Wednesday, 18 April 2012


I spent my childhood living in a war zone. Not literally, although until I was seven I lived in Rhodesia under Ian Smith's UDI government. The terrorists - sorry, freedom fighters - were never far from our thoughts or our doorstep. The war that did far more damage to me was waged between my parents, who hated one another with a passion that astonishes me to this day. I once asked my Dad why on earth he'd married Mum, given his obvious loathing of the very sight of her. 'Sex.' He said, loudly.

Dad was away most of the time, either on business or avoiding UK tax. I missed him desperately, viscerally and yearned for his return when he was absent. When he did come home I swear he was in a screaming row with my mother within an hour. It was always about money (he didn't give her enough; she was too profligate with what he gave her). I loved and still love my mother too and found it unbearably upsetting to witness the two central figures in my life at war. So I intervened, or tried to. I interposed my little eight-year old body between my enraged parents and begged them to stop.

So far as I recall, there was never any physical violence. Dad was a peaceful man, perhaps even a pacifist and Mum had better ways of hurting him than hitting him. But for me, they might as well have locked me in a cage and beaten me till I howled for all the joy I extracted from their parenting style.

It is fair to say that my childhood was miserable. The handful of happy memories that I have salvaged from my childhood are as tiny islands in an ocean of anguish. I could not wait to grow up - I yearned for freedom from the slavery of childhood - and it has been one of life's cruelest lessons that adulthood is even worse. Precisely because of my own miserable childhood, I did not want children of my own. My two children were both conceived unintentionally. One quickly realises, as a father, that the unconditional love that exists between a parent and a child is automatic. It requires no effort. So I did not have to decide to love my children. The feeling of their small, warm bodies clinging to mine in answer to some ancient primate need is enough to keep up bonded.

When Elsje, my daughter, was born, I was full of hopes, not only about how I wouldn't screw her up, but about how I'd help to raise her in a household full of fun, ideas, delicious food and love. She would spend her entire childhood in one house, a place she would forever think of as home.

Well, it wasn't to be. Elsje is seven and has had three addresses. Tonight she is spending her first night in her fourth home.  I cannot now recall whether I had lived at more than four addressed before I turned seven, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were true. Elsje and her brother, my son, Pieter are wildly excited about 'changing houses', for which they have Corinne to thank. In fact, Corinne is the rock to which their young lives are tethered and she deserves sole credit for the fact that they seem to be wonderfully well-adjusted, polite, friendly and ever-so-slightly mischievous young people.

I would have liked to give them the stable home that I craved when I was a child but they seem not to need it. In a sense, this was obviously going to be true. Providing them with solutions to my problems was never going to provide answers to theirs. In fairness to myself, I think this is not something most parents understand before it is too late. Or maybe that is special pleading from me.

What I mean to say is that I feel absolute anguish. I do not seem able to control the flow of events, except within a very limited purview, and I worry that my beloved children will end up as fucked-up as me, as a result of this failing. I have found a way of getting though the day, from the point where I emerge from a drug-induced coma, to the point where I sink into a drug-induced coma. But my children deserve better (or at least have done nothing to earn worse). Hey ho. Night night.

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