Family Matters

The thoughts of a husband, father, brother and son

Archive for the category “Study”

A very brief moment of happiness

I was at home by myself this evening when the phone rang.  It was a very happy sounding VPD (Very Precious Daughter).

The reason for her good cheer?  She’s just finished an assessed piece of work and is getting rave reviews from everyone who’s seen it.

And then it got better.  “Being poor has really helped me with this.  It’s made me so much more creative.  I’ve had to make my own sequins and everything.”

If it’s poverty you want, my dear child, then I can assure you there’s plenty more where that came from.  Remember that she is currently operating under the austerity measures of the recently agreed bail-out plan.

We chatted very nicely for a bit, and then she had to go.

Five minutes later (I swear, no more than five minutes) the phone rang again.  The VPD once more.  This time a very different tone of voice.  Lower, much more serious.  “I can’t believe it, I’ve just checked my bank balance, and the money for my phone bill has gone out today, and I’m up to my overdraft limit, and I really need to get some stuff for my project, and I don’t know how this has happened, and if I don’t etc…etc…etc…etc.  So I was just wondering, is there any chance you could do me a favour and put £20 into my account?”

Bless her heart, she’s adamant she’s going to pay me back.


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.

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!


The good ship Masters Degree is rather becalmed at the moment.  TBA has spent the last couple of months trying to set up a new placement, and coordinating the ones she is already doing, so that she can concentrate her working hours into a couple of days.  Half the world’s glaciers move faster than the administrative arms of some of the organisations she is dealing with, and progress has been slow.  She’s effectively lost half a term doing this, and it’s looking increasingly likely that the end of the voyage will be pushed out even further.

But although this has been frustrating at times, it has meant that life has been relatively normal since the beginning of the summer now.   C has been clocking up the voluntary hours, chipping away slowly at the huge number she has to get through before she qualifies, and doing some preparatory reading for the massive pieces of work yet to come.  But she can’t get started in earnest until the placements are sorted.  So the stress levels are relatively low.

Extending the finishing time by (I think) a full year will be rather a pain, but if it means that the experience from here on in is a little less intense, then it’s probably worth it.  Also, she’s starting to get some financial help with some of the supervision costs, and there is the prospect that for one of her placements, she may even be able to start charging clients in a few months.

However, I’m not going to start planning my retirement just yet.

Psychotherapy Course

Some time ago my wife (known here as the Beautiful Armenian, or C) started a masters degree in psychotherapy, with the intention of qualifying and practising as a person-centred psychotherapist.  Before this she had been concentrating on bringing up our three children, supporting me in a demanding job, and running our home.

It had always been her heartfelt wish to devote her time and energy to home-making.  When the children were younger, she couldn’t.  Our eldest son was born at a time when I was going through a career change.  Money was tight, and things hadn’t improved a great deal when the Very Precious Daughter came along a few years later.  And so C kept her teaching career going for longer than she would have wanted.  However, when our third child was born, my work was going much better, and not long after that she was able to give up work completely.

I think she might have been quite happy to continue living the life she then carved out for herself indefinitely.  She did a great job overseeing some home-improvement projects, she played a big role in running a community initiative, and she ran the home.  From my point of view, I was largely freed from domestic tasks.  But as the children grew up I began to challenge C on what she saw herself doing once her role as a full-time mother diminished, and also asked her to consider whether having more than one source of income might have advantages for us later on.

She listened.  She went through a training course to become a counsellor for a charity.  Then she signed up for a full-on, masters degree in psychotherapy.  It’s described as part-time, but that’s about as an accurate a description as Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute recipes.  The course has certainly involved far more hours and and far more effort each week, than I had to put in to my first degree, many years ago.

And it has been one of our big life events.  It’s up there in the top five – top three maybe – alongside things like the birth of our children, my career change, and our decision to leave the heart of London’s commuter belt.

Occasionally somebody says something which surprises you so much that you have to stop and think before you answer.  One of these moments happened about a year into the course, when C said to me that she could see that she had become bored in what she was doing before.  A big, big admission.  What would have happened if she had just let things drift?

If we look back at our lives so far, we might say that certain things – certain major things – have happened to us without us asking for them to happen.  Having a gay son; an anorexic daughter; multiple interactions with depression; miscarriages.  And more.

But it’s also clear that we don’t like just to sit back and see what life has got to throw at us.  We also like to hand it a few slings and arrows to hurl in our direction, just to see how we get on.

C doing this course is one of those things, and I hope to share some of the experience, and more importantly some of the change, which this has created through this blog.

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