Family Matters

The thoughts of a husband, father, brother and son

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

Not A Therapy Generation

Two years ago, my father became victim to a bout of depression, the third of his life. This time it was even more serious than in the past. In the early stages it was so severe that he spent several weeks in hospital. He has gradually been recovering, but the progress has been slow, so very, very slow.

I asked my mum recently if the cognitive behavioural therapy that dad was having earlier this year had finished for good, or whether he might go back for some more. She said that it had finished, and repeated the view which she has expressed before: neither of them felt that it had been much help. I challenged this very mildly. My perception is that he has been at his best over the last year when he was in therapy, and that progress may have stalled once he stopped.

Mum simply responded by saying that they are not really part of a therapy generation.

There’s no doubt they have little faith in therapy. Their participation in the process was reluctant to say the least, showing about as much enthusiasm as the Small Boy Wonder is currently showing for his imminent Spanish GCSE exam. There seemed to be real (but unspoken) fear about what therapy might involve and where it might lead, with my mother showing utter incredulity when my dad was asked to write about his feelings (whatever next, for goodness sake), as part of his “homework.”  I feel dad only took part at all because somebody in authority told him he had to.

I find this attitude at least a little curious. It seems so completely contrary to what was plain to me – this unspeakable process was actually doing some good. There are also other examples of the benefits of therapy from elsewhere in the family. My brother has regular therapy, and speaks positively about it. It’s plain to me, and I assume to others, that my wife has got many good things out of the therapy she has been through as part of her training. My daughter saw a psychiatrist when she was gripped by an eating disorder, and although she was unenthusiastic about him and his methods (a twat, apparently), I have no doubt that she came out of the process far less affected by her condition than might have been the case.

I don’t in any way condemn my parents’ view. They are perfectly entitled to it, and as I understand it one of the prerequisites to any measure of success in therapy is a willingness to submit to the process. I just find it a little hard to understand. My father’s depression was treated, or at least fended off, when it occurred in the past by a combination of ECT and drugs. ECT has not been applied this time. The drugs haven’t completely worked. But this is where they continue to put their faith.

I remember when I studied Chaucer at A level learning about a Medieval debate over the difference between “proof” and “authority.” Authority was a scholarly view of the world that sought interpretation from approved texts. Proof relied on what you saw in front of you. Authority was viewed by some as over-riding proof, so that if (in a deliberately extreme example) enough classic texts said grass was red, then red it must be.

That may not be the analysis of a qualified Chaucerian scholar (it was so many years ago now that Chaucer may still have been classed as modern fiction), but I hope you see my point. My mum and dad put all their faith in doctors and drugs. In doing so, are they not relying on the authority of the medical solution rather than the proof of the therapeutic approach?

Nobody in my generation can really understand what it must have been like to have spent their formative years against the background of war. My mum’s dad was absent fighting Nazis in Africa and Italy for I think at least half of my mum’s first 10 years, during which the family suffered much hardship. Rationing didn’t come to an end until about 3 years after the end of the war. Things got much better in the 1960’s, and my parents are also part of a generation that has enjoyed unprecedented levels of material wealth and time to enjoy it. But those early years must have been very tough, and I don’t think that anybody who hasn’t experienced what they did can take any issue with the view that in many cases and at many times they had to show resolve, to make do, to cope. I imagine there was very little option if you didn’t. Perhaps it is from this that my parents’ suspicion of processes which ask you to dwell on, rather than paper over, the causes of your unhappiness arises?

I don’t believe that therapy can solve everything. If I hadn’t had the indirect exposure to it that I have, I suspect my view might be very similar to mum’s. I’m not good at admitting weakness about myself, and I imagine I would struggle to seek help if ever I needed to (although the Beautiful Armenian might not give me much choice). But for the potential benefits to be so completely rejected by my parents?  Even in his currently much-recovered state, my dad is nothing more than a pale imitation of his former strong and life-loving self. Surely it must be worth trying everything available to address the underlying issues?


Best Text Message This Year

The Small Boy Wonder has been to the see the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.  He was very excited about the prospect of going in the mosh pit.  I suspect (no, I hope, I truly hope) his experience has not been typical of the average concert-goer

We rather took our eye off the ball on this one, and agreed that he could go without realising it was on a school night.  We knew he would be back very late, but the Big Boy Wonder was staying and assured us he would still be awake when his brother got home.  We could therefore go to bed.  Before he left for the gig, we asked SBW not to have a shower when he got in.  The shower is quite noisy and would probably wake us up.

I was just at that point of falling into a deep sleep when we got a text.  It read:

“I’m gonna have to shower cos someone chucked a bottle of piss and most of it hit me, I can’t sleep covered in piss x”


We found out the next day that this happened during the first song.  He’d had to go through the rest of the set and a two hour journey home in this state. Nice.  At least it was in somebody else’s car.

It also came to light that one of the girls he was with had not liked the experience of the mosh, and at the end of that first song insisted they all abandon the front row position which they had secured by getting there hours early.  Somehow they all then got separated and the SBW hadn’t been allowed back in the mosh pit.

All in all his evening hadn’t quite lived up to expectation.

I asked him what had most impacted his enjoyment – spending the evening covered in somebody else’s piss or missing out on the mosh pit experience.

He looked at me as with that level of total disdain known only to teenagers as he replied that – obviously– it wasn’t the piss.

Angela Merkel’s Not Going To Be Happy, But There’s Another Bail Out Needed

Whilst all eyes were on Italy and Spain, developments in north London will have taken all but the most astute of commentators by surprise.  Yes, the next international bail-out will be of my student daughter.

Big sigh.

Following the Big Incident in Sainsbury’s we all made up and went home.  We left the Very Precious Daughter in the middle of a massive work crisis, and from later reports it seemed that she didn’t sleep for the best part of 3 days as she raced to get her project finished and handed in.  With that behind her, she (unsurprisingly) fell ill.  A few days later I got the phone call.

“Hi Dad.  How are you?  What have you been up to?  How’s work going?”

Immediately I was suspicious.  It didn’t take long to get beyond such pleasantries to the real point of the call.  She’d run out of money.


I have to say, I’m quite pleased with the way I handled the call and everything else that followed.  I didn’t get angry or emotional, and I stayed reasonable throughout.  I am in fact probably one of the most reasonable people you will ever come across.  I’m almost unreasonably reasonable.  But you wouldn’t think so if you saw many of my interactions with my beloved daughter.

I’m pleased with my restraint because for her to have run out of money at this stage of the term is completely and totally unacceptable.  I’m almost embarrassed to reveal just how much financial support we give her.  We pay her rent, her bills, and for her phone.  We give her a very reasonable (see, there I go again) weekly amount to live on, 52 weeks of the year. We gave her extra over the summer so that she could do an extended internship in a fashion house.  Whenever we see her she goes away with enough food to keep her going for weeks. She doesn’t know it but we’ve got money put aside to help clear her student loans when she finishes (which will be in about 20 years time from what I can work out).  We are comfortably off , but we are by no means loaded, and this isn’t money we just happen to have lying around.

All she has to do is to make her student loan last over the course of a term.  We barely got past half way.

Now I know that being a student in London isn’t cheap.  And I also know that she has to buy all kinds of materials (sometimes expensive materials) for her course.  But the amount she gets from us, plus her loan, makes her far more Germany than Greece amongst students.  For those with no significant parental help, the maintenance loan barely covers their rent.

The VPD has always been terrible with money. Absolutely terrible, and it’s been the cause of far too much tension. We have tried everything we can think of to help her, but she just cannot cope with the idea of making money last over any period of time. She doesn’t have the first notion about how to keep track of where she is. But of course we get tossed heads and a dangerously high OMG-per-minute rate if we try to intervene too much (like suggesting she pays her loan to us and we drip feed it back). This combination of supreme confidence and utter financial incompetence is fatal (although from what I’ve seen in the business world, it could mean she will go far). These car crashes are all too familiar.

I establish that what she’s asking for is two or three hundred pounds for more project expenses, a slush fund of about the same for emergencies, and an increase in the weekly allowance until she can regroup in January. I don’t think she’s really thought this through. It’s just a negotiation. This is perhaps my problem. Why would anyone ever consider for one micro-second that on this subject my daughter would have thought anything through?

So what do you do? I find it so bloody difficult. I want to be fair, but I want her to learn, and there is no doubt that she is going to struggle to do her next piece of work if we don’t help her out. The Beautiful Armenian and I have a summit meeting, and agree the terms of a bail-out. As it happens I had already arranged to meet up with the VPD at the end of the next day in London. We end up having a really lovely evening. She is at her best, and when she is she is irresistible. And unless I am even more naive than I give myself credit for, this isn’t put on. It really is just how she is. When I explain that we are prepared to give her some – but by no means all – of what she’s asking for, but never again, she is very sweet and grateful. I’m not looking for gratitude, but I’ll take it if it’s on offer.

I also get an insight into the world of Frau Merkel and her problems with Greece, because we talk about austerity measures. We agree that no matter how stressful her deadlines are (bless) she can’t afford to spend twice as much on her lunch every day as I do. We get a very imaginative proposal to consider rolling her own cigarettes (yep, a significant proportion of the money we give her is being spent on laying down some solid foundations for future health problems, because she’s really going to need those). And we even go as far as accepting the possibility that time may have to be found in her crucifying social and artistic schedule to get one of those things that boring people have. A job.

Now I’m being a bit unfair on her here. She’s worked plenty in the past – she’s been a waitress, she’s washed up and she held down a Saturday job in a shop for a year. When she moved to London, she decided that if at all possible she didn’t want to have to earn money. Although there is no doubt that this is partly because it bores her rigid, it is also because this course means so very, very much to her and she wants to eradicate anything which may be a barrier to success.

So it’s all been agreed, and we feel that not giving in completely is part of the tougher love policy that we now seem to be following. Now call me insightful, put it down to all the wisdom I’ve acquired in being a parent for the best part of quarter of a century, but I don’t think we’ve heard the end of this yet. I’ve got a very strong feeling that a life already in chaos may be heading for complete melt down, but I think it needs to if she is ever going to rebuild things with any semblance of structure. As a father, it’s very difficult to resist the temptation just to make it all OK for her. The ability sometimes to make it all OK is one of the really good things about being a dad. But not this time. We can’t go on as we have.

I relayed a lot of this to my mother this afternoon, and as she so helpfully pointed out, it all gets a lot easier after the first twenty-one years.

Half Term Fun (2) – Good Family Rows Cost Less at Sainsbury’s

The view as we crossed the Thames

After Day 1 of the trip, we were under strict instructions not to ring the doorbell of the student house when we left the car outside.  We didn’t, and we got a text from the Small Boy Wonder soon afterwards saying all was well (although the Very Precious Daughter had taken him to a student party).

The Beautiful Armenian and I then spent a lovely day in London.  We went to the Courtauld Gallery (see this post for more detail), wandered across the Thames to the South Bank and then made leisurely progress to where we were to meet our treasured offspring for a quick cup of tea prior to a whiz round Sainsbury’s – one of the various stealth taxes that goes with being the parents of a student.

The VPD ceased being a teenager a little while ago.  But so stunning was her performance in that role – with such utter conviction did she make it her own – that she has been invited by the NCATB (National Council for Appalling Teenage Behaviour) to stay on in an honorary capacity.  And this afternoon she confirmed what an outstanding decision that was.

After talking about holidays for next year (including something potentially very special) and what we might do on her birthday, we had a conversation that went something like this:

PARENTS: You asked us yesterday if you and your four housemates could all come and stay with us for a night a few days before Xmas.

DAUGHTER:  I did.  We’ll be on a tour of the country visiting all 5 home towns, and having a night out on the lash in each one.

PARENTS: We’ve talked about it overnight and although we love seeing your friends we just don’t think it’s reasonable to ask for this in the week before Xmas.

DAUGHTER (tossing head): I knew you’d be like this.  I almost didn’t bother asking.

PARENTS:  We’re normally very happy for your friends to stay whenever you like, and to come on holiday with us as well. But you know how much we’ve got on at that time of year.  Any other time would be fine, but on this occasion we’re saying no.

DAUGHTER:  I just hate it when we have these conversations.  All the other parents have said yes, by the way

PARENTS:  Sorry. We’re not.

DAUGHTER: Well you do realise this means I won’t be able to spend as much time with you guys at Xmas, don’t you?

PARENTS:  Really?  How does that work?

DAUGHTER: Because we’ll now have to do the trip after Xmas and so it will eat into the time I would have spent with you.  But if that’s how you want it, it’s your choice.

My Total Bollocks Detector was beginning to flash red at this point.  The Beautiful Armenian doesn’t have quite such a high spec model, and I could see she was beginning to wobble.  The VPD hadn’t gone into a full eruption, but experienced observers were looking with concern at the gathering clouds. The government was on the brink of cancelling all flights over the south of England.  The VPD then unleashed her “You really are the world’s worst parents” look and announced that she needed to get on so could we go to Sainsbury’s now please.

She stormed off.  As we followed in her wake, I said that I had very serious doubts that the trip would ever have got off the ground, but that we shouldn’t give in to this sort of pressure.  The Beautiful A saw it in an even dimmer light.  She felt she was being bullied.  Right conclusion.  Worrying implications for the rest of the afternoon.

If I said that the first 5 minutes in Sainsbury’s were chilled and relaxed, I would be misleading you ever so slightly.  But at least things were finding their way into the trolley.  We then all got separated and at this point TBA decided that of the bullying she was having none.  Telling the VPD that she had spent too much of her life pretending that everything was OK when it wasn’t, she explained (quietly but unambiguously) that she found it unacceptable for the VPD to try to force us to agree to her request under threat of a disrupted Xmas.

The VPD said that she could see this, and that she was very sorry for the upset she had caused.

That last sentence is my little joke.  The little darling in fact completely went off on one.  She denied that this is what she had said, and turned the volume of her indignation up to 11.  She stormed off again – even by her standards twice in less than 10 minutes is quite something.  She also demonstrated admirable female multi-tasking skills by simultaneously displaying complete moral outrage and continuing her progress round fruit juices, bread and cereals at our expense.

The four of us did convene briefly in frozen foods for an exchange of further denials and accusations, whilst pensioners with sticks and young mothers with double buggies tried to navigate their way round us.

What was most disappointing about all this was that it looked as though this would be how we would part company.

But long story short, we did in fact make our peace on the tube train back to where the Very Precious Daughter lives.  She didn’t climb down as such, but she did say that she had misunderstood what we were saying.  We let her have this way out.  And we all parted on good terms.

I’m writing this a couple of weeks after it happened.  A lot more has happened since (more on that another time).  But I feel that we have slightly redefined the nature of our relationship with the VPD, and that things are better for it.  I think she was genuinely caught out by her mother’s unexpected resolve.  And if you want to know the origins of that, look no further than the course and the therapy.

My daughter is beautiful.  She is talented.   She has wonderful friends, and is a wonderful friend to them.  She can be warm, funny, engaging, and she is always sincere.  She is deeply, deeply loved by us.

We’ve probably let her get away with too much at times in the past.  This probably won’t be the last time we have hours like this, nor the last time it will all seem so petty and inexplicable in retrospect.  Somehow  – and sometimes it takes a lot of hard work – we always seem to be able to get past these moments and move on.

Nobody ever said that being a parent would be easy.

Da Vinci, the Courtald and the Secrets Picasa Reveals

As you’ve probably heard, the Lady with an Ermine and a number of other Da Vinci originals will be on show for the next few weeks at the National Gallery.  I am sure that this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity.  But I’m also sure that it will be very busy, very hot, and that you will have to work very hard to see, let alone to absorb, the masterpieces on display.  I heard somebody on the radio say that you need to look at each one of these paintings for a good 10 minutes to start to appreciate them.  I suspect that will be very difficult.

The Lady with an Ermine

If that puts you off, or if you can’t get your hands on a Da Vinci ticket, you could do much worse than cross Trafalgar Square, turn left and walk about along the Strand to the very wonderful Courtald Gallery.  The Beautiful Armenian and I spent a morning there on our recent trip to London, and I think it’s the best couple of hours I’ve ever spent in the company of art.

I’m quite partial to the occasional visit to a gallery, but I don’t know much at all about art.  When we were at the Courtald, I made a deliberate effort to stand (or sit, as was often possible) and study paintings for several minutes before moving closer to read the commentary.  I tried to describe the paintings in my head as if I were telling somebody who couldn’t see them, and also to explain how they made me feel.  I got a lot out of doing this, and the Courtald is just perfect for this.  It’s small, and so not overwhelming.  It’s packed with great pieces by some very famous names.  Botticelli, Rubens, Gainsborough, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Gaugin, Matisse and many more.  And it’s quiet and relaxed.  You really do have time to  linger.

I don’t mind admitting that I was quite moved by all this, and in the bookshop afterwards I found this little gem – How to Look at a Painting by Francoise Barbe-Gall.  For me this was exactly the right book, in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time.  I’ve read about 100 pages and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn a bit more about paintings and how to appreciate them.

The link to this next bit may be a bit of a stretch, but here goes.  One of the things I really enjoy about a good painting is unlocking details and secrets that you miss on first glance.  The day after we got back from London I went to church with The Beautiful A and the preacher used Da Vinci’s Last Supper as the theme of his sermon.  This meant that I was able to study it for a good 15 minutes.  During the sermon, a number of the details were picked out.  The fact that not everyone is listening.  Judas’ hand on the bag of coins.  Peter’s hand on the knife.  The very different reactions of different people.  You can read lots of other ideas and theories by starting here on Wikipedia, or here on Jaydax.  Of course the painting features prominently in The Da Vinci  code.

This isn’t at the National (it’s painted directly on to a wall in Milan).

A few days later, I followed the recommendation of a friend and downloaded Google’s Picasa software.  If you point this in the direction of your photos on your computer, and identify some family member or close friends for it, it will do a fantastic job of identifying many other photos in which each of those people appear.  In many cases it gives you a thumbnail close-up of the face.

Here’s the really interesting bit.  A few years ago we went to a very tense family get together.  There had been some real upset leading up to it.  The day wasn’t easy but everyone behaved themselves, not referring to the recent arguments.  After lunch we walked in a park in beautiful spring sunshine, and I took some photos of the group.  I’ve never really looked that closely at them, and they don’t appear remarkable.  But when you see the close-ups of people’s faces in Picasa it’s astonishing.  The emotions of the various family members shout at you.   Anger, pain, awkwardness, a wish to hide, boredom.  They’re all there and very plain to see.  Written on their faces, and brought to life by the magnification of the software.

It’s just like when you start to unlock the secrets of a painting.

Whether you choose the National or the Courtald or anywhere else, enjoy.

The Price of VODKA

The Scottish government announced plans last week to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol – see here for the full story.  There has inevitably been a mixed reaction to this. In the context of teenage drinking, I think this is a GOOD THING.   Teenage drinking must be a much bigger problem today than it was when I was growing up.  And the fact that strong alcohol is relatively so cheap must be a big factor in this.  How can it not be?   The Scottish government have pointed out that youngsters can get hold of enough alcohol to kill themselves for less than £5.

There was a second piece of related news this week, but it didn’t get quite the same coverage in the press.  My attempt not to drink for 4 weeks ended in failure after just 5 days.  Not very impressive.  The lure of a glass of wine or two on Friday night was too much.  I bargained with myself that I was being needlessly ambitious  – it isn’t giving up completely that’s the issue, it’s trying to cut down.  This might not have persuaded everyone, but it was good enough for me.

Although this has been my lowest drinking week for some time, there is no doubt that I drink too much.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a long way from being on the gin by 11.00 a.m. But I have a drink too often – there are probably only 3 nights in an average week when we don’t open a bottle of wine. And once I’ve started, I usually find it hard to stop at one glass. I often end up having extra glasses that I could well do without, especially at the weekend. On a Friday night, I know that I’m often using alcohol to dull the pressures of the working week.

When I was at university, I also had something of a reputation for over-indulgence.

So, is it right that I should take the strong view that I do about teenage drinking? Am I being a hypocrite?

We have a friend with teenage children who says that our generation has to take responsibility for the very poor relationship that our offspring have with booze. She’s obviously right, but if that’s your only view on the subject, then I would say you’re ducking the issue.  I hate sounding like a grumpy old man, but you can’t deny that things have changed since we were young.

Teenagers today seem to start getting hold of alcohol when they are about 13 or 14 years old.  I don’t remember anyone I knew at that age going anywhere near drink. True, we were able to start sneaking into pubs from about 16, but when we did we were in public and likely not to be served if we drew attention to ourselves in any way. Also, when we did start drinking, it was beer or cider and nothing else. I don’t think I got drunk on spirits until I was about 20. Teenagers today seem to start on spirits, before they’ve learned anything at all about drinking, before they ‘ve any idea about their capacity. And why do they do this? Because it’s easy to transport. Because it gives a bigger and more immediate hit. But most of all, because it’s cheap.

Will minimum pricing cure the problems of teenage drinking by itself? Of course not. Is it completely fair on everyone? Probably not. But I’m convinced that there’s a very strong link between ease of availability and consumption in the teenage world and so I for one hope the idea from Scotland gets exported south (even if I end up paying more for my own habit).

Homophobic bullying (things can only get better?)

I came across this very moving video the other day (I found it on TED, but this is the YouTube link).

Three thoughts occurred to me.

It brought back some very painful memories
Our eldest son (the Big Boy Wonder) was bullied at school because of his sexuality.  For us as parents, the experience  really only lasted one day.  For him, there was much, much more to it.  I will never forget him sitting on our sofa aged 14 sobbing uncontrollably and pleading with us never to send him back to his school.   If you had asked me beforehand what my reaction would have been, I would have predicted that I would tell him he had to go back and face things, but that we would give him all possible support in doing this.

In fact I found myself saying that he wouldn’t have to go back.  And he never did.

It emerged from many conversations over the next few days that the bullying had taken two forms.

There had been the sort of name-calling and harassment you would expect from meat-headed older boys.  This was very public and very humiliating.  Our son hadn’t come out to the world at this point, but he did attract attention by spending most of his time at school with a group of girls (who were probably beginning to attract attention of their own from the same older boys).  And he also dressed far more smartly and with far greater attention to his appearance than most of his peers.

But there had also been some more complex behaviour within his friendship group, within that group of girls in fact.  What seems to have happened is that the BBW confided to one or two of them that he thought he might be gay.  Being fourteen year old girls, those confidants swore to keep this secret.  They then promptly  spread it around the rest of the group.  At this point he retracted what he had said, I suspect fearing the consequences of its wider transmission.

The girls then rounded on him, not for being gay, but for changing his story.  In a way which is almost unfathomable to me, they felt genuinely and deeply affronted by one of the versions (“I am gay” or “I am not gay”) having obviously been false.  This was much more important to them than anything BBW may have been feeling.  And from what I can work out, his life became a living hell.  There isn’t anything you can do to our son likely to hurt him more than to withdraw affection, to make him lonely.  This is what they did.

There are a couple of ironies in this story.  The first is that BBW had one special friend, an angel of a girl who has been his life-long soul mate.  If she had been around she would not have betrayed his confidence, and she may have been a refuge for him.  She wasn’t around because her parents had sent her to private school the year before. They felt they had to offer her the same chance as her older brother, who had been bullied out of the same school, by similar homophobic idiots as the older boys who tormented our son (despite the fact that this other boy wasn’t gay at all).

The other irony is that BBW remained friends (in some cases, good friends) with some of the girls who had tormented him.  He still counts a couple of them amongst his friends, more than ten years later.  My wife has shown herself to be capable of acts of profound forgiveness at times in her life.  She still struggles to forgive these girls.  I don’t see it in quite the same way.  Whilst the effects of what they did were awful, I don’t think they had any real idea of what they were doing.  They were just being teenage girls.

It reinforced the feeling I have that, despite the seriousness of the issues we have faced as BBW’s parents, we have in fact come off relatively lightly
We spent a lot of time over the next week talking to the school.  This is not some inner-city sink school, but one of the best schools in the region.  Many people move into the area so that their children can go there.

We received a lot of help from one of the deputy heads, a man of many years service nearing retirement.  However, the main thrust of his advice, and therefore of the school’s advice, was that if we could afford to put our son into private school (which we had indicated we could), then that would be the best course of action.  This turned out to be excellent advice, but it still amazes me that it was given.  There was virtually no suggestion that the bullying be tackled.  The implications of this for anyone who couldn’t afford to move their child are very worrying.

Two weeks later, BBW started at a private school in the city we are nearest to.  It’s a highly regarded school, and to send him there was indeed the best thing to do in the circumstances.   It transpired that this school was genuinely concerned about the whole child, and in his time there BBW was encouraged to do things he might not otherwise have done (such as competitive sport, and the Duke of Edinburgh awards).

The school was also very sensitive to his issues and it had a strong pastoral system.  There were one or two very isolated incidents of homophobic behaviour over the next year or two, and the school dealt with them effectively and immediately.

The pain that the bullying caused our son was profound.  It is undoubtedly still with him today, and will be for years.  I don’t belittle or underestimate what he went through.  But when I watch Joel Burn’s video, it makes me realize how relatively lucky we have been.

If anyone reading this ever comes across homophobic bullying of any kind, I would beg you from the bottom of my heart, whatever your views might be on homosexuality or any other subject, to consider the child, consider the human being on the receiving end.

It reminded me of the strong feeling I had about my son, that one day it would come together
The change in BBW’s schooling arrangements meant that he and I spent an hour together in the car each morning over the next five years.  He was obviously going through a tough time, and these journeys were sometimes the scene of arguments and parental lectures.

But they were also the scene of many, many conversations about his life and his hopes and fears.  It took two or three years for him to feel completely confident about the new environment, and I often had to do what I could to reassure him about the day ahead, and to help him feel strong enough to face it.

I remember telling him one day that I did have a very strong feeling that however difficult his teenage years might be, he was growing towards a time when it would all feel very different.  And I think that has been true.  He is still a long way from leaving his teenage issues behind, but bullying has not been a part of his life for some years now, and I think he has lost his fear of it.  Joel Burns’ words in the video are very moving, and I hope that they provide some comfort to any child or teenager who is going through what Joel, my son and so many others so sadly have to go through.

Changes: What Your Wife Becoming a Psychotherapist Really Means

The Small Boy Wonder said something the other day which we felt showed a maturity well beyond his years.  We were talking about the shifting sands of friendship groups.  He said he had realised that change was interesting.  “It’s like reading a story.  You want to see where it leads to, what happens next.”

I share his view.  I think change is interesting.   I also think that is a view you need to have if your wife is going to undertake something so loaded with and precipitous of change as a masters degree in psychotherapy at the age of 45.  From where I sit now, I can see that it was rather like pressing the gamble button on a very successful marriage.  One which had already seen its fair share of stress and testing.  I read a magazine piece recently about a woman who had redefined herself completely in early middle age – lost a lot of weight and changed career.  This had all gone well, but it had also lead to divorce.   I was no longer the person my husband had fallen in love with, she said.

This could have happened to me and The Beautiful Armenian.  But looking back, I say with some conviction that taking this risk was inherently the right thing to do.  It would have been even if the end result had been less happy.   I’m not saying you should go out of your way to take risks with your marriage.  But this new calling is so clearly one of the things C was put on this planet to do.  When I see the radiant way her flower has bloomed, I do conclude that even if our relationship had struggled more to accommodate it – or perhaps had failed to accommodate it at all – it would still have been the right thing to do.  It would have been our responsibility – my responsibility – to have found a way to have made it worked.

Easy for me to say when the effect on our marriage of all this change has in fact been almost entirely positive?   Perhaps, but there is no doubt that three years ago we let the cosy bus go past and hopped onto the less comfortable one behind.

So what was this change?

There was some fairly obvious practical change.  The time demands of the course are considerable.  TBA suddenly became far less available to run the house in the way she had done for years.  She wouldn’t deny that many meals have been much more hastily prepared, and far fewer hours spent on cleaning and gardening, than in the past.

Then there are the study weekends.   Every few weeks she disappears off for three or four days at a time, leaving me to keep the family going, and to entertain myself.   Sometimes she comes back from those days in pieces, wanting little more than to be on her own, and then to sleep.   On occasion, it has taken her several days to recover fully from a weekend.

On the upside, she does sometimes come back with a rampant sexuality needing attention!

This has had an effect on our social life (the pattern of the weekends, that is, not the rampant sexuality).  We have entertained less, and we have lost contact with a few people who perhaps hadn’t been that close as friends.  I am naturally very private, usually more than happy with a weekend in which large parts of it are spent by myself.  But as our social life has for many years been centred more on C’s friends than mine, I have had to make a bit more effort to make sure that I don’t become too cut off.

The academic side of the course has probably been the hardest change to cope with.  C has had to overcome her profound mistrust of technology, relearn some old study stuff and some new tricks as well.  She’s had to read a small library of books, acquire a new lexicon and squeeze her naturally free and engaging writing style into the strait jacket of word counts and formal referencing.

We’ve spent a lot of money.  The change in our bank balance has not, so far, been positive!  If you happen to be reading this and thinking about doing something similar to C, I would implore you to be realistic about the financial cost .  Course fees, the cost of therapy and supervision, travel, books, going to conferences, food and coffee on the study weekends.  It all adds up.  It really adds up.

I will write about all these things separately.

But by far the biggest change, and the most far-reaching in its consequences, has been the change within C.  She’s been through therapy.  This has meant many, many hours of thoroughly professional interaction with an experienced and highly trained specialist, a process of intense and sometimes painful reflection and self-analysis, and the subtle application of an impressive body of academic thought.  What’s the result been?   Easy.  My wife is no longer taking any sh*t.  From anyone.  Ever again.

Her fundamentally gentle nature hasn’t changed; she’s just as much a stranger to malice and spite as ever she was; and the process has accentuated not eroded the fact that her greatest gift, her most wondrous quality, is the ability to love – selflessly and profoundly to love.  But she has changed, and the change is irreversible.  She has developed a quiet, but very effective, assertiveness.  She now deals with life on terms.

And this, of course, has changed things between us.  How could it not have?  It’s not easy to describe what this has been, but our marriage is now a relationship of equals, a relationship between two adults.  There was nothing unhealthy about it before, and I certainly wasn’t amongst those from whom she was taking all the sh*t.  It was a deeply loving and very successful marriage.  However, my role in it (on the emotional side at least) was sometimes that of a parent, and I think C was driven quite significantly by the fear of it not lasting.   This led her to idealise it, and me, somewhat.

All of that is now gone.  For some people, that may have been too much, especially when coupled with all the other change.  But it has, in fact, been fantastic.  Who would have thought that coming down off a pedestal would be so much fun.  But I’ve come down into a relationship that is without any doubt even stronger than it was before.

The Beautiful Armenian is on her course today.  And I’m sitting here wondering what the chances are that it will be the sex-hungry version who comes rolling through the door this evening!

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