My song today is ‘Waiting in Vain’. This song was sung by Bob Marley, the Jamaican troubadour and reggae singer. Most of Robert Marley’s early music was recorded with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, who together with Marley were the most prominent members of the ‘Wailers’. In 1972, the Wailers had their first hit outside Jamaica when Johnny Nash covered their song ‘Stir it Up’, which became a UK hit. The 1973 album ‘Catch a Fire’ was released worldwide and sold well. It was followed by “Burnin’” which included the song ‘I Shot the Sherriff", of which a cover version by Eric Clapton became a hit in 1974. Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers in 1974. Bob Marley proceeded with ‘Bob Marley and the Wailers’ which included the ‘Wailer’s Band’ and the ‘I Threes’ backing singer group.
In 1975, Bob Marley had his first own hit outside Jamaica with ‘No Woman, No Cry’ from the ‘Live’ album. His subsequent albums, including ‘Rasta-man Vibration’, ‘Exodus’ ‘Kaya’, ‘Survival’ and the last album released during his lifetime, ‘Uprising’ were big international sellers.
In 1977 when this song was released, I was 35 years old and working as a Probation Officer in Huddersfield. I was the oldest of seven children born in an Irish Catholic family who had migrated to West Yorkshire when I was 4 years old. I always felt comfortable belonging to a large family. It is not therefore surprising that I wanted at least five children when I eventually married in 1968.
Statistics of the time showed that the average number of children born to each married couple in the late 60s and 70s was 2.4 children. During the 1960s, having large families were starting to be socially frowned upon by newly married couples and society at large, and for the most part, large families remained a Roman Catholic custom practised mostly by Irish people.
I courted my non-Catholic wife for three years before we married, and because of my desire to have a large Catholic family, we naturally spoke about having children, the size of family we wanted, and their religious and educational upbringing. For me, mutual agreement in advance to our marriage on these issues was important enough to be a ‘deal-breaker should we not be in complete agreement. I was wholly upfront and indicated that I wanted to be the father of five or six children, who I would naturally want to raise and educate as Catholics. My fiancée (who practised no religion), said she also wanted a large family and indicated that five children raised and educated as Roman Catholics was agreeable to her, providing she did not have to take them to church.
The upshot was that between the week prior to our marriage and the week after it, my wife totally changed her mind without any forewarning. Indeed, she used our honeymoon period to indicate that she did not want any children at all until we’d been married at least six or seven years, and then, she indicated that she wanted only a family of two children maximum. She added that while she did not mind them attending a Catholic Church, she would not agree to them being educated in a Catholic Primary School. These statements were in direct contradiction to what she had led me to understand and the Catholic priest who instructed us prior to our wedding. As a newly trained Primary School Infant Teacher, she said that a Catholic school education was strictly out as far as she was concerned.
This declaration by her so soon after our marriage hit me like a bomb. I felt like I had been tricked into marriage under false pretences. It was like a woman telling her boyfriend that she was pregnant to get him to put a wedding ring on her finger; only to discover after he had married her, that she never was!
While I had been out with many girlfriends before my marriage, I knew that at the time of my first marriage I was ready to settle down to married life and parenthood. I naturally wanted to be married to someone I loved, but I also wanted to be married to a woman who would be a good mother to our children. I acknowledge that I needed to be a dad as much as being a husband and that factor alone probably detracted me from some aspects of my role as an ideal husband.
For many years, I waited in vain to parent children, and sadly when they did come along, their presence paradoxically led to the inevitable breakup of our marriage. My wife found herself unable to display any natural mothering instincts to either of our two sons after she had given birth in the Dewsbury maternity ward as she suffered from post-natal depression. This was a condition which not much was known about at the time and which was usually referred to as the ‘baby blues’. One did not know at the time that post-natal depression was a form of mental breakdown which the mother was wholly unable to control. The upshot was that I would experience of a further five years of pain and unhappiness as I was obliged to become both mother and father to our two sons as my wife found every form of interaction with our children alien to perform.
Throughout this period, my wife pressed me constantly to agree to a divorce, which my Catholic upbringing was instinctively against. She indicated that the problem was not me but stated that she was never meant to be married or become a mother. Eventually, I felt obliged to concede to her demand for a divorce, and I also agreed to transfer of all marriageable assets including a three-bedroomed modern detached house (worth over £90,000 at the time) with less than £1000 mortgage remaining, to her sole ownership, in exchange of exercising custody and care and control over our two sons (children she had never been able to relate to since their birth). I had planned to give up my job as a Probation Officer and become a full-time house parent until they both started primary school.
Within weeks of signing over all of the marital assets and bank monies to my wife, she reneged on our custody agreement, and for the next two years, she behaved like the devil incarnate and prevented me from having access or any form of contact to our two sons for the following two years. This was despite Matrimonial Court Orders to the contrary granting me weekly access and committing her to prison were she to be found in default of her compliance with the court access order.
Indeed, for ten years after a divorce, I never sought, I waited in vain for reasonable access that the court had always granted to me to be exercised by the children’s mother. Between the ages of 5 years and 18 years, all access to our two children was frustrated by my ex-wife despite the court having placed a prison sentence for her to serve if denied to me. Throughout this whole decade, I was never allowed to see my children on access above the four-hour weekly limit, and only once after she had started courting another man were the children allowed to holiday with me.
During the first two years after our separation, when the children’s mother would not let me see, talk with on the phone, write to or even wave to in the playground of their school, I would cry myself to sleep nightly. I would have needed to apply to the court for that the prison sentence to be imposed if I was to compel her to comply with the court order, enabling me to see my children. She knew that I was not the type of man to do that to the children’s mother, however unreasonable she was behaving, and sheprobably incorporated that knowledge into her planned response.
Over the years since, I have come across so many people ‘waiting in vain’ for this or that.
I must stress to the reader that my need to be honest about current and past feelings holds greater sway with me today than any need to disclose or not disclose personal matters. I get no pleasure from ‘washing my dirty linen in public, but no longer do I fear the truth being known. I prefer to tell it as it was then and is now than to twist or suppress what was for the purpose of convenience or self-image.
I am greyer in hair today, balder in the scalp, and wiser in the head, longer in the tooth, and more mellow in my nature. I am also more knowledgeable and understanding of my ex-wife’s original inability to bond with the two children to our marriage during their early pre-five years. I am now 78 years old, and I am reconciled to living with three different body cancers (two of the cancers terminal) and which are guaranteed to shorten my natural life span remaining. I believe in self, family, friends, good neighbours, God, and in the power of love and prayer. I am and have always been positive in disposition, and since 2012, I have been happily married to my wonderful wife, Sheila. I try to deal directly and honestly in all my communications with others, and I do not intend to go around any corners by saying it other than it is or ever was. Neither am I afraid to say precisely what I mean or to mean exactly what I say!
That, my dear friends, is one of the few privileges of being a 78-year-old man who is living with two terminal cancers. There is little point in making it to this stage in one’s life unless one can truly be oneself and feel able to put up two fingers at the rest of the world if they consider me to be out of step with their conventional expectations. I am presently the fifth person on a relatively new drug trial at St. James’ Hospital in Leeds, and I tell you most sincerely, however little time I have left to live, I will live each day to the best of my ability. I am determined that not one second of my remaining time on this earth will ever witness me ‘waiting in vain’ for any person or unfulfilled purpose ever again. If any of you are wondering, “If you had your time all over again, Bill, would you have responded to your ex-wife any differently than what you did?” The simple answer is’ yes’! I would neither have been so generous, so accommodating of her needs, or so concerned whether she served a spell behind prison bars or not because of her legal defiance! I behaved properly in all respects, and it was me, the two children to our union, and my next partner, and our other three children, who paid the ultimate price for the wicked actions of one disgruntled divorcee!
As far as divorcing one’s partner goes, I would like to point out something which all well-intentioned family members, friends, and neighbours do not necessarily appreciate at the time of a marriage breakup. Far too often, following the ending of a couple’s marriage in divorce, it is commonly believed that the responsibility for the marriage breakup was probably down to the behaviour of both parties and ought not to be laid at the door of one of them primarily. A common misconception often made, (even by one’s nearest and dearest), wishing to be seen as occupying the impartial ground, is that ‘behavioural culpability’ and ‘spousal responsibility’ leading to marriage breakup probably lay with both marriage partners equally. How often have we heard the old chess nut “If you ask me, I would have to say that it was probably six of one and half a dozen of the other.” While that is no doubt the case in many instances, please accept from the horses’ mouth that a ratio of 11-1 instead of 50-50 is far more accurate and reflective of the truth when it comes to apportioning the blame for a specific marital breakdown and divorce between either person in a couple!
Love and peace