I had avoided all forms of responsibility during my twenties and had no real interest in developing any actual important responsibility in my personal life during my thirties. After I hit thirty I had managed to stumble into a responsible vocation and that took any and all of the responsibleness available to me during that time of my life.
I was very responsible at work. I had to be, for the first time in my life, peoples actual lives, in part were reliant on me being grounded, sensible, calm and able to think in the moment often doing scary things that I found challenging, but always rising up like a therapeutic spiderman to save the day when called upon.
My personal life. No responsibility, no stress, no pressure, drifting along happily on the wake of my new vocation and feeling no real need to change this aspect of my life as I was so gosh darned busy at work. No time or energy for all that responsibility stuff outside of work too.
I found myself reflecting on this part of my life this morning whilst stood alongside my step son as we flew along on one of London’s many fine and very smelly, noisy and claustrophobic tube trains. I had just told him to ‘man up’, a phrase I despise with a passion normally reserved for the Farage’s and Trumps of this world. His offence was to moan about the weight of his backpack (into which I had recently deposited several large books on gardening I bought yesterday and I had no room for in my pack).
My thoughts moved to my Da, who died in January. It was the kind of thing he would say to me at times when I was around my stepsons age. I always hated it when he said it to me. It made me feel weak and embarrassed, like I was not a good enough male and that I had failed. My Da back then was huge to me, both physically and emotionally, not tall, but muscular and strong as a Ox. There was nothing he could not build (or break) and he never moaned about any aspect of his physicality. He never took any time off work unless he had a heart attack or broke something major (spine, pelvis to name but a few). He was my hero, but I obviously didnt enjoy feeling like I was not good enough for him.
There is a link between my reminiscences here and responsibility I promise, I am getting there!
First though, I need to make a point here, a really important one, vital in fact and something that can still be verified with my Mum, sister and brother. It is this:
I was a real pain in the arse as a kid. Totally. I lived in my own little ‘youngest child’ world where my own needs were sacrosanct and if things were not done as they should have been according to my deep and unpleasant narcissistic wound then I would most often than not make the people around me pay by having a world class strop. As I got older my wish to please my parents, my da in particular grew in more importance to me. I craved my da’s attention, but the stuff he did bored the bejesus out of me. I didnt enjoy making things with wood, or DIY, or decorating, or gardening so I left me brother to do all that kind of stuff with him and I withdrew to my own world in my bedroom which my Spectrum +3 and laterly my Atari ST, then Amiga, would be calling me home to the soporific safety of computer gaming and as I approached my late teens and early twenties, smoking fags and drinking vodka whilst doing so.
I find the irony of my stepson’s back being damaged today by books my da would have loved to have read through is not lost on me and a deep sadness flows through me as I stare out of the train, leaving the stink and the noise and the energy and the crazy multicultural joy that is London behind me.
I have recently bought some books on carpentry and woodworking too and I am genuinely excited at the thought of setting up a little workshop soon, starting small but then hopefully making some lovely things that my da would be proud of.
All of this does link to my brusk dismissal of my stepson this morning. He has Asperger’s, was having to manage a change in plans today as our dog is ill and we had to get an earlier train home, he wasn’t going to go to the shops he thought he would and I think he was even picking up on my anxiety about our dog and my general exhaustion after spending the previous three days chasing him around London. In many ways he was likely feeling the way I did when I was his age and I had just been dragged around some dodgy hardware store or other place that sold bits of wood, nails or paint – anxious, stressed, frustrated, bored, angry and most of all, missed and misunderstood – a heady mix of emotion and feeling for anyone, let alone a hormonal and insecure teenager (I include both myself and my stepson in this category!)
With this now circling my slowly clearing mind I think about falling in love with my stepsons mother and how I made a conscious choice (though it was never an option not to due to how much I loved them both from the outset) to ‘step up’ and take on the responsible position of husband and stepdad in my 40’s. About time I hear you shout, ‘lazy sod, what shouldn’t you be responsible too?’. A valid question I have struggled with for a long time. I have been through many different phases, sometimes blaming my mum, sometimes my da, sometimes my sister and brother (for being older than me and leaving me!) and most recently, blaming myself.
Outside of my work, I blame myself for lots of things nowadays, and it is only just becoming clear to me that this in itself is just another way to avoid responsibility for my actions. If I am angry at myself for saying something unnecessary to my stepson I can feel bad about myself, blame myself and feel hopeless and a failure as a parent and a person. There is no responsibility there is there? I am just turning my anxiety, stress, frustration, anger, boredom on myself and as a result I miss both my own needs and my stepsons needs at exactly the same time. Double bubble!! Stepson feels crap, I feel crap, mood drops further and the cycle continues apace.
Well, it does, but only if I allow it to.
The most important thing my da ever did for me was to tell me when I was around fifteen that if I ever did what he did for a living he would disown me. He wanted me to be bigger than him, better than him, as strong as him and to then offer the same to my children. He took responsibility for me in the way he knew how to and I think he did an amazing job. He put his children and his wife before his own needs right up to the final hours of his life (his last words to me were ‘Are you alright?’), thinking of us all instead of himself. That was my da.
I have loved this weekend. It hasn’t always been straightforward or easy running, but I feel like I get something now that I knew before, but maybe didn’t fully accept. Responsibility isn’t a bad thing. At home or at work, it is good to be able to pass on what we have learned and also support those we love and care about. It is what makes us human after all, we survived and thrived because we came together in groups and started caring for people we were not directly related to, something our politicians and media are keen to change at the moment for some reason.
So, I am going to embrace my responsibility to myself, my family (in particular my amazing, unique and talented stepson) and the people I work with. I think that would make my da smile, and those who knew him know, he had the most amazing cheeky smile and I could not have wished for a better father, or parent.