‘getting out of bed the wrong side’ … when it was most likely depression.

Never diagnosed, but probably that.

It’s why the recent CALM campaign – where they showed the last photo of people who then chose to die by suicide – is so powerful.

None of the people look like they’re in pain.

None look like they’re struggling.

And maybe at that second they weren’t. Or maybe they were but had found a way to compartmentalise it. Or maybe they just didn’t want the people they were with to suspect – for reasons of compassion or to ensure nothing could stop their plan. I don’t know. Everyone is different. But whatever the reason, I think I get it … which is why this campaign is so powerful and so important.

The thing I don’t really understand is why some situations lead you to the absolute edge and some don’t. Why some cross that line and some don’t. Or can’t. I’m sure there’s professionals who can explain the reason, but all I know is I’ve faced a number of moments in my life that were of incredible pain and sadness and yet none of them came close to how I felt that day when I was a kid at home. Except once. Where I found myself in the same place. Wanting to rub myself out. Literally rub myself out. Like a stain. Over and over again. Believing – and hoping – that was the only way the pain could stop. Except in that case, I knew what had caused it and was able to talk to people before the idea took on a greater life of its own.

Fortunately those are the only occasions in my 52 years of life where I have gone to the edge. Where my thoughts were about how I’d do it rather than if I would. And while I still don’t really know what interrupted the path I was going down, I’ve learnt to not just recognise the signs when things may be going dark, but how openness and communication always lets in the light.

At least for me.

I have no problem saying I sought out professional help.

And there have been other occasions where I’ve gone for advice on things I’m trying to work out or seem to have a disproportionate hold on me.

I distinctly remember the first time I told my parents I’d been to see a councillor and they were shocked.

Shocked I felt I needed it.
Shocked I hadn’t gone to them first.
Shocked they hadn’t recognised where my head was at.

But it was good because it opened a conversation we would never have had. One that opened up understanding and support. And when I say understanding and support … I mean it in the sense they realised there were occasions when I felt talking to an outsider would be better for me than an insider. Not because they’d done anything wrong – because frankly, my parents gave me a level of love and encouragement that was breath-taking and unconditional – but it just was better for me.

A chance to talk to someone I didn’t care about.

No history.
No worry of upsetting.
No need to choose my words carefully.

I know my parents probably felt some sort of pain, sadness and guilt about me not turning to them … but they were also incredibly supportive knowing it was helping me … which is why I was able to talk to them openly about it afterwards.

And while I’ve never been in as dark a place as those two occasions – even when my parents passed – I know the circumstances for its emergence can be wide and varied.

Which is why I get very frustrated when people minimise the reality of mental health. That it’s a symbol of weakness. That it’s a ‘woke’ attitude. I also get upset when it is narrowed down to being ignited by a particular set of behaviours or situations.

Sure there are likely some common factors, but in my experience the trigger and the effect is personal not universal. To suggest otherwise not only minimises the impact but ignores the individual.

I was blessed to be born into a family that encouraged showing and sharing their emotions. Maybe if that wasn’t the case I may have ended up in a worse place. But it’s also why we place great importance on creating an environment for Otis that normalises it.

That doesn’t tell him, “boys don’t cry” or pushes him to play sport when he doesn’t want to play sport or discounts his feelings simply because he’s 7.

I’m not saying this will stop him having mental health issues in the future … but hopefully it will help him feel it’s normal. And let him know that with help – whether that is talking about it or getting professional help for it – he can better manage it.

And you can.

That said, I appreciate the privilege I have being able to talk openly about this. I am an old white man and so the ramifications on me being open about what I’ve gone through is far less than if I was a woman, a person of colour, non-binary, a member of the LGBTQ+ community or just younger in age.

And that’s kind-of why I am, because that’s fucked. Mental health can affect everyone … and while the triggers may be varied, the devastation of its impact can be the same.

To have people feel they can’t acknowledge or discuss their situation doesn’t make it go away. It makes it worse. Much, much worse. And for all the supposed claims from companies saying they are compassionate to those experiencing mental health challenges, many have found it’s either true until the company needs something from them or they just can’t risk any possible financial implications by speaking out.

[Which sounds awfully similar to how companies manage the redundancy process doesn’t it?]

Which is why if anyone out there feels they’re in a situation where they don’t know how or who to talk to … drop me a line. I am not qualified to help. But I would be very happy to listen.