Authority

I’ve never been a fan of authority. I’ve rarely taken direction from someone I haven’t respected. I don’t like being told what to do. This in itself can be somewhat of a problem.

I’ve been wrestling with the authority I now have as a parent. Because there is some degree of authority to being a parent. Now that Eve is three she’s able to communicate freely, express her emotions and her intentions. It is sometimes the case that her intentions and/or actions go against what constitutes as normal behaviour. Which can require a variety of management techniques.

“Normal” behaviour is only what we as her parents perceive to be as such. In reality we can only bring to the table what we have learnt. The totality of the essence of any being comes from that individual being’s experience of life at that point in time. So what is normal? I’m not normal. I’ve met lots of people who don’t feel normal, all with brilliant, sparkly eyed children. All somehow guiding their children through their lives with particular patterns of behaviour. Somewhere a level of authority has to come into it. And power. A dangerous ability in the wrong hands.

Her actions which are life threatening to her or others need to be managed with a tight lipped diplomacy. I frequently lose sleep imagining some horrific accident involving my children so seeing it nearly happen first hand is quite stressful. It could be very easy to lose control in that instance, to rage at the child. I’ve seen it happen countless times. My daughter is three. She doesn’t understand the perils of deep water. Or why she can’t place her hand onto a opening door on the underground. These things need to be explained to her calmly so she can understand the situation. Life is filled with life threatening things. I don’t feel that using anger to make a point is of any use. Controlling my own stress levels is important.

Sometimes she feels that it’s her fault and that we’re angry with her. Sometimes her behaviour is just plain embarrassing. Occasionally her behaviour simply goes against what I feel is correct. I’ve now come to realise this is wholly irrelevant to her. My idea of what is correct, and my subsequent behaviour, is only based on what has been passed down from my peers and my own personal misadventures.

As I am now her peer I have to pass on what I know to her. In the finer details of life this becomes interesting. Table manners for example. Why I expect her to understand the importance of something like table manners is beyond me. Yet it bothers me. And I start to remind me and others around me of my father. My father was very strict about table manners.

But I’m not my father. And do I really care that much about table manners? For me this is where it all gets a bit messy. Who am I to tell her what’s right and wrong? I’d rather she developed the instinct and confidence to find out for herself.

I think it’s about finding what works for you. What you think is important and giving them the space to work it out for themselves. Allowing them to question it. But also being genuinely interested in what information they bring back to you. Because they can’t wait to tell you how they did it all by themselves. And to see how proud you will be.

Often what they’ve learned from a certain situation can be very different to what you might think or feel. It’s important to remember that your preconceived notions or ideas are yours, not your children’s. They might feel you’re wrong which is great because then you’re learning something. If you choose to listen to the reasons why. In any case if my children weren’t challenging me I’d be disappointed.

There are too many variables in so many lives to make any judgement calls. But my daughter sees the world through a curious telescope. I want her to tell me all about it.

Coming out the Other Side

Sometimes you have to wait for the right time to write about something. The journey has to be taken in order to fully understand the process.

We all know that the past months have been challenging in various ways. Life for some has become rather savage. The truth begins to drip out. You start to lose control. And it all suddenly isn’t OK anymore.

I’ve starting attending CBT. Starting something new begets the old which explains why I feel I can now write about it. Makes perfect sense. I also find it very interesting.

In November last year I approached my local NHS GP and was referred to a brilliant psychotherapist. We started working together and, after a brief time, struck up a rapport. He told me I “told a good story” while I had been explaining my symptoms. I’m still not sure what to think about that. He asked if I would work with some students he was mentoring. I felt it could only add to my self exploration so I agreed.

As this was all going on I had been asking Twitter various questions about depression and mental health. I asked;

How does your partner feel about you mental health?
What one word would you use to describe your partners mental health problems?
What one word defines you or your partners mental illness?

Simple enough. My reason for asking about people’s partners was because it was clear my partner was quite scared. Scared and frustrated that she was unable to do anything. I wanted to see how others felt. As a father, and as a person blessed with life, it is my responsibility to fix my head. I need to function. I love my family too much not to. I’ve taken that responsibility which in turn gives me some control.

However I keep wondering if the partners of the mentally ill are disregarded in the treatment process. When do they get a say? I had a brave response to my questions. Most people with experience of mental illness either don’t want to talk about it or don’t want to reveal their problem to others on a social network. Fair enough. Here are some of the responses.

Frustrated, weary, looney, weighted, scared, lonely, natural.

Natural. There’s something beautiful in that. What startled me was that the word “natural” was the only positive word I was sent. Every single other word or comment was negative. Not surprising I suppose given the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s fair to say that that in itself is part of the problem.

At the CBT workshop introduction there is a short session detailing what the course comprises of. In this there are group discussions about how people feel about depression and anxiety. In a group of fourty five people nearly twenty words were shouted out that define depression. All of them negative. I kept my mouth shut and smiled, thinking about how natural the word “natural” felt at that precise moment. Recent strangers on the street now in a hot room shouting over each other to make themselves heard. Talking.

As is usually the case I was asked to contribute something. I don’t know why I always get picked out. I must have that kind of face. I said “The Cure” (then had to explain to most of the room who The Cure are). I said that the poignancy of Robert Smith’s lyrics and the aching delicacy of the music he and his band produce helped me start to mould some sense of who I am. The room went a bit quiet.

I then went on to say that the suffering, endurance and exploration of mental health has produced breathtaking pieces of art. Soul deafening music. Enough books to wrap around the planet. Jung, Joy Division, Henry Rollins, The Cure, Glyn Dillon, Chris Ware, Bill Hicks. Why is there never a focus on the positives of depression? For me life is always about achieving a balance. You have to understand the parts to fully comprehend the sum. Depression cannot exist without some other force balancing it out. Tricky part is figuring out what the components are. Good and bad. Overall, the more you know the easier it becomes for you and your loved ones.

The energy in the room shifted focus after my contribution to focus on happier times. Times of a brief inner peace. People visibly relaxed. Smiled.

As you can imagine I left a fair amount of feedback at the end of the session. A simple thing to introduce a positive idea. One thing that’s interesting is the perception and availability of mental health services is beginning to change for the better. It appears to be in high demand at the moment as some struggle to be normal. But what is “normal”? Perhaps our surroundings and culture mechanisms are to blame? Perhaps our society is a little sick?

As long as we keep talking everything should be just fine. Things will occur naturally.

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Seeing Red

(Original published via @mammapolitico on bodkinpress.com. A collective, collaborative ezine which you can download here for free.)

I used to have violent flashes. Imagining streets falling apart. Pushing that bully off the bridge. Picturing a horrific car crash around the corner. Lucid images of my children being hurt. I would bite my bottom lip that hard. Leaving scars. I wasn’t allowed pets for a while. It’s under control now.

I’m a married father to two girls (2, 14 yrs). I am surrounded by females. Pets included. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Regardless of gender one thing I cannot stand is public displays of parents violently thrashing their children. Physically or verbally. Witnessing it starts a sick little fire in my gut. That horrible, uncontrollable little part of me. It’s familiar to the ashen faced, savage determination I display if my family are under threat. Yet horribly, indirectly misplaced. I start to bite my bottom lip.

There are parents who forget that they are extremely physically strong in comparison to their tiny child. There are parents who forget that their words resonate in that cold afternoon. Memories remain and expand beyond your own personal experiences and as my grandmother tells me; “your children always remember the bad things that happened. The bad memories.” Push hard enough and they leave a foul mark.

My main issue is that ultimately that parent has forgotten why they had the kid in the first place. Believe me I’ve been in situations where I would happily have thrown my child into the sea and walked away whistling. I realise I’m fortunate to have learned how to control these feelings. Meditation helps. But there is never any excuse for treating your own child like an inconvenience. Parents forget that their tiny, powerless versions of mushy genetics mashed together grow into frustrated, impressionable, endlessly demanding humans.

All children can turn out to be proud, kind, self assured adults. Or emotionally crippled, broken, scared versions of what they could have been. A parent thrashing their child in public for demanding something only makes me see how hard they want to beat themselves. How hard they hate themselves for putting themselves in their position. How much that child has ruined their life. How much they deserved to be punished for wanting more for themselves.

A two year old being punched in the back of the head for asking for a magazine. Then being told to shut the fuck up for crying. I have seen far worse. Categorically the broad necessary scope of the charity sector aiding vulnerable children and young adults leaves me cold. I’ve met parents who they can barely look after themselves let alone know how to cut their newborns nails.

It is easy to conceive a child. I can see the attraction believe me. But why have them when you don’t even love them? Why have them when all you do is pour your own self disgust down their throats? Why have them when all you do is lock them in bathrooms? Why have them when you leave deep scarlet bruises on their faces? Why have them when all you do is avoid them? Or hold them by the throat in the freezing depths of an ice cold bath? Or sneak into their bedrooms to do unimaginable things? Why would you have children in the first place when you can’t even bring yourself up?

I’m not judging anybody. Yet I lay the blame at the door of anyone who has children and believes that belittling, disrespecting, abusing and refusing to take the time to understand them is the proper way to bring up a child. Parenting is difficult but there is no excuse for taking your own self hatred out on someone who didn’t choose to be here in the first place. Doesn’t seem fair, does it.

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Buy My Book

I’ve written a book about my experiences of becoming a parent. Sometimes you have to Bite the Dog published by Soul Rocks Books. They also published an interview with me which you can read here.

If you’re looking for some guidance on those first few months of fatherhood then there may be something here for you. As long as I make you think.

Essential reading for all parents, In this honest and heartfelt book the author shares the emotions he feels at his daughter’s birth, how life changes with the responsibility of becoming a father and oh so much more, that I won’t spoil by revealing here.

So many books are written for new mums and pregnant women. This is for Dads and it is powerful stuff.

I wish it had been around when I had my two babies as I think it would have given my husband a much better understanding of what I was going through and how to give me the support and love when things were difficult – not only during labour but also in the months that followed when I sometimes felt I really didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing.

“You need to keep writing. We all need you to do that. Parenthood is an elusive club to people like me but thanks to you I really get it.”

Book Chapter Sample: Information

This will be incomprehensible to some of the younger generation.

There was a time when a person could live a life without carrying a phone. There was a time when you could set out to explore the back-end streets of a city with only your house key tied around your neck. There was a time when parents would have no idea where their children were, no idea what they were up to and very little fear for their safety.

I remember fishing with my father when I was very young. My father, who I rarely spent time with, was sucking testosterone like a breath mint that morning. He spat on the grass and swore. He may even have grown chest hair before my very eyes. I was twelve and much more intrigued by a discarded Razzle I had seen in a bush as we got out of the car.

There’s not much that happens in the early hours of the morning. There’s a stillness to it which momentarily freezes you. We got to the river early to avoid the ranger. In hushed whispers we walked side by side, fishing rods in hand, parallel to the lazy slip-slopping gurgle of the water by our feet. The morning mist swirled around us like a gigantic, enveloping spider web. It felt like the world had died and we were walking over a stone-cold carcass.

Dad swore magnificently, spat and bent to rest on one knee. He stared over the river looking like he knew what he was looking at. I scoffed at him and he grunted at me before moving further down the river bank away from me. I looked to what he’d been staring at.

A kingfisher. A dazzling, rainbow of a bird perched quite happily on a log on the other side of the river. They are a fizzing, zipping, beautiful creature. Blink and you would miss one. I took a step closer and it vanished. It disappeared before my very eyes. I looked down the bank at my father who had started unpacking our fishing tackle. He’d walked a fair distance and he waved, silently beckoning for me to go towards him. Smiling.

I sucked in the fresh, morning air and looked to the horizon. The sun had started to dress for the morning. A purple-tinged bank of clouds wrapped itself around a spinning arch of reds and oranges. By the river bank I could hear the warm rustle of animals. The soothing plip-plop of fish breaking the surface of the water. The lazy buzz of insects warmed by the sun only added to the symphony of the morning. I was witness to a sensory experience that even today stirs not only memories of watching the world wake up but also how close I felt to my father that day.

Now let’s think about how that day would have been if we both had smartphones. I would have tweeted about it. I would have texted someone. I would have felt my phone roll around in my pocket. My father would have had his phone holstered to his belt. I would have checked my phone for messages as I waited for a fish to bite instead of talking to my father. I would have tried to take a picture of the kingfisher rather than witnessing it with my own eyes. In fact I would have strolled right past it more interested in tweeting than anything else.

Is there a Fishing App? What are the reviews for this area? Where can I buy a better fly? Are there any local businesses in the area that stock that item? “Hey everyone I am FISHING! LOL!”

Technology would have made those memories very different.

I watch parents in the park playing with their children while talking on their phones. I see no engagement with the child. Only a complete disengagement from that very moment in which tiny shards of relationships are born and nurtured. It saddens me and I remember that when my father and I strode out that day, more intent on catching memories than fish, we were alone. No one knew we were there. We were adventurers. We had the fizz of excitement in our bellies. We were swallowed by the world. Neither of us was carrying these portable tracking devices. We were both enraptured by each moment of our connection with a simpler world. The real world. The world that doesn’t endlessly trying to sell us something. The world that doesn’t track and report your every movement. The world that isn’t ruled by anything except nature itself.


This sample chapter is taken from my book Sometimes you have to Bite the Dog published by Soul Rocks Publishing.

 

Parenting is not a social club

Based on situations being as they are I’m now looking after Eve on a full time basis. Keeping any toddler fed, entertained, happy and alive is a tough job. I spend a huge amount of time with her now. Some of which is spent having to remind myself that the time with her is a blessing. But that’s my choice. Some fathers may not choose to do so but again it’s a personal choice. It’s a question of finding a balance with what suits the situation best. Let’s just say I’m not well suited to capitalism or indeed having a boss.

As a result I’m spending time with other parents. In parts of Tottenham I’ve never seen before. In old, decrepit rooms with toys that deserve to be melted into something else. I want to start meeting other dads so poor Eve has to be dragged along.

One thing I’ve noticed as a parent in the field is that I am constantly judged. Mostly by women. It’s fair to say that I do have a slice of paranoia to my personality but I know when I’m being spoken about. I’ll give you an example.

Soft play. Eve is two. I have to go in with her otherwise she won’t climb the stairs. A group of boys were whooping like rabid gibbons which Eve found quite terrifying. The thing about kids is when they spot a weakness in another child, and they’re at that pokey, vindictive age, they’ll exploit it. So we spent twenty minutes trying to find our way through a brown edged, piss soaked maze while being howled at by ten year olds. Not quite Apocalypse Now but I would not have been surprised to get home to find faeces on my back.

I was the only dad there. I was the only parent talking to their kid and showing her around. I think each woman on the premises either sneered or leered at me at least once. I’m sure not one of them smiled at me. I don’t like being stared at but if you have something to say I’d rather hear it from you. I don’t like being whispered about and I have very good hearing. I don’t appreciate being treated like a piece of meat. Most of all I will not tolerate being judged. Especially for acting weird in public just to make my daughter laugh.

Also when did parenting become a job? Why do people hide behind their children, using them to define and fill their repulsive little lives? The garden furniture tables, weak tea, sad plates of cold oven chips and stale crisps, piggy little poisonous eyes, strange lies, horrible conversations, sickly judgement, dead air. Parenting is a way to meet other people just like you? What a hideous thought. I’d rather meet someone who makes me feel alive.

Step outside the norm. Live your life the way you want to. Cut out guilt and self judgement. And you can judge me all you like. I know I walked out of there with my head held high. My daughter’s laughter filled the cold, empty warehouse like she was pouring in sunshine. Until some little shit stole her balloon.

Sometimes you have to Bite the Dog by Sam Coleman – Audio Chapter sample “A Gentle Savagery”

We were burgled recently. They took watches, hard drives and computers mostly. We lost nearly all our photos but I’d backed up most of them on various disks and odd looking usb sticks. While doing this I found a video I’d made of an author reading I’d attempted. At the time of making it I’d just had the news I was going to be published.

I’m not sure it’s on the mark in terms of message. I wanted to portray the content as a recollection. I think my voice works as the chapter isn’t gender specific.

Anyway I hope you enjoy it. I wanted to do something different.

Finding joy in a broken culture

Joy. That overwhelming, heart-stopping blubber in the pit of your throat. You lose control somewhat, seeing something that fills you with purpose. Like holding your first newborn baby. Like passing an exam. Becoming a parent. When you realise you have finally made your father proud of you. Just for a moment.

Joy. It can be found anywhere if you look for it.

But sometimes I wonder. I wonder whether being a parent is joyous or not. Whether being a human is something to be proud of. I wonder whether our children will forgive us for the mess we leave them.

Millions dying. Queue for the next superhero movie. Bent skeletons. Broken ribs. Idle thugs. Alcohol. Pacification. Needless suffering. Mindless coercion. Blatant lies. Social Media. Ketamine. Cuts. Where I live I come across the strangest characters. I saw a man once who looked and moved like a razor blade. Cutting his way through the crowd.

There are evil people in this world. I don’t want to lie to my children but I struggle to explain some things. Why they exist.

I asked my eldest daughter what she does to centre herself. To take herself out of the madness. To find time to be creative. She answered: “finding joy in the little things.”

The little things. The sun on your skin. The smell of your children’s hair. A moment between you and your partner when you suddenly find each other hysterical. Creating something and watching it come to life. We’re told to look around ourselves. To see the world enfolding in front of our eyes. To look up at the stars.

We forget that we are made of stardust. That our singular existence is a chaotic blessing and nothing else.

My daughter explained further: “My sense of self. That whatever it is that’s bringing me down or taking up my time or stressing me out, it’s not me. It isn’t who I am. Not exactly a small thing but I guess that would be mine.”

I take joy in seeing acts of kindness, positive and constructive decisions being made, people breaking out into song because they’re that happy.

I feel joy when my daughter wraps her fingers around mine. The time you invest in particular moments is important. Particularly the random, effortless ones.

Break out of your pattern for a change. Look for something else. There might indeed be a multitude of parallel universes to traverse if you just halted a second longer. If you just waited to breathe, to look at the sky, to pause to watch the majesty of nature sweeps her curtain aside for a split second. It’s the joy of discovery based on chaos in the blink of any eye. You need to keep looking for it.

Stop. Head in the other direction. See how that works out for you. And I take joy in the beauty of my daughter’s words. Ask your children interesting questions. There will always be joy in that.

Solitude

Creating something is a process only you can take full responsibility for. It doesn’t manifest without the impetus to grow.

Inside all of us is the flickering hiss of an idea.

The issue is finding a purpose. A direction for it. What form it will take. Which purpose it has. Ultimately you need to understand what you are contributing. And to whom.

A way to truly realise this is to find some time in your ever bulging diary for some solitary space. Some time to take a deep breath and really realise what you’re doing, what you’ve achieved with your day so far.

Just to make the world stop spinning for a time.

Office jobs are a way for me to earn money to support my family. Some I have learnt a few important lessons from. But it can be a long time to sit behind a desk. For me an evening is often spent coaxing a teething, foul-tempered toddler to put some pyjamas on. After a day spent flicking between screens of various sizes I prefer to sit and stare into space after she’s fallen asleep. Just to rest. To turn off the noise.

When I used to go to the gym I’d enjoy the shower more than the workout. Five minutes of solitary confinement. Washing off all the poison the morning at your desk had force-fed down your throat. Only to emerge reluctantly to join the endless queue. The endless queue of living in a big city. You rarely feel like you’re any nearer to the front.

So don’t join a gym. Find a park. Take a walk outside. Find a box to hide in.

Take a deep breath.

Breathing is important. Every time I think about how I should be breathing I notice how terribly I breathe. Erratically. Out of rhythm. Short breaths. Shallow, quick, panicked breathing.

I imagine a fairly simple, safe future for my children. I hope for one. One in which they can find some solitude. Some brave little corner to thrive. To dive into imagination.

To give birth to the dream of the self.

Now however there are enough communication tools available to completely envelop a person’s entire being if they choose to. An immersion.

But often the process is far off the mark as to who that particular person is or is trying to be. Our dependence on social sites has rotten implications for some.

Anonymity breeds a foul power.

Being yourself can only come from a realisation of who you are. Your skill. The confidence to say you are right. To realise that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. To start. To fail. To repulse yourself. You learn from all of it. You keep moving as long as you’re alive and you believe in yourself. Because no one else will be there to do it for you.

Take a breath. Slow down. Isolate yourself.

I’ve heard that if we were to see the exact clone of ourselves pass us on the street we wouldn’t recognise them. We design and build our persona based on our experiences in life. Our mind is powerful enough to make us see what we want to see when looking in the mirror. Rarely what we truly are.

Shake it off. Grant yourself thirty minutes to think hard about your life. Before you have children.

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