Dear Daughter: I want a different Daddy.

20160728_110604Dear Daughter,

“I want a different Daddy”. This came out of your mouth last night as I was putting you to bed.

When I asked you why, you told me that I don’t let you do whatever you want, but that Mummy does, that other Daddies are nicer to their little children and so you want a different Daddy.

You went on to say that I was really mean and other Daddies aren’t mean to their little children either, so that’s another reason why you want a different Daddy.

I’m sorry that I was losing patience with you at bedtime when you refused point blank to come down from your bunk bed where you were playing, somewhat manically, with Lizzie and Billy (not other children, but soft toys) to get undressed and ready for bed. You told me that Mummy lets you play with Lizzie and Billy whenever you want, even if it is bedtime.

You said it in such a heartfelt way, as if it was the most important thing in the world to you at the time that I was no longer your Daddy and we find you a different one, who isn’t mean.

“Like who?” I asked. “Shall we think of who could be your Daddy instead of me?”

You stopped crying and nodded in the affirmative.

“How about Alma’s Daddy? He seems nice,” I suggested. You thought for a while. “OK,” you said.

I let you think and finally you said, “Would he have to come and live here with me and Mummy? But then Alma wouldn’t have a Daddy and that wouldn’t be fair to her.”

“So, how about Father Christmas?” I further suggested.

Again, you thought for a while, this time smiling a little at the thought of the nice, rotund, cheery person who laughed a lot. “But then would I only get to see him at Christmas?”, you pondered aloud.

“No; you would get to see him every day apart from Christmas, when he would be busy out delivering all the presents to the other children in the world.”

“Oh. So that’s not really any good because I like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and I would want my Daddy there for those times.”

“Then what about Marnie and Luke and Baby Olive’s Daddy? He plays with them a lot doesn’t he?”

“If he was my Daddy instead of you, would Marnie and Luke and Baby Olive come here to live with me and Mummy? That would be good because then I would get to play with them every day. That sounds good.” You did not speak for some time then; I could see the coming together of your eyebrows creating the crease at the top of your nose, meaning you were thinking hard.

“And if you weren’t my Daddy would you still come and play with me and give me a bath and read me a story and dry my hair while I’m jumping up and down on the bed?””

“Yes, if you wanted me to. Even if I wasn’t your Daddy I would still love you and want to see you every day.”

The creasing became deeper as I let you think and said nothing, though truthfully, this was a painful conversation for me. By this point, it was as much as I could do not to well up; you were giving this a lot of thought.

“If you weren’t my Daddy, and I had a different Daddy, would my new Daddy pick me up from school on the days that Margot doesn’t come to school? And would my new Daddy take me swimming in the warm pool and catch me, I wonder. And do you think my new Daddy would stop at one story at bedtime and not read three or four stories?”

More pause for serious thought.

“I wouldn’t really see you every day, would I, Daddy? But then I would really miss you and I wouldn’t be able to give you a kiss and a cuddle goodnight every day, would I? And you wouldn’t be able to pick me up out of the bath in my towel and carry me into my bedroom.”

Another pause.

“I’ve changed my mind, all right? Can you put my pyjamas on now, please?”

I want you to know that I will always be your daddy my darling girl. Even if Father Christmas seems a better option some days.

Daddy. xxx

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Kissing

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We kiss our sons – endlessly.

We kiss them pretty much at every opportunity and anywhere that we can reach – neck, tummy, feet, toes, bottom, back, legs, arm, head, back of their hands, all over their faces and of course on their lips. In fact if we are kissing each other in a good morning greeting or at bed time or even an embrace throughout the day it would feel strange not to kiss them on the lips.

My partner and I were kissed as children by both our parents (which isn’t as obvious to some as we may assume) and we don’t think twice about it with our sons. In fact if I stop and consider it at all I would say that we saw it as a bit of a short cut to bonding and attachment and a way of showing them that we were open emotionally to them right from the start.

We were lucky because they are cuddly little boys who are clearly as happy with this intimacy as we are and it was obvious that they were right from the moment we were brought together (of course it may not be appropriate for all adopted children – especially when first placed).

However we have been surprised to discover that some of our friends are a little uncomfortable with our overt shows of affection, especially the kissing on the lips. We are even more surprised that it is in fact our fellow gay friends who apparently have the biggest problem with it.

What’s that about? Thinking about it I wonder if it is the result of years of oppression and a forced need to be discrete with displays of male on male affection, or even worse a reaction against that shameful and totally ignorant linking of homosexuality and peadophilia and a fear that a man kissing a boy could be blurring the lines in the minds of the pathetic, mindless bigots.

Actually here in the UK there seems to be huge confusion about the whole ‘kissing thing’ in general and for the majority there seems to be a reluctance to kiss anybody in any situation.

For me when growing up in the 60’s/70’s kissing on the mouth was very much a ‘family’ thing, extended family all kissed as an hello or goodbye, with certain members stealing locked lipped smooches from us kids any time in between – I guess this was especially true from Grandmothers and Aunties. There became a point/age when the men stopped kissing the kids and this interestingly included my father, but I can’t say I recall exactly when that was, but I would estimate around the time we became teenagers. Do straight dads became scared that it is just too gay or just not manly enough?

Then I moved to London and found myself surrounded by friends from all over the world and I soon discovered that greeting somebody outside the family with a kiss was actually expected of certain cultures – but of course never on the mouth. I also discovered that it had been adopted by the gay community and was a standard greeting amongst gay friends.

I’m a tactile person and I liked this and made a conscious decision to embrace it – at least when greeting women or gay friends whom I encountered throughout my day – and I have attempted to make a peck on both cheeks my form of greeting ever since, which over the years I have become aware of as being taken up by many others Brits.

Yet this now leads to such confusion. My family – especially the older members immediately felt a bit offended that I was ‘avoiding’ kissing them on the mouth and thought that I was going all ‘continental ‘ on them and getting a bit above my station.

English friends who I had never greeted with a kiss previously were clearly shocked to have me move in on their space and plant a smacker on their cheek – it was actually barely a touching of cheeks, but one would have thought it was a French kiss by the reaction of some.

And clearly not all people I encountered were as comfortable with it as I am, but how do you know who is and who isn’t, how do we know what greeting is expected of us? This lack of a standard way of greeting in the UK is frustrating and at times even embarrassing.

So what are we suppose to do? I reckon the only way is to go for it with what you are most happy with and stand your ground, I appreciate that it may be uncomfortable for some, but I do feel that they need to ‘get with the programme’.

I think it’s fair to say that as a nation we have a history of being very sexually repressed which I think is the route of the issue here. However, surely things have moved on and in these times of such sexually abandon where just about anything goes isn’t it confusing that a civilised, human greeting such as a peck on the cheeks is still considered questionable and for some inappropriate?
P.S. This blog was written months ago, but it suddenly seems very topical following the outrage and consequent debate around a beautiful photo (bouncing around social media this week) of Victoria Beckham kissing her 5 yr old daughter – on the mouth.

It made me realise that the issue is clearly not just a gay one and that it is quite definitely all about sex, from reading various ‘opinions’ and listening to the subject being debated it was obvious to me that those who have an issue with it do so because of their inability to separate a loving and affectionate parental kiss from a kiss of passion between sexual partners.

To us ‘kissers” this is shocking – and indeed pretty offensive – because of course there is absolutely NO sexual connotation – on any level – to us kissing our children, just as there isn’t when parents touch their children or hug their children – both of which are surely as much a part of a sexual embrace as kissing.

According to a physiologist (who I heard discussing this on the radio) kissing on the mouth is almost exclusively to do with upbringing, if you were brought up being kissed on the mouth then chances are you will continue that.

I have to say that from my perspective I feel very lucky to be in that group and to be able to pass that onto my children.

I feel that our world is SO much richer as a consequence.

Dancing on a tightrope.

20150502_154014Five years old, the books tell me, is an age when my daughter is not going to be that interested in her life history and experience tells me that’s true. But it is also the age when children start noticing the world around me, hence the various conversations I have had in recent months around the theme of “my child was asking why your daughter doesn’t have a daddy. What should I tell them?”
I know I should have the answer to this ready and waiting but I just don’t seem to get the right words. Firstly, which daddy? Her birth daddy, who as far as I know’s only contribution was biological, or the non existent adopted daddy which I choose not to give her? But even if I can give them the language to explain adoption to their child, is it my place or theirs to do this. I want my daughter to start controlling her story, but 5yrs is such a tricky age. I have shared with her what I know, in terms that she broadly understands, but this doesn’t mean she is ready to answer all the random questions a 5yr old kid can come up with, or to filter what she wants to share and with whom. Plus, 5yrs is also the age of imagination and she is filling the gaps in her understanding with fantasies – one time her father is dead and another time he is looking after another family because “if he isn’t looking after me he must be looking after someone else”. I want to correct her fantasies but I don’t have an alternative story to offer that will make much sense to her, never mind her school friends.
As if that wasn’t enough, her imagination is being supplemented by fiction. I had never realised before how much children’s films deal with issues around abandonment, search for parents, orphanages and adoption in one form or another. I had already mentally reserved any exposure to ‘Oliver’ and ‘Annie’ until she was much older but it is impossible to avoid – from Hercules to Kung Fu Panda to Despicable Me to practically every superhero it is constantly catching me unawares. In some ways it can be helpful to show her ‘good adoption stories’ but so many of these stories aren’t. I don’t know how much my daughter draws comparisons to her own history or whether it goes over her head. So do I raise the parallels and open up things she isn’t ready for (those same books tell me she would start thinking about her ‘alternative family’ much later in her childhood) or say nothing and follow her lead?
As always, I feel that building my daughters understanding of her life history is like dancing on a tightrope, two steps forward, one step back, trying to keep it all in balance.

Dear Sons

20160621_102206Dear Sons,

We have known for a while that you think we moan a lot and that you feel that we are telling you off all the time, in fact it’s clear to see the frustration and the anger that it sometimes generates in you. Regardless of that, if we ever doubted it those doubts were washed away when you became old enough to voice your feelings, which you now do so well.

We know you think that it is tough on you, but it’s clear that you don’t see that it is not easy for us either.

You may not realise it, but this parent business is quite difficult and we try so hard to get the balance right: To give you freedom of expression (to help you find yourselves – your true personality), whilst at the same time instilling the values and behaviour that you need to become good, fair, considerate and empathetic adults.

You have not yet learnt that when we are being relaxed around you this is not a sign for a ‘free for all’, not us eliminating boundaries and rules from our lives forever, but us relaxing them for you to show us that you understand and that you can deal with that – which evidently is not yet the case.

We are tired of the moaning too, we are tired of our rules – or rather, of having to repeat them constantly. We understand now why many parents give up and ‘spoil’ their children, just letting them have their own way and letting them do things on the child’s terms – that is the easy option and trust me it’s one that looks so appealing and becomes more tempting day by day. Yet we KNOW how damaging that can be.

The term ‘spoilt’ is such an appropriate one and children brought up without firm boundaries and without an understanding that they can not always get their own way become difficult adults who struggle to maintain healthy relationships, they become selfish adults with an expectations that they deserve their own way – no matter what the cost to others around them.

We want you to be generous and open, to have qualities that people are attracted to and appreciate, we want you to love and to be loved and to have successful relationships with people who value these qualities. That is what we are trying to achieve – for your sake.

Yes we want nice, polite, well mannered sons who we can be proud of. Yes we want people to think that we are doing a good job and raising our children well and it would be disingenuous to suggest that this is all about you guys, but it is not all about us – and we fear that this is all that your 8 and 9 years allow you to think.

I guess that you are simply too young now to ‘get it’ and to appreciate it – so here is a blog for your future. Maybe one day, possibly during your teenage years (with tensions no doubt building between us) I can pull this out and hopefully you will be old enough and mature enough to understand it and to acknowledge its value.

Then again – maybe not. And do you know what? – That’s just fine.

A Birthday Wish

IMG_4105It’s your birthday, it’s your birthday.
Last year we didn’t see you.
But we thought of you so much.
All day, every hour.
Wishing you fun and laughter and cake with a candle.
We took ourselves to the beach and played in the sand, amused ourselves on the penny slots and ate lots of ice cream.
We wondered exactly what you were doing. We tried to see into the future.
To see if we could connect with you, almost transcend time.
I sat in your newly painted room, I rocked myself and pretended you were here with me on my knee.
I willed you in my life. I desperately imagined what life might be like with you.
I felt I couldn’t bear to be without you for a single day, even though I had not even met you yet.
But dear daughter, it really didn’t matter, as soon as we glimpsed you from behind the door, all those anxious moments, melted away. Our hearts were open and you jumped straight into it.
So my dear, on your birthday our wishes have all been answered as we have you in our lives forever and you darling can wish for the stars.