Who am I if I'm not a Dad? This is a question that has and still does haunt me.
Of late the hauntings have lessened, but a recent loss has raised again the question of meaning and purpose. Who am I and what kind of life am I trying to live on a rock hurtling around a ball of hot gases? I once read existentialism as there is nothing so I can be anything. I am well aware of the structural and societal inequalities, it was more about the limits I put on myself through the messages I had taken in from others about my abilities, my creativity, my sense of self. Here was a way of freeing myself from such limitations, to live a life by my values, my choices and to be content with doing my best. Then biology reared its head and another limit became apparent in my attempt to live a life I desired.
A limit I not only struggled with, but nearly took me, at least in terms of living a life that is alive.
I look back and I see so many dead days, not so much being lost in my grief, for at times I wasn’t experiencing my grief for our miscarriages, for our fading hopes and dreams, but consumed with my attacks on myself. Attacking myself for not being able to have a baby. I felt I was a failure, that this was my fault, even so we were told it was unexplained infertility. I even thought perhaps I just didn’t want a baby enough, as we are told we get what we work for, we deserve. Now I see this for the bullshit it is, as I know we did all we could to have our child and how it left us worn thin and exhausted.
Though then it was easier to blame myself than accept the chaos we live with. A chaos we try and wrestle meaning and purpose from.
Into this chaos padded two black cats, Charley and Ellie. Three years into trying for our children, we adopted them and our family formed. They both helped my wife, Rachel, and I with our many losses and accept our lives as being enough without children. Though I see acceptance as a continuous process, sometimes it is easier than others and there are still occasions where I feel another bruise on my heart, but that brutal stabbing of my heart has certainly lessened.
Recently we had to say goodbye to Charley, after eight wonderful years of warm and affectionate companionship. My heart is still broken and I am muddling my way through a Charley-less life, along with Rach and Ellie. With Charley and Ellie I am a dad and the dad I wanted to be for our children – to be there, to care, to encourage, to love unconditionally. That means so much to me.
With losing Charley I feel like I have lost a part of myself and a part of my purpose in life. Though often that purpose was to be a lap to curl up on, possibly the best purpose to have.
Through trusting more and more in my experiences with Rach, Charley and Ellie I realised I had the family I wanted, the love I craved and the security to try and be my best self. Even if the road remains rocky due to my long-term sense of shame and self-critic, but still each day I am trying to live fully.
When I allow myself I can see I am enough, even so I am not the Dad that is celebrated in the mass-produced cards. When I listen to the external messages of what a man is, what a Dad is, then I can start ripping sherds off myself and I lose myself. I become excluded from society, invisible – how can my voice matter as a childless man? Yet it does matter and that is certainly what I would say to anyone else asking such a question. Not being able to have children, doesn’t make me any less of a man, despite what the cruel stereotypes of childless men would have us believe. Accepting I am enough has been a series of hurdles, being childless certainly one of the ones I found myself knocking over again and again.
What I wanted to offer my children, I can and do offer elsewhere and that is why my voice, why I matter. Part of my offering is to make being childless not by choice more visible, as it can feel like you are the only one, especially in our pro-natal and family-centric societies, where families are not the furry kind or any formulation a person chooses, but the 2.4 kind. And feeling like the only one, for me, layers upon the intensity of the losses, the grief, the unrecognised trauma that not being able to have children is.
So I started (In)visible childlessness, an online gallery for the creative expression of being childless not by choice, for my expression and for others – I would love to share more posts by other involuntary childless people, so please do get in touch. I am also part of The Clan of Brothers, a private group on Facebook, for childless not by choice men, a place to belong, to support and get to know each other, if you are a childless man please do get in touch, we would love for you to join us.
So I began by asking myself – as this post is as much for me, as I need the reminders of the above, as for others, though I do hope you get something from my words – who am I if I am not a Dad?
Well, it appears I am me still and that someone is worth celebrating too, as is each of us. A me, on the whole, muddling through life, doing my best and trying to make the most of life. Muddling through includes not being a Dad, there are still days where staying in bed and hiding away feels a very tempting offer, and others where I enjoy fully my day and find worth in what I am doing. Acceptance isn’t a straight line, more of a roller coaster.
Days such as today, can trigger, can hurt, and I, for one, have done my fair share of crying and hiding from them. Yet it is a construct and, if I hold that loosely, then I don’t suffer as much – I don’t always achieve this, but it feels a healthy aim. I find I can be and take it as another Sunday. A day I’ll try and make the most of, as with every day. The more I trust in my experience rather than rigid expectations, the better my days tend to be.
I had a great teacher in Charley, who lived in the moment, who loved unconditionally and who wasn’t a parent. But that didn’t stop her from loving herself and us and making the most of her life, and all whilst on a rock in space, surrounded by pinpricks of light.
Life is that absurd, as well as beautiful.
ANDY HARROD is a UK-based person-centred psychotherapist, a PhD researcher and a writer, including the collection, tearing at thoughts. Andy curates (In)visible childless, an online gallery for the creative expression of being childless not by choice. He is also a member and moderator of The Clan of Brothers, a closed Facebook support group for childless not by choice men. Andy can be contacted on Twitter @InvisibleCNBC, on Instagram @InvisibleChildlessness, on Facebook @InvisbleChildlessness and by email via the contact page of his Invisible Childlessness website. You might also like to listen to these very moving Childless Father’s Day messages from Andy Harrod, Robin Hadley, Michael Hughes and Sikhumbuzo Dube on Civilla Morgan’s ‘Childless Not By Choice’ podcast series.
You will find more resources (and previous year’s Childless Father’s Day blogs) at Resources for Childless Men‘ on the Gateway Women website. Feel free to comment on the blog below and I do really recommend you check out The Clan of Brothers if you are a childless man, and/or share this blog with any childless men in your life. Jody x