Thus begins the navel-gazing season. It is an annual ritual for me, it seems.
In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I begin to review my life and where I am, where I’ve been, where I could have been, the things I’ve done, the things I wanted to do, the things I didn’t do.
I turn 43 in November, and as my blog post from yesterday hinted, we’ve got big changes coming up in our family. A baby (most likely a girl according to the last scan) will be born. With, essentially, a 13-year gap between her and our first-and-only-up-till-now.
I suspect I will do a better job at being a father this time around. Not that I think I was a bad one, per se. I just wasn’t equipped to be a good one when the first one came around. I was a bit of a party animal when my wife met me. I was so bad, someone once described me as Keith Richards meets Austin Powers, a sort of hedonistic self-destructive streak meeting the life of the party.
And it didn’t abate as we discovered she was pregnant. She even wondered if it was worth actually bringing our daughter to term with someone as unreliable as I was for a father. That brought some modification to my behaviour, but not much. I knew down deep inside that I wanted to have a child, but my actions didn’t follow.
A traumatising attempted home birth, and a few months later, I decided to go out after work with one of my colleagues and did not make it in until 6 in the morning, without calling home. That day, my wife read the riot act to me…Either I stop the partying or she would take the baby and leave. Thank God there was a shred of decency left in me to choose the former. I stopped drinking and partying altogether.
Even if one stops partying, it is not necessarily a question of becoming immediately responsible, and my rehabilitation came in fits and starts. I was still a man-child in many ways. As far as my professional life went, I made a few stupid decisions (that my wife – before we were married – followed me on, despite her misgivings) which culminated in me being without work for seven months, and finally landing a job in Germany, because there was no work to be found easily for me in the UK.
During that seven months, I got to spend a lot of time with my daughter. And I fell in love with her, and have been in love with her ever since. Although there were times I wasn’t earning money (and consequently feeling slightly emasculated) I have been able to build a bond with my daughter that is incredible, and makes me feel like a good father, even when I don’t feel like a good man.
But things were never easy. I’ve always found it difficult to learn things the easy way, and a lot of my life has been a series of learning home truths the hard way. My wife, doesn’t blame me: as she points out, I was never really given the tools to deal with it. Funnily enough, my first wife, whom I had married at 22 (another story), also thought the same thing. So there may be something in it.
However, despite my objectionable, and stupid behaviour, I have never felt that not having the right tools absolved me of responsibility for my actions. Unfortunately, I find that I can be too responsible; I take responsibility for things that are not actually my responsibility in the first place.
The key, however, is to take responsibility for my reactions to those situations, and not the situations themselves. I feel I am subject to karma when something that isn’t ideal happens to me, therefore I may not react appropriately, whether it is standing up for myself at the right time, or standing down when I know there is a battle I will lose.
This karma thing can be a bit of a problem. I’m not a Buddhist, but I’ve steeped myself in the world’s religions, which could account for some of my feelings around it. And if karma was the issue, I should think I probably wouldn’t be alive right now, given all the stupid, and hurtful, things I have done throughout my life. In hindsight, if I were to attribute some metaphysical concept to the course of my life, Grace may be more appropriate.
Because despite all my failings and my sins of commission or omission, it feels as if I have had a guardian angel looking out for me through all this. Yes, there have been hard times, but not nearly as hard as they could have been. And there are still times where I am petty and vindictive and self-centred. But there are at least two people in my life to remind me that no matter what, I am capable of greatness.