I want to say something to my boys, but I don’t quite know how to say it. That means I need to think it through, and that in turn means I need to write it down.
Parenting is hard. It’s constant, even when you’re not there to be parented. It’s emotional and it’s physical and it wears you out. But it’s also hugely rewarding and worth all the pain. At least, it has been for me. But it’s also incredibly easy to get wrong.
I don’t believe in perfect parents. The people on TV and in social media aren’t showing you what they’re really like. They’re showing you edited highlights. And I don’t blame them. One of the things that you don’t get told about with parenting is the shame. Not of you — just to be clear on that point! So many times I’ve judged things wrong, said the wrong thing, not had enough control of my own emotional responses. And I am ashamed of those times.
I could write a lot about depression and the awful effects it has, including some very bad decision making at times. But you know all that — we’ve talked about it, and while it may be a reason for my failings it’s not an excuse.
I was brought up to believe that while parents and their children might be close, they are not friends and never can be. I still believe that to an extent, in as much as in a crisis there is always one person who ends up taking control and fixing things, and at the moment that’s generally me or S. So it’s not an equal relationship in that sense. In the future it will be the other way round, when we are old and losing our faculties it will be you who takes control, and it still won’t be an equal relationship.
Where I have failed in the past is in swinging the pendulum too far the other way. In sometimes allowing ‘not exactly friends’ to mean ‘near as dammit enemies’. I have allowed my damaged pride, my narcissism, my ego, to drive patterns of behaviour that I regret. I have been snappy, sulky and selfish and at times each of you have suffered the consequence of that.
I have been to0 eager to believe that one of you is always in the wrong, and too willing to pick holes and criticise the other in the name of ‘banter’. I am proud of the material success that S and I have achieved, but I have sometimes put that ahead of more important things. It’s nice to be comfortable, but not when it gets in the way of being happy.
2017 has been a very happy year for me. That has thrown some light on some patterns of behaviour that come from a darker place. I get irritated on S’s behalf, often before she herself is irritated. That happens most often when children don’t do as they’re told (it used to be you two, now it’s J). I know that, and I am actively choosing not to do it, even if sometimes that means going and hiding in the study! Sometimes I will stumble, because no one is perfect.
I am quick to judgement, but I am trying not to be. I have a very strong sense of right and wrong, and sometimes I forget that not everyone does, and even those who do don’t always see it the same way.
I want to tell you both about the breakdowns, about the misery of my teenage years, about feeling lost, alone and unwanted until I built this family with you. Maybe I will one day if you want to hear it. All my efforts to push you both have been to save you from going through that pain yourselves. I am sorry that sometimes those efforts have been ill-judged and have backfired.
I am enormously proud of both you, one becoming a solid young man, the other teetering on the edge of adulthood with great potential. I love the family that we have built together, with all its weird idiosyncracies. It’s a family of five, or four, three or just two depending on the day. I am grateful for every combination.
I don’t want to spend the next 20 years looking back and treading delicately around the past. I fucked up at times and I’m sorry for that. I’m really looking forward to the future and the great times ahead.