Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

miseducated me

My son started primary school last week. It’s all going to be fine, I told myself. He’s ready and I’m prepared, I’d decided breezily, not yet knowing that there was actually a storm brewing.

A lesson I learned a long time ago was that the build up to what one might classify as a challenging calendar date, tends to be far more challenging than the calendar date itself. Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays, each seeming to grow a little less painful as the years go by. I asked myself, Why would this be any different? It really was, though.

Day one was pretty good. Jackson was a little resistant at first, but once he located a toy lion and a tray of sand, he seemed content enough for me to make my exit. A few hours later, when I picked him up to go home, he was full of beans. I can’t even explain how relieved I was to see him so happy and relaxed so soon. A tension I didn’t know I was even carrying lifted and I immediately felt different.

The shift from tension to relaxation is almost universally seen as a positive transition, so why did I suddenly feel so bad? I tried to think of other examples of when this shifting state caused discomfort or disadvantage. The first thing that came to mind was meat coming out of the oven. Any good chef will tell you that meat needs to rest before being eaten, so its moisture can be reabsorbed, making the cut more tender and tasty. It’s still bad news for the meat, though, right?

The second thing that came to me was that dreadful thing that so often happens when you take a much-needed holiday: you finally wind down and then almost immediately wind up ill. I suppose, to use another cooking analogy, at some point a pressure cooker is going to need to let off steam. In my case the pressure blew abruptly; I’ve been more upset over the last few days than I have been in months.

But why now? One reason, I imagine, is obvious: my son was without his mother on his first day at school, and I was without my wife. But something more subtle hit me, too: it was the end of an era for him and me. I gave up my job after my wife died, took some time out and then took a part-time role. We had time together and the flexibility to do almost whatever we wanted or needed to keep us both on track. Never has routine felt so unappealing as it suddenly did last week.

That’s not all, though; I just knew there was something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on – until today. We’d finally been thrown into the infamously daunting world of the school gates, where I immediately felt so out of place (and God knows how it makes a four-year-old boy, bereaved of his mother, feel to see so many mums smiling through the door at the end of the day).

Maybe it’s instinctive to try to fit in when you feel so entirely misplaced, but even I surprised myself with my completely unanticipated response. Perhaps predictably I rolled my eyes a little at a conversation about nutrition (if I’m to believe what my son tells me about his school-day diet to date, it turns out he is not only figuratively but also literally full of beans), knowing that my priority is for my child to be cared for and educated well when in the teachers’ care. Far less predictable, though, was my sudden preoccupation after school clubs and extra-curricular activities. Was I doing my son a disservice in not having him lined up for endless after-hours pursuits?

Well tonight I made a mistake that I regret: I let assumptions about other people’s lives affect how I approach mine. I passed on this playground parental pressure to my son and took him to a class that I thought he’d enjoy.

“I don’t like it, Daddy,” he said before he’d given it much of a chance.

‘I’m not ready, Daddy,’ was the message he may have wanted to share.

“But you need to give it a chance,” I told him, irritation evident in my voice.

‘I’m not ready, Daddy,’ is perhaps what I should have let myself hear.

“But you won’t go to swimming lessons, either. You just don’t seem to want to join in with anything,” I, the once non-pushy parent, pushed.

His unspoken words – ‘I’m not ready’ – rang in my ears and seemed familiar to me.

Like father, like son, I realised. I’m not ready either, and I’m not even sure when I will be. But while I’m still not, can I ask you one thing? Please don’t force me go to taekwondo.

16 comments on “miseducated me

  1. Ramblings of grief
    September 15, 2015

    I know exactly how you feel. I’m three months behind you on this hellish ride and I still can’t get back in to the life I embraced before. Thank you for your wonderful, wise and families words as always x

  2. Maria davison
    September 15, 2015

    Such a beautiful and poignant post as always. I am a primary school teacher and last academic year we lost four young parents, 8 children left without a mummy or daddy. One of the children in school has a little brother who also started reception class and I see his daddy who brings him and picks him up and my heart aches for exactly the same reasons you describe. All I know is you give so much to your son, while it is the end of an era for you and him, and you are left bereft and wondering what you do now, he is at the beginning of a new era, one he will love and one which will make you burst with pride. ( although also there will be sadness that mummy can’t share in the firsts. Assemblies, plays, parents evenings).
    A little 5 year old in my class announced last week ” only my mammy can pick me up from schoo, because my daddy is an angel. He just watches me from heaven.”
    I replied ” and how proud he will be to see how amazing you are each and every day. Thank you for letting me know.”
    I’m so pleased you are writing a little more again, I always enjoy your posts. My daughter says I’m a ” fammy” the first time she said it I wasn’t quite sure what on earth she was saying.
    ” it’s a father and a mummy all rolled into one”
    X

    • Life as a Widower
      September 15, 2015

      You sound like a lovely teacher x

    • Tracey
      September 15, 2015

      How very lovely to be a Fammy. Bless you. X

  3. somekindofwonderful1
    September 15, 2015

    Such a beautiful and poignant post as always. I am a primary school teacher and last academic year we lost four young parents, 8 children left without a mummy or daddy. One of the children in school has a little brother who also started reception class and I see his daddy who brings him and picks him up and my heart aches for exactly the same reasons you describe. All I know is you give so much to your son, while it is the end of an era for you and him, and you are left bereft and wondering what you do now, he is at the beginning of a new era, one he will love and one which will make you burst with pride. ( although also there will be sadness that mummy can’t share in the firsts. Assemblies, plays, parents evenings).
    A little 5 year old in my class announced last week ” only my mammy can pick me up from schoo, because my daddy is an angel. He just watches me from heaven.”
    I replied ” and how proud he will be to see how amazing you are each and every day. Thank you for letting me know.”
    I’m so pleased you are writing a little more again, I always enjoy your posts. My daughter says I’m a ” fammy” the first time she said it I wasn’t quite sure what on earth she was saying.
    ” it’s a father and a mummy all rolled into one”
    X

  4. Mabel Rudo Nyazika
    September 16, 2015

    Ben you may think it has become a habit of mine to say your posts are well thought out, it is true because you write from your heart and you touch a lot of people. What l like about Jackson’s “I am not yet ready daddy” is that he is not saying I am not trying, but that he in his own way is working on it as he deals and copes with not having his mummy around. Deep down his little heart he knows he has a GREATdaddy who loves him a lot and who is 2 in 1 as the saying goes! I am glad that you continue to write as when time allows you.Your posts are very inspiring .

  5. Gerald Drabble
    September 16, 2015

    It was the second day of my oldest at his new senior school,and the first day of my youngest at juniors when i had to pull them out to break the news ,news that i wouldnt wish on my worst enemy to deliver,mummyhas taken a turn for the worst and may not survive the night.
    But i have just applied for my youngests place at senior school.
    Its hard when they hit milestones ,its bloody hard.
    but you are doing a fabulous job ben,you are a brilliant dad and dont let anyone tell you otherwise,you can see that in the pictures you post, It will be hard ,but you have a lot of good people around you and jackson. Take care mate…

  6. Luci
    September 16, 2015

    My kids are all grown up now with my youngest heading off to university at the end of this month but I’ve never been a big subscriber to after school clubs. Play and rest time with Daddy is learning enough!

  7. Naomii
    September 16, 2015

    Is there anything in the shift from saying “since my wife was killed” to “since my wife died?”. Sorry to be a weirdo who picked up on that in a post about you and Jackson but I have always noticed the language used and pondered over it.
    You guys are always in my thoughts and prayers. x

    • Life as a Widower
      September 16, 2015

      I use both. I suppose it depends what I’m writing about and how close I feel to the event itself. It’s pretty hard not to feel close to it when, one way or another, it keeps dragging on x

  8. victoriawhyte
    September 16, 2015

    I find your honesty refreshing – thank you for allowing us this window into your world.
    I too am experiencing a fresh wave of grief this week, but for different reasons to yours.

  9. J Russell
    September 16, 2015

    Good luck – if my children are anything to go by kids know when they want to join in with extra curricular stuff. Keep all options open, I guess.

  10. Katie
    September 17, 2015

    I’ve never read your posts before but I was touched by your writing
    My eldest son started high school last week and I found it hugely emotional. His father died in his first year of primary school and I’ve always been grateful that he was attending a small village primary school. To have to teach him to tie his own tie was heartbreaking; I always thought that and many other things were a dad’s job!
    These events still have the power to catch me unawares and leave me and my 3 children feeling emotionally raw.
    Thank you for sharing…I shall read your posts again

  11. burdenemmaline
    September 18, 2015

    Hi Ben – I just wanted to reach out and say thank you. Your writing is beautiful and reading about your journey has been comforting. Three weeks ago I lost my husband suddenly. I feel adrift and drowning – the pain is so acute right now I can barely breathe. Each day is a struggle and I find myself hungrily trying to find anyone who can even come close to understanding what I must feel like. I know it’s weird, but knowing that others have felt this pain and can still give their children all of themselves gives me strength that perhaps, one day, I can do the same. Even if it feels right now as though the entire world has gone upside down.

  12. smc68300
    September 22, 2015

    Jackson is blessed to have a Daddy who can hear his unspoken words.

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