These are a few news stories which have caught my eye this week. But the REAL news, the most important event of the week has to be something much closer to home.
My son has turned sixteen. That's a picture of us up there, sometime around the summer of 2007 - I'm the one on the right, just in case you wondered if I had sired a giant.
Not much more than a year after the picture above was taken, my then wife and I separated, and my children's lives changed for ever. I very clearly - in fact horribly clearly - recall sitting the kids down to tell them what was happening. A lot has changed since then; their mum has a new partner, I have a different wife, and the kids now shuttle between houses each week as we share custody of them 50/50. They also have a new step-brother (he's almost nineteen and moved out a short time ago) to share family life with. Lots to deal with. It's been a tumultuous few years for the children but they have coped magnificently, and now my first born child has reached one of those milestone ages.
Sixteen; Hell's Teeth!
Tomorrow I will take him to take his driving licence theory test and he will be able to start learning to drive (under my watchful eyes). It will be a momentous moment for us both. I hope that my teaching him to drive will be something through which we can strengthen and cement our invisible ties to one another.
During the last year we have begun to narrow the void which had grown between us as he travels the road from boyhood to manhood. I have deliberately - and painfully - allowed the void to widen on his side; not because I wished it, but because I feel that it is a necessary part of his growth for him to feel non-dependent upon me at every step. I have shed tears of frustration and worry about his choices during the last eighteen months, but my conscience tells me that while I remain available to him, and while I interrupt his routine regularly to have him take stock of his life and his direction, his decisions are all well-informed and made in the face of me having given him all the information and guidance I can. Now, we are coming back towards one another again; with each new experience we seem to be enjoying one another's company more.
Lately I have taken a different approach, largely as a result of my own father's death almost exactly a year ago. Following the loss of that lovely, gentle yet somehow mysterious man, I have resolved - in a way that I rarely do - to allow my kids to learn who the person behind the name "Dad" really is. When the time comes for me to die, I want the kids to be able to have known WHO I was, simply because I believe that their lives will be a tiny bit richer for knowing that I was at different times; a fool, a conscientious parent, a loving and devoted husband, a desperately sad young man, a deleriously happy young man, a joker, an athlete, an expert, a person who made mistakes and survived those mistakes - and so many, many more.
There is so much to tell them, but the details can creep out a little at a time while I concentrate upon raising them in an atmosphere of unconditional love. I have written, and continue to write about my life experiences in books, blogs and short stories. Sometimes I kid myself that I'm going to make some money writing stories and telling the world about some of the things that have happened in my life, but most of all I write about me for them. Because I know so little about my own father's life, I can't help but try to tell my own story.
Stories from around the world assail us every day, whether they be sensational, political, moral or just interesting for a whole host of reasons. The story that matters most, however, is the story of each life. My life is probably quite average, but the idea of my kids understanding who I am and the story that brought me to the place at which they experience me, is extremely important. Having missed knowing who my father Tommy was (he remained simply 'dad' until the end) I genuinely feel that the story of ME is something that my kids deserve to know, if only to learn from my mistakes and my successes in equal measure. As a parent, perhaps this is the greatest thing I can give to them.
Now my son is sixteen and he is becoming a man. The important things becomes imperative as the big wide world beckons alluringly to him. He needs to know how I made a complete fool of myself so that he can do things differently (unless of course he likes the sound of the stupid stuff I did) or at least have the choice of avoiding the pitfalls I experienced. On the other hand he might choose to emulate me, but somehow I think he will have a more expansive life than I have had to date - certainly I wish that.
What's really important? Being real, being open and showing those I love who I really am. I'm still a work in progress of course, but giving of myself will allow my loved ones to reciprocate, and of course for us all to enjoy being with and of one another. Being real, being together.
Family - that's important.