It’s Football, Not Me!
Great, it’s Saturday again. Off to the match, it’s an away game this week. Leave at 10am, there by 1pm, a few bevvies to get into the mood. Then 90 minutes of fun. We are going to stuff them this time.
Home again, an hour before Match Of The Day on TV. I am sure they are going to say “we were robbed”. The ref was biased.
And my girl, she asked for it. What, no tea? She knows I’ve had a hard day. It took me 11 hours on the road for that game. That’s a long time! Where am I going to get the time for that self-development workshop my girl keeps talking about?
Only 2 hours, it’s just round the corner, you will like it, she keeps telling me. On, and on, and on.
But the next game is at home. Only 1 hour to the ground, back home by 6pm. She better be in a good mood with tea ready and stuff.
Now she tells me to take the kids to the park. When am I going to do that?
I work all week. Saturday is my team game. Sunday afternoon, two showcase games on TV. Give me a break. Why doesn’t she spend time with the kids? What’s she doing all day anyway? It’s not as if the house is a palace.
I will go, you know. Go on one of those self-empowerment workshops my girl tells me about. I have been planning to go for a while now. But the football season just started. Maybe when the season is over. Yeah, I will go then definitely.
I just want her to stop having a go at me. I am a really peaceful guy. If she don’t do anything wrong, she won’t get into no trouble with me. I just want a peaceful life.
What’s wrong with me having a couple of beers after work? What’s wrong with me expecting dinner when I get home? What’s wrong with me expecting the kids to be in bed early? What’s wrong with me expecting something sweet every night? Yeah, I just want a peaceful life with my girl.
I mean, I don’t hit the kids. And if she behaves they won’t hear me shouting at her. They won’t end up crying every time me and their mother disagree.
I mean, I just want a peaceful life. With a little bit of footy.
R. J. September 2016
Reading My Letter To My Dad
For some time I had been thinking of plucking up the courage to tell my father what I thought about him – the great bits, and the bits that were altogether harder and more uncomfortable, both for me to say and for him to hear.
Why? I couldn’t bear the thought, after his death, of spending the rest of my days regretting not having told him. The sadness and the regret – such negative but incredibly powerful emotions in this context.
So I took the bull by the horns and decided to write him a letter. That way I could reflect carefully on what I had to say.
But rather than sending the letter, I would read it to him face to face; a way of allowing emotions to be better expressed and for the senses to be engaged as well. I also wanted him to be able to refer back to it in the future if ever he wanted. Here’s an abridged version:
My Dearest Lovely Dad
I watched a film recently called The fault in our stars. It is about a girl dying of cancer, and rather than wait until her death and funeral, the boyfriend gives his eulogy right there in the church in front of her.
I thought it was such a good idea. Why wait for someone to die before you tell them quite how much you love them and appreciate them!
I was also reading a book recently called Manhood by an Australian psycho-therapist called Steve Biddulph. In it he says, “Every father, however much he puts on a critical or indifferent exterior, will spend the rest of his life waiting at some deep level to know that his son loves and respects him.”
“Everyone accepts these days that a parent has the power to crush a child’s self-esteem. Few realise that a child, eventually, holds the same power in reverse. Parents wait, however defensively, for their children to pass judgement. That’s how life is.”
As father to my sons, I feel that absolutely. And I want to make sure that you get to hear, deep from my heart, how I feel about you.
I’m not much of a lover of poetry but I read a poem recently that really struck me. It helped hit home just how profound this bond is. This is it:
The Noble Element
“Father”, what does this word mean?
It means challenge, strength, connection through love.
But not like mother’s love.
Dad love is different, harder to spot.
Contained, containing, harder, like a wall, but there nonetheless.
Like a flowing river that leads to the sea,
To the ancestors, to the soul of a man.
Making the assumption that your death will come before mine, I have been reflecting on what it will be like to no longer have you with us, with me. I will feel unspeakably sad and much pain. However, I will be lucky enough to have so many very fond memories, feelings of deep gratitude and much love towards you.
One thing I do not wish is to feel is any kind of regret. So I am going to make sure in this letter that I say all the things that I would regret not saying were it all to be too late.
So here goes:
A recent event brought lots back to me. You were doing grandfather Thomas’s eulogy at the church in Banstead. You were in the pulpit and I was in the front row of pews looking up at you, craning my neck, hanging on your every word, as I had done throughout my childhood.
Even as the 51 year old man, I felt like my adoring 10 year self inside. I realised I was hanging on your every word, proud beyond belief as I was reminded of how beautifully, emotionally, lovingly and wisely you express yourself before the congregation.
I reckon I’m not too bad myself in front of a crowd and in the classroom – I have had the gift of being taught by the master over all those years!
You are a wordsmith – I, and so many others, adore your play on words, your irreverent humour and fabulous memory for quotes and interesting stuff.
I love the way you use your deafness to turn the most ordinary comment into an alternative “translation”. So, “he was put away for tax evasion” becomes “he was put away for masturbation?”
I love your jokes and your unique view of the world and the inimitable way you express it make me so proud! “All tidiness is frustration!” “Sorry, I can’t hear you, I’ve got my hearing aid in.” Absolute gems!
What I find wonderful about this is you are so unconventional. The average vicar is generally renowned for his seriousness, his lack of virility and for, well frankly, being a bit wet and anal. Not you, Pops. You are a live-wire, and you’re my Dad! It’s great.
You are a very generous man, Dad, and if you give me a cheque for birthdays or Christmas and say, “I wish I could add a couple of noughts,” I really believe you!
You are a decent man and I feel that you have guided me so well as a child and on into my adulthood, to know the difference between right and wrong, to hold myself accountable for the things I may have done wrong and to have great integrity in my dealings with others.
Someone emailed me this week saying, “…everything you do is so full of integrity.” I obviously take some credit for that but again, I was taught by the master, by you!
You are a very accepting person. Judging others negatively is not part of your way of being. At key moments in my life, I have felt this real acceptance of yours.
Once, pre-empting a letter home from the headmaster explaining that I had been caught smoking for the umpteenth time, I mustered the courage to ring you from boarding school to tell you in person. Rather than being shouted at or chastised, you simply said, “Don’t worry. Like father, like son. I was caught many times myself!”
Also, when I rang you to let you know that I had left Emma (my first wife), you said, “I want you to know that I don’t judge you in any way at all, my son.” This helped so much. What you thought really mattered to me.
I must say though, that you are judgement-free in all but one area – my spiritual life. I suspect that the chip-chipping about not going to church and deciding not to baptise my sons is founded on your concerns about my salvation and theirs.
But fear not, Pops. You have instilled in me such a strong sense of right and wrong and such a strong sense of love for my fellow man that my God forgives me, I believe, for these minor misgivings!
I feel sad that we live so far away from one another.
You have been a great teacher! I have loved those quirky things that you have taught me, like how to make a funnel out of a glass bottle, how to make home brew and how to make water bombs out of origami.
Being sure not to waste anything and thinking about the consequences of your actions was doubtless something that was beaten into you as a child growing up during the war. But I am extremely grateful to you for making me aware of this whilst growing up.
As a result, I have had my eyes opened to how important it is to tread lightly on the earth, especially in a time of so much wanton destruction and waste. It has fuelled my passion for the environment and it has informed the values I wish to instil in my boys.
I will always remember your giant cups of Indian, or stinking Lapsang, the Bovril, the coffee and your love of strong, flavoursome things, your unapologetic appreciation of the finer foods and drinks in life. The cashew nuts, the aged Laphroig whisky, the roasted almonds.
I love our big hugs when we see each other and how affectionate you are. It wasn’t always like that. It must have been quite a change when I started wanting to shake you by the hand from the age of about 15 rather than kiss you.
I am going through a similar thing with my son David now! He is pulling away from me too, so I suspect my slight feelings of disappointment and sadness are similar to what you must have felt.
I know that we are dealt the cards we are dealt and those early experiences in our lives shape us and make us the person we are today, but I am angry at what you had to endure during your childhood.
I don’t think that any child should be sent away to boarding school at the age of 4. I heard recently, “why do we consider it a tragedy when a child goes into care but a privilege when they go to boarding school?” To be separated from your parents from this age and particularly when they went off to India when you were between 7 and 14, can only have been a strange, harsh and isolating experience.
By all accounts, your father was a stern and disapproving kind of a man and I can’t imagine that that did you very much good either. If I had experienced these things, I think I would be angry and sad.
Everyone has these hardships in some shape or form and I think that our inner child carries those pains and hurts through to the end. My inner child has his scars too.
I don’t think that being beaten by you from such a young age served me well and I don’t think that being shouted at and having such an air of anger around me did me much good either.
It is very uncomfortable for me to admit to these things, but they are my truth, Pops.
We are all a fine balance of light and darkness. I want you to know that I totally forgive you for these things, but if you ever felt that you could acknowledge and even apologise for these things, it would help me a great deal to move on.
I love you for the whole man that you are. You have been, and continue to be, a magnificent Dad, and I am truly grateful for all these qualities, all this humanity that you show in your life.
On your deathbed, I hope you will get succour at least, from knowing that your eldest son adores you and feels deep privilege in having been part of your life.
I love you with all my heart, Pops
Your loving son, Frank
The experience was extraordinary! We sat together after breakfast with a cup of coffee and I closed the door in the sitting room and sat next to him.
Emotions were right at the back of my throat, that kind of distorting, stubborn twist in the vocal chords. I tried hard to push back the tears but on a couple of occasions, I couldn’t help myself!
He listened without interrupting once. He had tears welling in his eyes when I looked up at him at the end – he drew me towards him and held my head lovingly against his chest.
At the age of 51, I had a flashback to that feeling of pride, love and security of being in my Daddy’s arms, held tight and safe as I would have done as a boy.
He apologised without reserve, thanked me profusely, as he did several times during the course of the day. I feel a huge weight off my shoulders having expressed my truth. I felt relieved. I felt strangely whole!
Why share this here? Through this process I have gained so much peace and have such a strong sense of completing a challenging, soul-searching exercise.
I suppose I have a hope, a wish, that it may strike a chord with any man who may have had similar intentions but has not got round to it. This is my encouragement to entice him over the edge and for it to become a reality, for that letter, for that conversation, to materialise.
This will obviously not suit everyone. Some men’s fathers will already be dead. Some men will have been estranged for many years from their fathers due to unspeakably wrenching experiences – the very thought of such a conversation may be inconceivable.
Some, like a friend of mine, may perceive their father to be too self-centred, lacking in emotional intelligence and totally unapologetic for this to be even worth attempting.
I am blessed that the situation between my father and me made this possible. However, just for the record, the dynamics of such a conversation would be extremely difficult for me to have with my mother!
All names have been changed to enable this to be expressed anonymously.
The Trouble With Workshops
Workshops – especially “personal growth” type workshops – often give me all kinds of insights into who I am.
Often they also bring my shadow behaviours – which I have previously neither been aware of nor understood – into the light.
After my participation in such a workshop, I clearly see what I have been doing and how it affects my life. I now know. I now have the insight, I am “enlightened”. Great! I’ve got it figured out, so I can now go forth and be a new man and behave differently in the world.
A good thing, right? So where’s the problem?
Alas, what I so often find is that even with my insights and my new knowledge, my actual behaviour doesn’t change all that easily. I discover old patterns quickly re-emerging even though I now “know better”. I am responding to situations in the same ways as always.
This is not only frustrating and confusing, it also provides me with great opportunities to thrash myself for falling so far short of who I now know I might be.
I have just placed a whole new batch of weapons in my armoury of self-flagellation, ready for the next time I feel like I have fallen short of this new higher mark which I had set for myself.
Sound familiar? Indeed, as the author David Schnarch said, “Insight doesn’t set us free – it just lets us know where the fight is.” Maybe there’s an element of truth in such thinking.
So, what now? And… why would I even bother any more?
Let’s start with “Why would I even bother?” My own experience is that I generally have to find the answer through trial and error. I actually have to “not bother” – perhaps quite a few times – to find out for myself why I would bother.
For each of us, the answers to this question will be different, although all answers are likely to have a similar theme – which is coming to the point of realising that I simply cannot not do it, whatever “it” may be.
If I continue to “not bother” for long enough I will certainly become aware of the price I pay for “not bothering”. And I will decide whether or not I wish to pay that price. Either way, I will at least have a kind of answer to the question.
Satisfactory as such thinking may or may not be, I’m going to leave it there (abandoned, once again!) and move on to the other question – “What now?”
What now? Indeed!
I have the insight and clearly see what’s happening, yet I continue to find myself in a kind of Groundhog Day experience of repeatedly falling into the very same hole.
It’s true that every time I find myself there, I usually manage to get out just a little quicker. But what does it take to actually walk around the hole which I now, thanks to my workshop and my insights, see quite clearly every time before I “fall” into it? Even better, what does it take to walk down another street?
Well. Initially it simply takes a conscious decision to change my behaviour, to change what I do.
Will that work? Can it be that simple? Perhaps not quite. Were it really that simple, we’d all be well on our way to perfection by now.
How many times have I made some kind of resolution, be it at New Year or otherwise, only to find myself – often quite quickly and repeatedly – losing my resolve, either by going unconscious or actually consciously talking myself out of things, in other words rationalising my decision to abandon my previous resolution.
It seems that straight willpower, while working quite well in the short term, frequently weakens over a longer period of time and ultimately fails at some point, generally one of high stress.
Sure, some people seem to have much greater willpower and, together with a good dose of determination, can continue on a new path for some time – perhaps even long enough to develop a habit and thus continue to walk around the hole. Well done to such people.
But what actually “powers” such strength of will and where does the determination come from?
A few thoughts come to mind. One is that it often takes falling into the hole quite a few times in order to empower my determination not to do so.
As mentioned above, I often need to be clearly in touch with the “prices” which I pay for the way I have been (and am still) doing things. I need to really feel the discomfort.
Beyond that, I could do well to forgive myself too – forgive myself for falling into that hole for the umpteenth time, when I know that I clearly know better and indeed can see it in front of me every time. A little forgiveness goes a long way.
And through experience I have found that beating myself up for my (perceived) failures doesn’t really help a whole lot. I have tried for too many years to “whip myself into shape” and have concluded that not only does it not “work”, it is really quite a self-defeating exercise.
Lastly, I’ve found that a modicum of faith does work for me.
I mean, why would I be willing to try some new, strange and possibly a little uncomfortable behaviour, if I didn’t believe at some level that it will ultimately work out – that something better, something that I really want, will eventually come of it?
And if that faith contains even just a twitch of a hint of a sense of the universe being on my side, and/or maybe an angel or two giving me a hand up here and there, so much the better!
Magic Carpet Work
About six years ago I answered an intuitive call to reconnect with my artistic side which had, to all extents and purposes began and ended at age seven.
First prize in a local art competition led to a boyhood shaming incident that had kept me away from such ‘dangers’, and instead, I followed the ‘safer’ path of science.
Then out of the blue, at age 32, I felt a compulsion to draw and paint once again. I knew nothing of art therapy but I discovered such healing and inner growth in this creative play that I kept coming back to the canvas more and more.
During my Warrior Weekend I was given the opportunity to clarify and deepen this inner call through my Mission Statement, which was and still is ‘to co-create a world of joy and unconditional love by honouring my gifts and sharing them with the world’.
And so, it was with this in mind that a brother in the Dublin iGroup invited me to stretch my mission by creating a piece to hang on the wall of our meeting space.
After a moments’ consideration, I accepted and the result is the attached painting, titled “Diorthosiris”. The bones of this piece had been worked on before I even knew of MKP but in light of my experiences with them, I knew this would be the fitting expression for those experiences.
From early childhood I was fascinated by mythology and ancient civilisations and in time this fascination incorporated sacred geometry, symbolism, psychology and spirituality among other things.
And so I began to weave these strands into the fabric of my paintings in an attempt to communicate ideas that were complex and left-brain oriented using symbols and visual imagery to stimulate a right-brained response. This engaging of left and right brain hemispheres seems to me to fulfil one of the core functions of art, which is development of Self.
So, what then is “Diorthosiris” communicating?
Well, ultimately that’s up to the beholder to explore. And as is often the way, meaning depends on a person’s patience and curiosity. I am reluctant to limit the messages of this painting with my own interpretation but for the nature of this article it seems unavoidable. The title refers to a Greek word ‘diorthosis’ meaning a course correction as in navigation.
Also alluded to is Osiris, the Egyptian god of transition and the Underworld. Elements of Mayan cosmology, [moving from an origin of 1 IMIX (crocodile/void/ignorance) through a 13-step cycle of completion to 13 AHAU (Sun/enlightenment)] and the golden ball of the Iron John tale, allude to the essence of carpet-work, which is very much what this painting explores.
In my own carpet-work, I got the chance to confront an aspect of my Shadow and to feel the depth of the associated wounding. Buried within the wound was a gift, an inner potential that I might extract and carry back with me. To do this I had to take a risk, face my fears and venture into the unknown, into the dark waters of the unconscious…wherein lurk monsters!
These inner-demons can be terrifying and paralysing. But when I approach them appropriately, with the ‘inappropriate’ Wild Man and a strong container, I can come into right relationship with these potentials and utilise their energy to propel me in the direction of my heart’s desire. This inner alchemy allows me to turn these dark matters into spiritual gold which I may then embody and express. This clear, heart-centred and outward movement is a fulfilment of the Masculine principle within me, as a man. “Diorthosiris” itself is then this principle made manifest, as well as a fulfilment of my personal Mission Statement. And finally it is a tribute to the work I did on that carpet in Townley Hall and to the container of men who guided and witnessed and helped me and my gifts to be seen.
As a man, I also contain a feminine component, which I have expressed through a complementary painting titled “Diorthosis”. Here the solar, squared, outward movement of the masculine is reciprocated by a lunar, curved, internally focused stillness, the Goddess Isis, who holds the centre of my Being, while I as masculine, move ever outward. And it is this unifying of opposites, this Sacred Marriage that is the adventure of Self within our realm of duality.
While I do this work primarily for myself, alongside the microcosm of each human is the fractal macrocosm, of which I am an aspect. My personal work ripples out and imprints the collective. To convey this idea, I utilise a composition based in sacred geometry, a squaring of the circle, a Unity Consciousness structure, marrying masculine and feminine, matter and spirit, body and soul. Finally, to anchor this ideal in the real experience of everyday life, I set the scene in modern-day Dublin with the protagonist as Damien Dempsey, a local singer and songwriter who for me embodies the very essence of “Diorthosiris”. Here, his pose evokes Christian iconography; while in Gnostic cosmology we find reference to Christ as the androgyne or the ‘Unified Self’, the seed of Unity Consciousness. This figure or symbol offers an example of humanity’s innate potential and a point of reference for the course correction required to bring about a New Earth, one human at a time.