Friday, 14 October 2016

Dad's Net - On a milestone in Fatherhood

A couple of weeks ago I delivered the second of my twin sons up to his university and at one fell swoop my wife and I were plunged into 'Empty Nest' syndrome. Even though I have been the main child rearer over those 18 years, the prospect didn't fill me with trepidation, since I have plenty of writing projects to occupy my time. In fact I was looking forward to getting my life back, or at least the great chunks of time perviously devoted to homework, cooking and shopping for them, helping organising themselves, teaching shaving and cooking, running their youth football team, general chaperoning and accompanying and of course those chats on life and stuff, not to say political discussions-cum-arguments. I'll miss 'em of course I will, it is a big wrench, a big change for me from the routines of the last 18 years. But I genuinely also feel a sense of liberation as I had always put them and their needs/concerns ahead of my own. Don't get me wrong, it was hardly a case of putting my own life on hold for those 18 years, I still worked part-time and published 9 books with three others completed and ready to go. But it's hardly coincidental that within a week of Twin 2 disappearing up to uni, I gave my first two live readings of the year at the end of September. I just seem to have more time, energy and attention now to address things in my own life.

Within the first two weeks of his uni stint, Twin 2 had come down with what was probably "Freshers' Flu"; where they cane it so hard on all the free booze on offer in Freshers' Week that their immune system takes a hammering and they succumb to some germ or other. There was a concern that it might have been meningitis as this is not unknown to hit Freshers for much the same reasons. My wife had set up immunisation injections for both of the twins before they went up to their respective colleges, but it is quite possible that Twin 2 Just didn't bother to turn up for his (we were both at work and besides he's 18 now so the responsibility lies with him and we also have to show him trust). If I'd challenged him as to whether he'd made the appointment he would have certainly lied to us if he had ducked it. At one point I played over in my mind that I might go back up 250+ miles on a train and see for myself what the state of play was with him. Perhaps I ought to point out that the word 'meningitis' stirs up deeper resonances for me, since I had an older sister who I never met die from it at age one month back in the 1960s and the shadow of that tragedy loomed large over my parents and therefore also over my upbringing. But I didn't make any 250 mile mercy dash. It occurred to me that this was the same mechanism as when the infant cries in their cot at night hoping the guilty parent will be drawn back into removing them from the cot and into their arms at least or perhaps into their bed. Because we had twins, this really had never been a viable option for us, making it easier to remain strong and resist the wails than for most parents. I didn't make the trek, but advised him which of the pills I had provided for him in his first aid kit he should self-medicate with. Previously at home, me or my wife would have simply handed him the medicine ant the water to swallow it with.

Still unsure as to whether how well fully recovered Twin 2 was, I had a dream this week which proved auspicious. I'm not a great one for the significance of dreams, partly because I don't remember many of my dreams and secondly having studied Freud at Uni, I remain unconvinced by his explanation of them as having the purpose of unlocking our subconscious. However, the mere fact of remembering this one seemed to proffer its significance, while the two main symbols were outside my normal frame of reference so again piqued my curiosity. In the dream a greenhouse was dismantled and replaced by something I wasn't quite sure of the details, but some sort of mechanism for controlling traffic flow and parking. Now I neither drive nor do I do any gardening so both of these symbols baffled me. I went on Twitter asking for any wandering psychologist to offer an interpretation but no one responded. I kept musing on the dream throughout the day and then I figured it out. A greenhouse is also known as a hothouse, so for me I realised it represented the structure of parenting that I provided for my boys (hopefully not in 'hothouse's' sense of unduly pushing their development towards high achievement, which I think I avoided doing). The dream seemed to be confirming/affirming that I had done my job, the boys had flown the coop, so I could finally take down my structure and 'park' that aspect of my life. The struts of the greenhouse were folded and preserved, so maybe they could be re-erected into another framework for a different purpose in my life. I believe the dream was telling me that it was perfectly fine that I hadn't undertaken any mercy dash. The boys have their independence now and I had done my work as a father to get to them to this point where they would be taking it on for themselves. Of course I recognise that such a role is never over, that you are always going to be a father to them, that the family home will always still offer itself as their home, even though they are unlikely to ever come back for any protracted period to live here. Right from the day they were born, I knew that a part of parenting was a letting go; to allow them to develop their own personalities, their own sense of self in their own space and not to impose my values or beliefs on them with a demand for their adoption. I have let them go to fledge and do you know something, for all the love and involvement of the last 18 years, that it's just fine to do so.


Denise said...

This is lovely to read Marc. I am going through it all again with both my boys moving out together last month. It took a lot of getting used to when Adam went off to University five years ago, so you'd think I'd be ready for it the second time around! It's strange to have an empty house. The first week they were both away I went out or worked late to avoid coming home to the empty house! :-)

Sulci Collective said...

It's certainly tough Denise. Even though I've been mentally preparing for a while now, there are still times when it catches you out, such as when you go into their bedroom and it's not only empty but undisturbed. It has a bit of a feeling of mourning about it, which sounds overstated but there is something to it. Thanks for commenting.