This is the first blog after the milestone 50 that I reached last week and to be honest I wasn’t really that sure if I was going to write another one.
But today is a rather special day.
When I started writing these blogs 18 months ago, Tiddles was 14. I was writing about the chunky, cuddly, shouty teenager, whose voice was breaking and for whose boyhood I grieved as he grew bigger.
Today, October 22nd 2014, is Tiddles 16th birthday. Another milestone and another sign of all of our mortality. The little blonde baby has gone, replaced now by the slimline, ever-growing, spotty youth with the voice of a young Hannam. And the hair! His legs are so covered in dark hair it looks like he’s auditioning for the part of a Faun in The Chronicles of Narnia…
But whilst I will be sad as I look at old pictures of my beautiful boy, and whilst I will also be scared of what’s to come in his life, I will also marvel at the little things that he can do.
For instance…TCMH has been unwell this week, so Tiddles keeps going to her and giving her imaginary medicine, feeling her forehead, rubbing her stomach and saying, ‘all better now…’. He’s capable of making himself something to eat, as long as it’s a marmite sandwich and a peeled carrot – which he peels himself.
I could go on, but the birthday boy is awake and for Tiddles, it’s all about the presents. Cards are to be opened and put aside for mummy and daddy to read. Presents are a-waiting! Unless it’s clothes…cos they’re boring.
So, I’ll relate this story which happened last week.
It was TCMH’s birthday and with her money she had ordered an old Bakelite style phone, which she had always wanted. It turned up and I connected it, and duly rung it for her to answer. Then we showed it to Tiddles and I rung it for him to answer. He picked it up and he quoted some lines from ‘Joe 90′ before putting the receiver down again.
TCMH came back into the living room and we sat watching some TV, listening to Tiddles talking on the phone, this time quoting lines from ‘Trumpton’ – he does love his classic childrens TV shows. Then the phone rang, for real this time. TCMH went and answered it and I could hear her saying,
‘Yes, I’m very sorry about that, it’s my son. He’s autistic. No, I do apologise, we’ll certainly try, thank you.’
She came back in.
‘That was the police…Luke dialled 999 when he was talking to Trumpton Fire Station…’ Before she could say anymore, the phone rang again. TCMH answered it.
‘It’s for you,’ she said, ‘it’s Essex Police again…’
‘Is that Mr Hannam? We’re just checking everything is alright as we have had a couple of calls from your number which only lasted a few seconds…’
‘Yes, I’m very sorry about that, it was my son whose autistic. He was pretending to talk to…it doesn’t matter. I do apologise…’
Happy Birthday Luke Hannam, with love from your Dad.
When I started writing these, it was to document the ever growing distance between us. It was also a way of telling you things that you would never know, never care about, or even ever give a thought to. They were my feelings and thoughts about us, me and you. Father and son. Dad and boy. A love letter that spanned 50 blogs, thousands of words and 18 months. Has it made a difference to us?
Not in the slightest. It could be that its because you will never read these, know the feelings I have for you, or my frustrations not on a daily basis by a minute by minute basis. From the first time I see you awake in the morning, to when I eventually go to bed, my anger at what fate or life or the universe, God or whoever the hell is calling the shots has dealt me is suffocated by my dealing with the fact that one of my beloved sons really doesn’t like me or even want me around. So much so that he would rather punch me and face the consequences of his actions than try and accept me for who I am…which is your dad. And it hurts Tiddles, it really does, physically and mentally.
The other day, you were so upset about something or maybe you were in pain, that you were screaming. And you were manic, frantic almost. You ran the length of the living and slapped the conservatory windows so hard, we thought you were going to break them. You then ran back, screaming and launched yourself at me, ramming your knee into my stomach/hip. That was one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt from you, but I held onto you and let you scream and cry safely, without the risk of hurting yourself.
That’s just what I do for you. I try to protect you, as I try to protect everybody I love. Most people know this, but you…well you couldn’t care less.
But that’s not a problem. There are some things between us that will just never be, but I wonder – and not for the first time – what would happen if you could talk to me, even just once? Would you know?
“Why do you always seem so sad?”
“Sad? Do I? Well…I don’t know really. It’s probably because I was tasked to do a particular job and I haven’t been able to do it properly.”
“What was that?”
“Look after you, be your dad.”
“Is there something about me that you don’t like?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“Cos I don’t know the answer…the best I can come up with is that when I see you there is something about you that seems to, I don’t know, anger me. I don’t seem to like you talking to me. Why do you keep talking to me?”
“Because you’re my son and I love you. What am I supposed to do, just ignore you? I’d hate that!”
“Have you ever considered that I might love that?”
“No. Would you?”
“I can’t answer that. Have you tried it?”
“I hated it…but you didn’t seem to mind…”
“There you go…”
“But we don’t have a lot going on between us anymore! If I just stopped talking to you, what would we have left?”
“What do we have now?”
“Listen, I’m just trying to be your dad. I hate the fact that you can’t bear to be in the same room as me sometimes, but I deal with it. I deal with you hitting me…why do you do that, by the way?”
“I can’t answer that. I just do.”
“You don’t seem to know much about this do you?”
“This is your imaginary conversation, not mine…”
“Ok. Well, I’m not going to stop loving you. Ever. I’m going to take care of you for as long as possible, whether you like it or not.”
“I know…gotta go now.”
“Back to Narnia.”
“Do you have to? Please stay a bit longer?”
“I don’t want to. But I’ll come back again.”
“I’ll be waiting for you.”
“I know. Bye Dad.”
“See you soon, Luke. I love you.”
See you soon, Tiddles.
We went to the pictures the other day, Tiddles and I.
It was meant to be TCMH taking him, but due to a bout of Tonsilitis and my football match being cancelled, it ended up with me taking him. Tiddles was quite excited about seeing the new Thomas the Tank Engine film, ‘Tale of the Brave’ or whatever cash-in the owners of TTTE had devised to appeal to the younger members of the public, so before he had a chance to realise that it was me taking him, I got him into the car and off we drove to the cinema.
We got there, sat down and then the trailers started and one came up for the new Paddington Bear live action movie. I turned to Tiddles, who was watching the screen quite attentively, and said to him,
“Paddington…” He turned and looked at me with those beautiful young/old eyes, almost quizically. I pointed back to the screen.
“Paddington Bear…” I said. Tiddles looked back to the screen and then back to me and then said,
I haven’t mentioned any songs in the last few blogs, something that I intend to rectify today by using the lyrics to two songs in this post – three actually. These songs are all linked in with this post in that I realised the other day that, as a dad, I will never be able to dispense fatherly advice to Tiddles, apart from ‘don’t jump on the sofa’ and ‘put your trousers on’. I’ll never be able to dish out my own brand of genuine, heartfelt, homespun frontier gibberish to him. It’s strange because having done the recent dates for the play (more dates soon!), one phrase has constantly been used which emerged from the production and it’s become more of a motto, almost a creed to live by. I have used it indirectly in many of these blogs and the meaning behind it is clear, because it’s something I’ve always done, even when I didn’t actually realise I was doing it.
‘Never Give Up.’
I would credit Dr D with this, because I think it was he that I remember using it in one of his blogs about LWL, although it was also used in a couple of the reviews and it’s sort of stuck with me. You know what they say, you don’t notice something until you notice it and then you see/hear it all the time. But as well as being a love letter to my beautiful boy, these posts have been something that I can put down in words, more for me than anybody else, about my intentions. And the main intention of course is and always has been, ‘Never Give Up’.
And it’s strange how coincidence happens. With the recent comeback of Kate Bush, there’s been a few programmes on her life and work and so of course, I’ve heard her duet ‘Don’t Give Up’ with Peter Gabriel several times in the past few weeks and of course, it’s brilliant. It always struck a chord with me from even before Tiddles was born. Now however, it’s taken on a new meaning…
Don’t give up,
You’re not beaten yet…
No, I’m not beaten yet. I may be bruised and sore. I may be down for the count sometimes – and lately it seems, Tiddles has been eager to make sure I STAY down – but I’m not beaten. An old football manager of mine, when asked why he picked me ahead of another, better goalkeeper for a cup final, remarked,
“He doesn’t know when he’s beaten.” We won by the way…
The second song I was going to re-write from Tiddles’ point of view, trying to put into words what he sees. I still might, but in the meantime, I’ll just go with the chorus. No matter what, Tiddles. I’ve said this on many occasions and it still holds true.
I’ll stand by you,
I’ll stand by you,
Won’t let nobody hurt you,
I’ll stand by you
You may hide from me, kick me, slap me, shout at me, but you’ll never get rid of me. I’m your protector and you are the Son of Superman. This leads me nicely into the last song. The singer of this song died recently and one of his most famous songs was from a TV show that I never watched, but I loved the theme and again, the lyrics have become more of a promise to Tiddles in these past few years. More so, as we move ever closer to his 16th birthday in October.
(I’ll be ready) I’ll be ready
(Whenever you fear) oh don’t you fear
(I’ll be ready)
Forever and always, I’m always here
This post is longer than I anticipated. It goes like that sometimes. As I’ve said before, I write off-the-cuff. These aren’t planned, I write what I am feeling and thinking about in a particular moment and in this particular moment I was thinking about how limited my role as a father to Tiddles really is and will continue to be as he gets older. But I saw an interview in a paper with a theatre director, who gave three rules of how she lives her life, one of which was ‘Live hard, but if people ask, never say that you are tired.’
With that in mind, I have come up with the Hannam family motto, for my family in any case. I think this will look good on a t-shirt as well, but for now I’ll just use it to remind myself that sometimes, life does kick you in the knackers. But then to enjoy the moments when the pain subsides, even for a brief moment. Even if it is your beautiful, autistic boy telling YOU to shhhhh in the cinema…
Live Hard. Die Hard. Never Give Up.
There’s a part of me that wishes that I really didn’t care about you Tiddles, for all the grief that you cause me with your constant rejection. A part of me that wishes that I could distance myself from you and just let you get on with your life and I could get on with mine. Just not have to worry about you, care about you or even think about you. You go your own way so that I could take the path of least resistance.
But I can’t. I do care and it hurts me to the core when you do push me away, physically or verbally.
I don’t like it, in fact I absolutely hate it, but what choice do I have? As I wrote about last time, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that Tiddles and I went away for a week, just the two of us together. The realisation that neither TCMH or The Eldest Child were going to accompany us was a bit of a shock to the silverback and I feared the worse to be honest. But we went anyway and I was determined to show him that we could have a good time together, like we used to when he was a boy.
So. How was the holiday with Tiddles I hear none of you asking?
Well, let’s see.
We went on the Sunday, and came back on the Friday – 6 days. Weather was generally lovely, wish you were here, etc, etc…
It took him 5 days to accept that it was just me and him and then finally on the Thursday before we came home, he actually sat with me, cuddling me, laying against me in a way that he hadn’t done for ages. I think we must’ve sat together for about an hour, me reading and Tiddles watching his DVD. We hardly spoke, but it didn’t matter. I sat stroking his hair, his face, feeling his once baby soft skin now rougher with the result of puberty and general manliness developing. I couldn’t feel sad, despite more evidence of losing the little boy to adulthood. Instead I felt calm, serene even. It was a beautiful moment, one well worth waiting 5 days for and it washed away the previous days of shouting, rejection, some hitting and generally being made to feel like the enemy. And it was for that hour alone, that I would say that the holiday was a success. We’d had a lovely time. We’d gone swimming, gone to the beach, the pier and we’d even met up with Stage Son for a couple of hours. And then the acceptance of me, even if only for an hour.
Well worth it.
After about an hour however, he did turn to me and say,
“When does Mummy come back?”
The following day we returned home, via the local steam train heritage museum and whilst we waited for the train on the platform, we played a game of ‘I-Spy’. After a couple of successful rounds where he guessed and then I guessed, it was my turn again.
“I-spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘B’.” I said.
“Buffet Car?” came the reply. There wasn’t one around, but even so…
“No. Good guess though…” I replied.
“Bus?” Again, no bus could be seen, but it began with a B.
“No. Have another guess.” I said. Silence.
“Something beginning with ‘B’…” I repeated. More silence.
“Come on, something beginning with ‘B’.” I said once more, to which came the muttered reply,
In the end we aborted the train visit as Tiddles wanted to get home, where normal service again has been resumed. But I still can cling to the memory that just for a while, he did return from Narnia, and that he did recognise me as his dad. After all, that’s what I want isn’t it, just to be his dad? As he gets older, I’m going to be walking along holding the hand of a young man, possibly drawing comments from the less enlightened Neanderthals that have been allowed to breed, but Tiddles my son, I will not care, because that’s what you are. My son. I’ll always love you and I’ll always be proud of you, no matter what or how you may think of me or react to me. You’ll never read these blogs, so I just hope that deep down, you know that this is true. I want to be your dad, because I do care about you and I am reminded of two quotes which I think sum this up very well.
“To be or not to be. That is the question…”
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
If I’d had my way, that would’ve been Tiddles full name – Luke Skywalker Hannam. Unfortunately, I was outvoted by TCMH. Well, I say outvoted, she threatened physical violence and I voted against that, so we ended up giving The Eldest Child the responsibility of giving his brother his middle name – James. Still think Skywalker would’ve been cooler, though.
But it reminds me of a scene towards the end of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (my favourite Star Wars film), when an ill prepared Luke Skywalker goes up against Darth Vader. Injured, bruised and battered, Luke attempts to battle Vader, who instead uses the force to move objects to attack Luke. As Luke tries to deflect one object, another hits him from behind, and as the exhausted Luke slowly reacts, another hits him from another angle.
A bit like being a dad to Tiddles.
We went out yesterday, as a family to a famous Swedish home furnishing store. Now reading that back, it would’ve been a lot quicker if I’d just typed IKEA, but they don’t advertise my stuff, so…anyway, whilst we were there, Tiddles must’ve punched, slapped and poked me in the stomach almost a dozen times. Each time I just managed to tense my muscles, but always just a millisecond too late. Just like Skywalker.
It really does beggar belief sometimes as to how he is with me. Last week, me, Tiddles and The Eldest Child went away to Warwickshire to a Horse Boy Therapy camp. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it because I don’t like horses and I didn’t know how Tiddles would be with me. It was actually quite lovely. He didn’t shout at me, or tell me to go away once over the three days. He was cuddly and dare I say it, affectionate. It really was like having him on an extended trip from Narnia and it was wonderful. I would say,
‘Good morning, Luke.’ And he would reply,
Sometimes, just sometimes, he’s here.
It was business as usual when we returned home, however. Within a hour in actual fact. And by the next day, he was back to shouting and pushing me away. The visit was over and he’d returned to Narnia, where I was an unwelcome intruder and had to be treated as such. I don’t think I’m a bad dad to him, but there is just something about me that he doesn’t like and I can’t find out what it is.
Things got worse when he discovered that it wasn’t going to be ‘Mummy, Daddy, Jake and Luke’ going on holiday this week as he thought and that it was just going to be ‘Daddy and Luke’. He shouted and screamed and didn’t like that particular revelation and even this morning I could hear him shouting ‘NO!’ as TCMH was upstairs packing for him.
We shall see.
We’re here now and he’s already shouted at me a couple of times. It could be a long week…
But then again, he could surprise me. I don’t know, I really don’t and sometimes it kills me to think that he just doesn’t like me. Maybe it was having The Eldest Child with us last week that acted as a kind of foil for him that he was able to deal with me being there. It saddens me to think that we may have a crap holiday merely because of my presence, but then I could be overthinking things again.
We shall indeed see.
In the past few months, I have been called by various friends and relatives, ‘brave’, ‘courageous’ and ‘amazing’. I am none of these. Bravery is something that happens when a person has run out of options and has to face things head on. I have options, choices. Even now, I still have the choice to turn away. That’s not bravery. I don’t feel courageous. If anything I feel a fraud, a paper parent to a beautiful boy who doesn’t accept me as a real dad to him. I’m here through a combination of luck and choices, as anybody is. But I choose to stay with him, as if there was a chance he may change his thinking about me. If he doesn’t, then so be it. I’d rather be a paper parent to Luke Skywalker Hannam than not be a parent at all.
And the next time he tells me to go away, then I’m going to reply, in my best Vader voice,
No Luke. I AM your Father!
Tiddles really doesn’t like me! How do I know it’s official? Because TCMH has finally noticed it. For a while, she’s been trying to justify his actions…
“It’s the way you speak to him…”
“It’s because he knows he can get away with it with you…”
“He does love you, he says that to me…”
“It’s the way you say hello to him…” (I love that one).
To show how much I listen to her, even though she thinks that I don’t, I have actually changed the way that I say hello to Tiddles. It’s not many fathers that can say they’re surprised by the results and nor can I.
If anything, it’s actually gotten worse over the past few months. I can’t explain it. It seems to be the thing now that he punches me in the stomach, or he’ll kick me, or smack me every time that he sees me and that can even be when I walk from one room to another. The other week, he punched me in the nose – no reason, he just did it. Makes your eyes water doesn’t it?
He’s nearly 16. He’s nearly as tall as me, and at his last Epilepsy assessment, he’d lost nearly a stone in weight. He looks fantastic compared to the chunky monkey he was just over a year ago. But of course with that comes the fact that we’re both getting older and in all likelihood, he will get stronger whilst I will get weaker. I’m taking all the necessary steps to be his protector for many years to come, but as anybody will tell you, it can be bloody hard sometimes to keep going and I’m wondering at times, why the effing hell do I bother?
Just who is it that I’m doing it for? And having thought about it all, I think it’s for everybody.
I want to be the cool dad to The Eldest Child, the one he won’t be embarrassed by.
I want to be the extraordinary husband to TCMH, the one who doesn’t look like the stereotypical late 40-something male.
I want to be the good brother, cousin and friend, the one who people enjoy being with.
And coupled with all of that, I want to be Tiddles’ dad. But what does that mean, exactly?
It’s all of the above, I guess. There is a train of thought that goes something like, the harder you try and pull something to you, the easier it slips away from you. Maybe I’m trying too hard with Tiddles? I’ve tried the cool route, where I’ve barely said anything to him. He actually liked that, but I couldn’t stand it. I’ve tried to break his repetitive responses by speaking differently to him, but all that did was make him more creative in his negative replies. I’ve tried many different things, but maybe I shouldn’t try anything at all?
Would that make me less of a father?
To be honest, I think that it would, because although he doesn’t enjoy my company and really doesn’t care about me being his dad, it matters to me. In my mind I need him to know that he is loved by me and that I’ll always be there to protect him, no matter what and no matter how old I get or how weak I end up. I will continue to show him, whether he likes it or not and I’ll keep showing him and telling him until that day comes when I can’t do so any more, because I’m his dad. I am always going to be there for you Tiddles.
So deal with it, son…
It’s been a while…
With everything else that has been going on with bringing ‘Living with Luke – The Play’ to life, I realised that the very thing that had brought it into existence in the first place had been hibernating. Let me remedy that.
TCMH went out the other day to help celebrate a friends birthday. (I say a friend, but Mr Freeze, as we shall henceforth know him as the temperature always seems to drop when he is in the room, makes Leonard Cohen look like a kids entertainer, but that’s just between us.) Anyhow, Tiddles was asleep when she went and so we didn’t get the usual “come back mummy!” or “You stay there!” or “go away daddy…!”
I thought no more of it, only because I had forgotten about it more than anything else.
A little while later, I could hear from upstairs,
“Where’s my mummy?”
And then later still,
“When does mummy come back?”
As I said, I had almost forgotten this, which was ironic in a way because one of the lines that I have been saying all of last week during the play, which had itself come from an earlier blog was,
“You cry when your mummy goes out but you barely acknowledge my exits. You only sit with me when you want something and never for just a cuddle…”
I suppose because I had been the one going out each night, he had gotten used to/was quite happy about me not being there. It was fine though, sort of…or it was until he came down the stairs holding TCMH’s ID badge with her picture on it, held it up to me and pointed to her face.
“When does mummy come back?” he said. I didn’t think it was a question, but it’s always difficult to tell. I laughed because of the situation but in hindsight, it was a bit sad.
And I wondered if this is my fault somehow and not for the first time.
Doing the play in Colchester last week made me confront the words I myself had written. When I write the blogs, they are all stream of consciousness, my thoughts and feelings written down in one short space of time, with very little editing. So when I had to actually learn the words I had put down, it made me stop and think about them in a whole new light. And it was hard, because I had to re-live those feelings over and over again and I began to question why Tiddles was like this with me? What had I done that had caused him to seemingly hate his dad?
And the answer was, that I had absolutely no idea. It was a mystery then as it is now and I grope around in the dark, searching for his hand to pull me back to the light. But either I keep missing it or maybe, it’s just not there. But I have to keep searching for it, in the hope that possibly I’ll get lucky one day and find it. If I do, I’ll never let it go…
TCMH said to me the other day,
“I’m glad that you’re Tiddles’ dad. I’m glad you’re The Eldest Child’s dad too, obviously, but I am glad that you are Tiddles’ dad…”
I am not glad that I am Tiddles’ dad however. But that isn’t as harsh as it may first seem.
Because despite all the pain and the heartache and the distance between us emotionally, the shouting, the crying, the constant rejection…
I’m glad that he is my son.