Father’s Day

Father

This Sunday is Father’s Day in the UK, and ever since my father died in 2004 it has been a day that brings up mixed feelings for me. And for the last ten years, each time it comes around, I think what it might be like for others who have lost a father, one way or another, or never had one they knew and felt loved by to begin with.

My son once referred to such specially marked out occasions as “Hallmark Opportunities” and I admired his refusal to be dragged headlong into a morass of mawkish sentimentality. He has a point, although I realise that for many people having an opening to express their thanks in a card is welcome. Not all of us find it easy to write what we feel or are lucky enough to have the convergence of right time and right place that makes it possible to tell someone how much they mean to us. I’m not against the sending of cards per se or the marking of one significant day assigned to a particular relationship. It’s just that when that person is no longer around or never manifested in your life in your good way, it’s painful to be reminded of the loss. Not everyone has had a positive experience of being fathered. For some the celebratory hype around the day may feel like salt being rubbed into an already gaping wound.

I was fortunate, in that I had a long and incrementally empowering relationship with my father. When I was forty I realised that I’d only ever had a semi-detached relationship with him, always overshadowed by my relationship with my mother. It was one of those grasping the nettle moments in my life, and I determined to know him and have him know me. The years that followed were deeply enriching for us both, so that when he eventually died it felt our relationship was equal and complete.

The first year after his death I wrote him a letter, just as if he had travelled to a far distant country where no other communication was possible. In it I described how it had been for all of us since he had gone, and how I had discovered inside me all the gifts he had left behind. I hadn’t realised before how much like him I was, and what a blessing that had turned out to be. That first year I also went out and bought a Father’s Day card. I wrote in it, but didn’t post it. There was nowhere it could be posted.

That was the part that hurt the most – the realisation that there would be no more chances to tell him and show him how much I loved and appreciated who he was. It wasn’t that I hadn’t already done that, only that when it comes to love there is always more and it goes on growing, and we need to put it somewhere outside of us so we can see how beautiful it is.

I feel so sad for anyone who has lost their father way too soon, without the opportunities to know him that I had, or who look at other people’s fathers and wish they had been able to have that experience of being fathered well. Absent fathers, abusive fathers, controlling fathers, avoidant fathers – fathers who say, as mine used to: “I’ll fetch your mother,” whenever you ring up – they all in their way shape who we are and how we see ourselves in relation to the world. We each have to come to terms with our relationship with our father, whether or not he is in our life.

This year, as every year since 2004, I see the cards in the shops and the advertisements urging me to make the day special, and even receive promotional emails telling me what amazing gifts I can get, and I am torn between insult and injury. How tactless, I think, to remind me of my sacred duty as a consumer to buy more stuff to mark the occasion. But then I let it go. I have learned to let a lot of things go, because life is short and there isn’t enough energy to spare that’s worth spilling over what’s unimportant.

My father had a stroke the week before he died, which made his speech difficult to understand. Nevertheless, he fought with his usual quietly indomitable spirit to regain what he could and make himself understood. The last time I saw him conscious he was being fed by my mother in the hospital, and he started laughing at the absurdity of it. We stood around him, joining in. His laughter was always so infectious. And then he said: “This is all that matters – laughter, family, love.” That’s what I’ll be remembering on Father’s Day.

LAST FLIGHT

(This poem, written in February 2007, was a long time in gestation – a tribute to my father who died in August, 2004. He was my teacher, my fellow-traveller, and my friend…)

“Where are you?”
is a question I have been asking you
from that final day I urged you onward,
your outspread wings broken by such suffering.
I never said: “Don’t leave me…”
or “What will become of me without you?”
The answer to that has unfolded in the creased cotton
of the winding sheets that since have wrapped around me.
In one of those last conversations your blue eyes
snatched at my heart with the same old tender complicity,
cradling me with your courage, even as you were dying:
“Don’t be frightened…” you said…
Were you frightened? Was there a moment
between the last breath and the no-breath
when you teetered awestruck on the brink of everness
remembering parachutes that didn’t open,
wondering whether yours would after all?
Once you held me high on your shoulders
bounding along with your young man’s stride
the safest place in all creation and me
younger than words but laughing as the world
rocked and bounced beneath me.
You were such an immovable presence in my universe.
Many years later when I was grieving
for all the unlived life and unmet love,
tears leaching the fractured rock of my protected heart,
you held me as I wept, your chest a citadel,
and said: “I know that place. I’ve been there too.”
You were frightened that time we climbed the mountain,
and it was my turn then to be the guide for you,
leading you towards your joyful peak experience,
your happiness a song inside my heart.
It was only after you left I needed to ask the dark sky,
the empty room, the silence of your remembered voice:
“Where are you now?”
Was it you who answered me that night
unknown hands tucked me round with an invisible blanket
so gentle it was like a consecration?
Were you letting me know that you had safely landed?

© Lesley Hayes 2014

You can read more of my poems on the ‘Poems’ page of my website Poems

The conundrum of invisibility

Invisibility - blog

I never wanted to be famous. I’m an introvert who learned early on to habitually fake extroversion convincingly enough to fool some of the people some of the time. I sank with relief into my more natural introverted intuitive self when I embarked on my career as a therapist. It was a role that allowed me to express my authentic self and connect with clients from that place. One-on-one is a comfortable relationship for me. Triangles are also possible. I was the only child of parents who clung to one another on a life raft of unsociability, so three-way relationships, despite carrying their own perilous dynamics, are familiar territory. Although I’ve managed to hold my own in groups of anything up to ten people (and have even run therapy groups) that really is about my limit. I realise, on the far shore of my mid-life career as a therapist, that mine is a perfect psychological mind-set for a writer. I’ve always written with ‘you, the reader’ in mind – that’s you, the single you, raptly hanging on my every word, delighted with each turn of phrase, each nuance, each skilful metaphor, just as I have delighted in putting them on the page. I work my socks off for you, to keep you entertained and to do so in a lyrical style that will entrance you with language as much as I myself am entranced. I don’t imagine a roomful of you, an audience enthusiastically clapping and whistling, shouting for an encore. No, it’s just you and me, snugly curled up together wherever it is that you read me – once it would have been in a book; these days it’s more likely to be on a kindle or tablet. And the beauty of it is I’m completely invisible.

I relish invisibility. It’s something of a paradox that as an integrative psychotherapist I eschewed the blank screen persona of the traditional psychoanalytical therapist. I believe in genuine engagement requiring the therapist to be as much a part of the process as the client, not simply a witness and stubbornly speechless observer. And yet there is also no requirement to spill your own beans when listening to a client. In fact, it’s one of the cardinal rules that you don’t. It’s bad enough for most people having their own stuff out there in the room without adding yours into the equation. So in that sense the therapist remains unknown, almost but not quite anonymous. Visible but also invisible, able to hide behind the role while at the same time giving the most important part of who they are prominence – authentic self rather than crazy mixed up ego. Yes, however sorted we are, or aim to be, we therapists still have our issues, and don’t let anyone pretend to you otherwise. It’s not that we lie about it – it’s just that it isn’t relevant. Or at least, we hope it isn’t relevant, and if it looks as though it might be in danger of becoming so we take it to our supervisor or our own therapist.

But so much for the invisibility factor in therapy. Let me fast-track you now (‘you, the reader’) to my return to the magical inner world of the writer… that mysterious realm somewhere between imagination and what we might loosely term ‘reality’. As a writer, the idea for the novel either bursts or sidles its way into your consciousness and kicks aside all other considerations. The muse grabs you and shakes you into submission, so that you daily kneel at her altar, a mere acolyte to the process until the work is finally completed. It’s like being in love. You never doubt that this is the best thing you’ve ever written, or that ‘you, the reader’ are going to agree. You lose yourself in the welcoming arms of your muse for however long it takes until the madness eventually subsides. Your invisibility factor increases exponentially as your identity merges with and shifts between your characters. You forget where the edge of ‘you’ is, and come out drunken and giddy with bewilderment each time you escape temporarily from your writing bubble. Yes, it is entirely like being in love. You even go through a grieving process when it ends – as end it must. And all the way through you have lived inside the world inside your imagination without ever having to emerge fully into the cruel, cold, starkly-shadowed realm of ordinary reality.

And as you crawl your way out of your cocoon into the harsh light of day, you realise that in order to actually find ‘you, the reader’ there is yet another process to be endured – the agonising process of becoming visible. It isn’t enough these days to toss your completed manuscript into the waiting arms of the midwife agent who along with a supportive publisher will bring your book to birth. This was my own personal wake-up call. I observed how the wind had radically altered course in the years since I was last published, and made the brave decision to embrace change and leap into the unknown via kindle self-publishing on Amazon. That was challenging, but also interesting. It’s good to have a project. But the next stage was unexpectedly problematic. It required me to take my ego down from the shelf and dust it off – even polish it up a little bit. I had been through ‘somebody training’ in my youth and had since found a happier me through ‘nobody training’ during my years of practicing therapy and mindfulness, and now I needed to become a ‘somebody’ again. A person with a face, and a ‘voice’ – a person who proclaims themselves as the author behind their books, strutting their stuff on facebook and twitter, and here in my blog (although of course it’s still just me and ‘you the reader’ really.)

It feels like an awesome responsibility. Now that I have a product to sell (that’s the way I have been told to look at it now) I need to learn how to market it. But it seems that in the years since I was last writing books the product has become very much the author. The cult of personality has gathered momentum and in the self-publishing world I am but a miniscule drop in a vast ocean of voices and faces that in my nightmares seem like a sea of baby birds screaming to be fed. Am I one of them? Surely not? That doesn’t sit well with me at all. And here’s the conundrum: I want my books to be read, which means I have to be visible. ‘Becoming visible’ is the advertising strategy that is pushed by everyone involved with internet marketing. But I resist. I am not that person. I want ‘you the reader’ to find me and feel richer for the experience, but I’m reluctant to shout in your face and demand that you buy my books. On the other hand, if I lurk coyly in the shadows hoping to be found, I’ll be a long time waiting. It’s still work in progress finding out how to be visible to ‘you, the public’ in a way that employs no bullshit, whilst remaining securely invisible, like a ghost flitting between the pages of my books. Will I get there? It remains to be seen.

This, by the way, was absolutely not the blog I intended to write. I’ll have to return to other issues related to invisibility another time. That wretched muse – see what I mean? She made me write it. It’s all her fault.