I have been doubly blessed to have two Dads. A Dad who gave me life, my ‘real Dad’, and a Dad who raised me from the age of two, my ‘step Dad’. When I was a child, the divorced family seemed to be a little rarer than is appears to be now. As a result, I regularly managed to confuse friends and others with any mention of ‘this dad’ and ‘that dad’!
I took it all in my stride, as you do when you’re in a situation that is ‘all you’ve ever known’. Yet, it sure caused some complexities that have taken me years to work out!
I choose to count my blessings. I had two Dads I loved immensely. I had two Dads I could learn from. Being both intelligent and highly capable men, yet vastly different in personality, I learned different lessons from each. And I drew my qualities and way of approaching life from each.
Today, I am doubly mourning.
Nine years ago, almost to the day, I lost my step Dad to an illness that took him before his time. As the father who raised me, who taught me resilience and who gave me away on my wedding day, I was shattered. As, of course, anyone who has lost their father would be.
Three days ago, I lost my real Dad. The father who gave me my fair skin, my red hair, my wonder for the world and my capacity to feel deeply is now gone from the physical world. Again, the feeling of loss is great. Again, I feel shattered.
Yet, the sense of enrichment and blessings in my life is far greater. Despite the confusion and complexities experienced as a child growing up between two families, and the wounds left to be dealt with, I cherish having been blessed with two Dads.
Whilst feeling doubly sorrowful in this moment, I am thankful that I have had so much to love and feel the loss of. Love isn’t a finite resource. I didn’t halve an ‘allocated’ amount of love available for one father – I doubled and expanded my capacity to love and cherish two fathers.
Both of my Dads were highly intelligent and capable men. Both were trained pilots, my ‘real’ Dad being a pilot for much of his working life. Both had incredible brains, my ‘step’ Dad a professional engineer for his profession. Both deep thinkers and smart with words. Originally friends, in the early days, I believe!
Yet the similarities end when I consider their personalities and management of their emotional sides.
My ‘step’ Dad was raised to be very ‘proper’ and self-controlled. He was not one to show outward displays of emotion. He wasn’t cold, by any means (he used warmth in his voice and eyes!) but he was not cuddly! In 20 years of being raised by my ‘step’ Dad, I never heard him raise his voice in anger. Anger was also done with voice and eyes! So proper was he that he took measures to ensure his and my relationship as step-father and step-daughter could never be scrutinised. Of course, I didn’t become aware of this until I was a grown woman. He was sent to a highly traditional boarding school at the age of 12, so my ‘step’ Dad knew how to toughen up and move on. My Mum and I were involved in a fatal car accident when I was 11 years old. Some short time later, with my ‘step’ Dad driving, we took the route that would go past the accident site. At my anguished protest not to go that way, my ‘step’ Dad replied “If you fall down the stairs, do you never use those stairs again?” Never a more self-controlled and ‘carefully thought out’ person have I known. I grew up tough, insular, self-sufficient and slightly prickly.
My ‘real’ Dad, by contrast, was a bundle of emotion. This Dad thrived on creativity, wonder about the world and joy in simple things, like his cat and the cows that once broke down the back fence and looked in his bedroom window as he awoke. Stories! Dad could tell such stories with such aplomb and creativity. He could sketch and build model ships and was into photography and building things. Some of my happiest memories of my ‘real’ Dad, when I was a little girl, was him playing his guitar and singing “When I’m 64” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”.
Along with such creativity and outward expressions of love, cuddles and exuberance was my ‘real’ Dad’s deeply emotional side. Troubles easily traced to childhood traumas inflicted by a Germanic father (in his defence, also a product of a harsh early childhood) and health issues resulting from aircraft accidents, my ‘real’ Dad battled demons for much of his later life.
As a younger woman I did not understand my ‘step’ Dad’s stoic approach to emotions. “Sorrow is a form of self-pity” he would say! In fact, I’m not sure I even knew we were allowed to have emotions until the age of about 45, when I met my Coach, Paul Blackburn! Equally, I could not fathom my ‘real’ Dad’s claim of “I’ve lost everything” when both myself and my half brother and sister all doted on him. I couldn’t understand his lack of perspective.
Since becoming a student myself of emotional healing, human behaviour and mindfulness, I see a deep and different insight into both my Dads.
It would be all too easy to make the observation that my ‘step’ Dad was too unemotional and my ‘real’ Dad was too emotional. With greater mindfulness, empathy and consideration, I can deduce that they were both a product of their early life experiences, conditioning and environments. I am grateful to have had both extreme insights. I am grateful to now be at an age and stage in life to have the maturity, experience and interest in what makes people tick to be able to apply this insight to my interaction with others. I am pleased to be empathic, emotionally intelligent and a now lifelong student of mindfulness. These are life lessons that have, at least in part, led me to my calling as a coach and mentor to others.
Those who know someone raised as an only child to have fierce independence, to be a little more sensitive, sometimes wise beyond their years, happy in their own company and somewhat a loner – and often with a drive to be a high achiever – may recognise some of those characteristics in me.
I did not have the benefit of growing alongside siblings who would likely have helped me ‘round out’ some of those characteristics!
Yet, I was incredibly blessed to have four siblings. My ‘real’ Dad’s children after he remarried – my half brother and sister – a handful of years younger than me, and a pesky nuisance to me when we were children. My ‘step’ Dad’s children from his marriage before marriage to my mother – my step-brother and sister – a handful of years older than me, to whom I was a pesky nuisance!
I was raised an only child by my mother and ‘step’ Dad from the age of two.
So, I was part of both families, but never closely knitted with or bonded very closely with either in my younger years. Always the outsider, the loner, I became very independent and happy to take off to the other side of the country and the world when I became self-sufficient.
It is interesting to me, then, that as a middle-aged woman, with us all now in our ‘middle age’ years, I have now developed a terrific relationship with each of my siblings. Certainly, from my point of view I have developed a more mature (at last!) appreciation of people and their similarities and differences. And, by all indications, all siblings seem appreciative of my existence and that of my husband and children, and we enjoy semi-regular catch ups as time and distance allows.
Because, by way of my environment and conditioning as a child, acceptance and delight in diversity was not the order of the day. I grew up to be quite judgemental and distanced myself from friends and family for too many years. A self-protection mechanism in many ways, I daresay. Perhaps others would understand and relate?
One of my greatest delights in life is to have now grown to appreciate people and their differences. To develop the emotional intelligence to appreciate the interconnectedness of the human race requires setting aside previously accepted paradigms. To train oneself to adopt a growth mindset – where once it was significantly more fixed – required some considerable effort and self-examination.
Yet, it’s possible. And it’s worth it.
How rich and diversified is my experience of family from being a part of two different ones? Double the personalities to observe, double the connections to make. In acceptance, we find love and peace and appreciation within. In learning to ‘know thyself’, a life we were truly born to live is created. Our past does not define who we are or commit us to a future we didn’t choose.
My ‘mini-autobiography’ will be of little interest to most. But I hope the messages of mindfulness extracted from experiences of complexity and challenges will prompt thought in all who care to read this piece. We all were born perfect little babies, upon which experiences were thrust. As we grow and mature, we can take the beauty and love, as well as the tricky bits, from our childhood and create the beautiful recipe that we wish to become. It requires looking outside ourselves as well as within.
Releasing old ghosts and being at peace with our past, then creating the future we want, takes focus. A future that can be uplifting, hopeful, fulfilling, happy and exciting is within reach.
Reach out if you’d like a hand with creating your ideal future.