Max talks about the whole Brexit mess, and only just manages to do so without weeping. Contains frequent strong language.
I wrote this piece for my son about a year ago when I was coming to terms with some stuff, and I think it feels right to share it today in the hope that it will matter to someone else.
I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about writing something just for you, and it’s taken me this long to marshal my thoughts into anything approaching coherence. There’s much I want to say – to you, about you, about me, the world and your place within it. I hope this piece will mean something to you, and that you’ll look back over it one day and remember fondly all the great times we’ve shared, and the many more we have yet to share.
It’s fair to say I was a pretty reluctant father. You know this, we’ve spoken about it before. I guess I always took the pragmatic view: we’re overpopulated as it is, and another child is just another drain on the world’s resources. Nice, huh?
I always say it was your mother’s nagging that made me agree to start a family, but that’s a little disingenuous. And somewhat unfair, as it happens. What’s actually the case is that she needed to have a baby. She needed to be a mother like a fish needs water, and it would have been a travesty to deny her that. So I actually agreed to start a family because I love Mummy so much, which I guess is the best reason of all.
I still remember the night you were born and, until recently, I never really reflected on it to any great extent. Thankfully, I tend to think about things rather more emotionally now than I once did, and I’ve finally learned to appreciate the significance of that night – of being the first person to hold you after you came into the world. It makes me happy to think of that now in a way I perhaps wasn’t capable of before.
That said, I was never particularly enamoured with the whole baby palaver. I loved you fiercely of course, but, as I’m sure you’re aware, babies don’t really do very much. You put food in one end, shit comes out of the other, and sometimes they cry. The first 18 months are pretty much a case of biding your time until it starts to get interesting. Thankfully, it got really interesting.
I loved the toddler bit. So much. The little outfits; the clumsy, unsteady gait; your little hand thrust comfortingly in mine; the amusing mispronunciations; the adoring looks from the little old ladies you would delight with your endearing turn of phrase; I loved it all. I mourned it for a long time after it was over. I didn’t love you any less, but I felt a sense of loss that those days were gone, never to return. That might seem silly to you, and I suppose maybe in some ways it is, but I suspect you’ll understand one day. I’m also sure a time will come in the not too distant future when ‘Daddy’ will give way to ‘Dad’, and maybe I’ll grieve a little then, too.
The way you have matured over the past year or so, however, has given me cause to let go of any residual sadness about the passing of those days. I look at you now and feel an overwhelming sense of pride at the child you’ve grown into, and deep-rooted feelings of excitement and optimism about the man you will become.
You already have a social conscience and a sense of justice far in advance of most people your age. You refuse to tolerate intolerance, and that’s one of the best qualities a person can have. Never let that go – where you see hate, injustice and victimisation, call it out. It’s easy to hear something offensive and turn a deaf ear, but the world needs people like you to challenge hate in all its forms. As you get older, the world will try to knock your compassion out of you. Don’t let it, because it’s the very essence of who you are.
We’re not here for very long. When you’re ten, it feels like you have forever, but time has a way of running through your fingers like sand. I don’t expect you to grasp that now, but maybe if the grown up you is reading back over this in 30 years’ time, he’ll allow himself a wry smile. The truth is though, that we’re here for a mere fraction of the blink of an eye, so we have to make it count.
That doesn’t mean you have to change the whole world, however. There can only be so many people whose names go down in history as having achieved something magnificent, and even their great accomplishments will ultimately count for nothing. This civilisation will end as all the others have before it, our species will inevitably become extinct (pretty soon if we don’t buck our ideas up), and the universe won’t give even the tiniest of fucks.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that life is futile and there’s no point in even trying to achieve anything, it’s just that, for most people, our accomplishments aren’t particularly important or abiding. At least not on a global scale. But even if you don’t find a cure for cancer, discover life on other planets, or solve the energy crisis that threatens to bring about our untimely demise, you can still leave the world a better place than when you found it.
Every single day, you touch the lives of others. Think of all the people you have encountered over the course of your ten years so far. Or even just one year. Friends, family, acquaintances, strangers who you speak to once in passing: you will have an effect on each and every one of those people. It might be tiny, almost imperceptible, but the sum of these interactions can help to change the world for the better. The more people who extend the hand of kindness, friendship and tolerance to those around them, the more chance there is that one day this will be the norm.
So in the end, only two things really matter: that you are happy and that you are good to other people. It gives me great comfort to know that, at the time of writing, both of those things are true. I feel sure that the latter will always be true because you’ve inherited your mother’s kind, gentle nature; you radiate the same warmth, the same inner beauty.
As much as I want you to be happy, however, I want you to know it’s ok to feel sad sometimes. Or worried or anxious or scared or upset. Don’t ever hide from your emotions, they’re what make us human. Cry if you need to. Hug someone if you feel like it (and they’re ok with it). When you shut down some of your emotions, it’s extremely difficult not to shut them all down. The only one that makes it to the surface in those situations tends to be anger. Anger is natural too, sometimes, but it’s rare that anything good ever comes of it. Embrace your other feelings, let them in, get to know them. Don’t ever let anyone tell you to hide them away. So many of society’s problems could be solved by letting boys know it’s ok to cry, and by giving them a hug when they do so rather than telling them to toughen up.
I feel a profound sense of regret that it took me so long to realise this. Before I came out, I fell into precisely the trap I have described above. I didn’t just repress my sexuality, but so many of my other feelings as well. It had a lasting effect, and one that I’m still trying to come to terms with. I feel guilty that, for parts of your early life, I was prone to anger and irritability in a way that surpassed what was normal or healthy. I worry that you’ll remember my behaviour during these important formative years and judge me negatively. I want you to know that I’m sorry for all of it: the shouting, the snapping, the slamming of doors. I hope you can find it within yourself to forgive me.
I feel much better now, and I hope it shows. I do still feel sad sometimes. I cry sometimes, too. Quite a lot, actually. I think I must be making up for lost time. It’s ok though, because allowing myself to feel sad sometimes, means that I get to feel happy nearly all of the time. I don’t think that was the case before.
As well as apologising, I need to say thank you. When I came out almost a year ago, there were only two people in the whole world whose opinions I cared about. Whatever anyone else has said or done in the meantime, your reactions were always the only ones that really mattered. The grace, the maturity, the love and acceptance with which you handled my revelation is something I will always treasure. The manner in which you’ve taken an interest in LGBTQ issues since then, the way you actively support our community, is both beautiful and heart-warming. However you end up identifying in the future, the fact that you were so supportive of me and others like me before you were even able to describe your own sexuality will continue to be a source of great joy to me.
I want to finish by talking a little bit about Mummy. As you go through life, you’ll meet a lot of people. Some of them you’ll like, some not so much. A few of them you’ll love. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find the one person who is everything to you: your best friend; your counsellor; your drinking partner; the one you laugh with; the one you cry with; the one you can sit in silence with and still know exactly what they’re thinking; the first person you think of every morning and the last one you think of every night. When you meet that person, you’ll recognise them, and they will recognise you. And when that recognition hits you, for fuck’s sake grab hold of each other and never let go. That kind of love doesn’t come along too often, and when it does, you owe it to yourself not to let it pass you by.
So many people ask me whether Mummy and I will split up because I’m gay, but I can honestly say that the thought has never entered my head. All too many people still see sexuality as a simple binary choice, but that’s bollocks. The love we share transcends my sexuality, and I feel sorry for the people who don’t get that. Your presence in our lives has served only to strengthen that bond, and as I watch you grow into a person who embodies everything that I adore about your mother, I feel incredibly fortunate to share my life with the two of you. It was always a wonderful feeling knowing that I had my best friend beside me as I faced whatever shit life had to throw at me, but it’s so much better knowing that I now have not one, but two best friends in my corner.
I guess that’s it for now. I hope it wasn’t too much to take in or too arduous to get through. Maybe I’ll do this again one day when I have more I need to say. Until then, remember that you have my undying love, respect and admiration. None of which means I won’t still tell you when you’re behaving like a little twat. 😘
With all my love,