"'Time not spent by a parent with one's children can never amount to more than opportunity lost.' William Forde: November 8th, 2015.
My father, being the parent of seven children, rarely worked fewer hours than his employers would give him and it was common for him to work every Saturday morning overtime and forgo his annual summer leave and work through so that my mother and the rest of us could have a week's holiday in a caravan at Cayton Bay, Scarborough. Only once can I recall dad coming on holiday to Scarborough with us. It would be the only time he paddled in the sea with me, the one time I can recall him holding my hand on the beach.
While I was never in doubt that my father loved me, unlike my mother who was the most expressive person I ever knew, it was not in dad's nature to say the words his heart felt. His upbringing had been so strict that it left a hardness within him that could never be broken through.
When I became a father myself, I was determined to miss no opportunity in my children's development. I was at their birth, I changed them, fed them, dressed them and played with them every day. Not once did they ever go to sleep without me either reading or telling them a story.When they woke up in the middle of the night, it was me who tended to their needs. I took them to school on their first day and I never failed to take time off work to attend a sports day. We went for walks at weekend, I had them work alongside me as I improved the house we lived in, we played games all week long and we often went on holiday and days out to the seaside at every opportunity.
For reasons that I knew not then, but have since come to understand was 'post natal depression' (a condition not then medically recognised and known as 'Baby blues'), after giving birth to each child, my first wife essentially was unable to interact with them. Over the next four years, I essentially became the children's mum and dad. Despite this state of affairs, I loved being a parent so much that I got on and did what had to be done and suppressed a lot of my feelings in the process; convincing myself that I was happy and that everything would eventually work out.
When my life was at its happiest with the children, my wife decided she wanted a divorce and though I resisted for a number of years, believing her to be ill, eventually I had no choice but to leave her before she harmed herself. We had been very fortunate to have bought a three bedroomed modern house at the start of our marriage with virtually no mortgage and knowing she earned more than I did in her job as a teacher, an agreement was struck between us whereby I signed over the house to her and she would allow me custody of both children. I even planned to give up my employment as a Probation Officer for a few years and become a house dad until both children reached school age.
Two weeks after leaving the matrimonial home, my ex wife reneged on our agreement and refused me both custody of and access to either child. The divorce was highly acrimonious and expensive and though I tried to protect the children throughout it, I was unable to. Having been so heavily involved in my sons' lives, to find myself deprived of all access to them, including visits, letters or phone calls for over two years (despite orders of the court to the contrary) was the saddest period of my life. The only way that I could see my children was if I was prepared to risk her being committed to prison for repeatedly failing to honour the court access order. There was simply no way that I could be responsible for seeing the children's mother behind bars, even for a few days, especially as she was at long last trying her best to be a mother to them in my absence from the scene. There wasn't a night during that two years of nil contact with my children when I did not cry myself to sleep.
I must say here, in the event that the reader is ascribing blame to my then wife, that though she seemed to be behaving like an unreasonable and unfeeling person at the time, she was undoubtedly ill in a way that I could not understand and was not therefore responsible for her actions.
In my second marriage I had two children and spent as much time with them as I possibly could. The access to the two children of my first marriage eventually started after the children to my second marriage were born. Though I did not know it at the time, but becoming a children's writer and visiting over 2,000 Yorkshire schools in later years to read to assemblies of children was my unconscious way of filling the emotional void I'd had experienced inside me for many years previously. Throughout this difficult period of not being able to have contact with my sons, I was sustained by the memory of those opportunities I took to be with them throughout the first five years of their lives.
They do say that all things happen for a reason and that some good comes out of bad situations. I have to admit that after separating and divorcing my wife, and no longer being there to act as the children's mother in their lives, essentially forced her to start functioning as a mum and also provided her with the opportunity of behaving like a mum. I cannot today defend what she did, but can now understand some of the reasons why. I also learned in later years that being the reasonable person in a relationship with a highly unreasonably spouse, paradoxically often has the effect of making their response more unreasonable, not less!
When I was a child, I also found it difficult to know what was going on inside my father's head as he rarely expressed his feelings like mum freely did. It was only in adult years that I learned that the reason he was absent from our home a lot during the week was that he had seven children to provide for and when he wasn't working all the hours he could get, he was in bed sleeping and resting his tired body before facing the physical demands of the next day's work. Sunday however was 'family day' and after attending church, the family would be taken to Brighouse Park to play and listen to the brass band.
My dad has been dead twenty three years now and whenever I think of him today, it is not toiling in the foundry or hacking out coal as he crawled in the dark pit tunnel on his stomach. Instead, I see him walking hand in hand with mum across the fields that led to Brighouse Park every Sunday with his children in tow; I see him playing football for Ireland which he did in his twenties when I was an infant. My favourite memory however, is that I see him walking hand in hand with me along the beach at Cayton Bay, Scarborough during that summer of 1952; the only holiday off work I ever knew him take during my childhood years." William Forde: November 8th, 2015.