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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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.



Beware. Looks Can Be Deceiving …

A few weeks ago, I walked into our lounge to see Jill watching the very first edition of The Golden Girls. For those of you too young to know what it is, have a look at this ‘best bits’ compilation.

After a couple of minutes, Jill asked me to guess how old the main characters were supposed to be in the show.

Given the name of the program and the style of fashion they were wearing, I suggested in their early to late 60’s.

I was wrong.

Jill told me that the ages were 47,53 and 55.

Or said another way, I was older than one and just a few years behind the others.

Then she hit me with this …

The characters were supposed to be the same age as the women in the reboot of Sex And The City.

To help explain why this news impacted me, have a look at this.

Now we are talking about ‘character age’ not real age … plus the ‘backgrounds’ of each show are about as different as you can get … but still.

Then a few days later, this was posted featuring Dorothy from the Golden Girls and Lisa Rinna from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Again, one is in character and the other is … OK, probably also in character … but the shift in age perception – or presentation of it – is startling.

On one hand there’s something awesome about it.

While I – and society – absolutely don’t want to see me sashaying down the street wearing designer clothes and botox lips … the idea that people in their 50’s don’t have to hide themselves away and can feel they are an active member and contributor to society is awesome.

However by the same token, the thought you may need to match the look and behaviour of people much younger than you, just so you can be ‘validated’ is terrifying.

Now of course women have been facing this situation for centuries, which is why the older I get, the more I realise what a brilliant role model I had in my Mum.

You see she always believed age didn’t defy you, your interest in what was happening in culture did.

It’s why she followed emerging artists in film, music, art, literature and politics.
It’s why she would go to a classical concert as well as watch new comedians.
It’s why she viewed ‘growing old gracefully’ as being interested in what others are interested in rather than extracting yourself from modern life because ‘it was easier that way’.

Now this didn’t mean she always like what she saw and learned – and she most certainly wasn’t going to dress in the latest trends and fashions – but she wanted to contribute to life rather than criticise it simply because it was continually evolving.

Which helps explain why I found the Golden Girls/Sex And The City comparison so amazing.

Because dramatic shift in terms of fashion and looks aside, the reality is ageing – especially for women – hasn’t really evolved at all.

Sure, you may not have to ‘hide yourself away’ as much as you used to, but looks are still the foundation of validity and fashion is still the criteria for relevance.

How utterly fucked is that?

For all the talk of modernity, the reality is not much has changed. In fact, it’s arguably even worse now as there is the illusion it’s actually better.

But it’s not.

White men are still born with inherent advantage.

As a 51 year old, badly dressed man, I still receive incredible benefits.

So don’t let the exposure of older, female actresses sway you from the reality.

Sexism and ageism is alive and well.

It’s something perpetuated by the media and championed by society the world over.

In simple terms, if you have to ‘look’ the part to be seen by others, something is fucked up.

And women have to do that more than men. Fact.

Growing old is enough of a pain in the arse without having to deal with that shit.

Which is why it would be so much better if we valued interest rather than image.

Another thing I need to thank my Mum for.



Time Machines Suck …

I’ve written this blog consistently for 15 years.

FIFTEEN!!!

My god …

But it gets worse.

Because bar a few weeks of holiday, it is something that has been written every single Monday to Friday.

That means there has been over 3,900 posts of utter gibberish for over 780 weeks.

And as tragic as that all sounds, there’s an awful lot of people who comment on here who have been here pretty much all that time.

LOSERS!!!

Now, I have to say there are some lovely benefits to long term blog writing.

In some ways it’s like a diary … capturing what I was thinking or doing at any given time.

It also is a lovely way to see how my opinions and thoughts have evolved over time.

Plus there’s the hope that when I’m gone, Otis will still feel his Dad is close.

OK … OK … there are some posts I definitely DON’T want him to read, but there’s others I’d be glad for him to keep going back to.

Putting aside I basically write the same 3 or 4 posts over and over again … there is a lot of my life contained in these pages.

From getting married to losing my Mum to having my son.

Proper life-changing stuff … and that doesn’t even cover the moves to different countries, jobs and homes.

The best and worst of my life is detailed here which is why – despite all these big life events being sandwiched between endless amounts of shit – I still like it.

Occasionally I randomly click on a date and just see what I wrote.

Recently I did this and was reminded what a little shit I was.

OK, can be.

It’s this.

Yep, it’s the time I tried to auction off Martin Sorrell’s business card so people could send him stupid messages or texts.

On the plus side, I was offering to give any money to charity.

On the negative, I was working for WPP at the time.

If you think that’s stupid, there was the time I wrote a post featuring a photo of Sir Martin with a picture of Toad of Toad Hall under the caption ‘Spot The Difference’.

And the weird thing is that while I don’t agree with his approach to creativity, I do respect him. I have met him on a number of occasions and he was very, very impressive.

Though it’s fair to say that respect was only one way, Especially when there was an agency Q&A and I asked him ‘what do you spend all your money on?’

So Sir Martin … even though I know you would never read this blog [more proof you’re clever] I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for my stupidity. It was ridiculous … but if it’s any consolation, at least it wasn’t as bad as this.

I know … I know … this was a terrible post even by my standards.

So celebrate in the fact that tomorrow is Good Friday so I’m off till next Tuesday and you’re not going have to deal with any more of this shit till then.

I don’t know about you … but it’s the sort of news that makes you almost believe in God, doesn’t it.

Happy Easter, enjoy the sugar rush.