Setting the scene
Well done for getting through Part Three: Mankind in the 21st century, and a number of the challenges of our present times! I don’t mean that to come over in a flippant manner but it must have been tough reading; it certainly was tough writing for this scribe! Then again, from way back yonder from my days of selling during the 70s and 80s, comes that old saw about not being able to embrace a new idea if one doesn’t really understand the issues, as in the strengths and weaknesses, of the existing situation.
Change is a fascinating subject and one that even the briefest trawl through the internet reveals a wealth of material. But the theme of change here in Part Four is about change at an individual level and not anything to do with organisations; let alone countries. And as such, in terms of how we understand the need for change as individuals, it seemed pertinent to offer this personal anecdote as a way of setting the scene.
You will recall that in Part One – Man and Dog, there was a chapter headed Unsettled times. In that chapter I wrote about learning that my previous wife informed me that she was having an affair with another man, this revelation taking place on December 20th, 2006, fifty years to the day of my father’s death on December 20th, 1956.
I also mentioned that earlier on in 2006 I had started mentoring a Jon Lavin as he was going through a major transition in his counselling practice. Jon was living a few miles from where I was living in South Devon and was, and still is, a psychotherapist, or to put it more accurately, a UKCP accredited therapist and NLP Practitioner.
Thus in a state of some emotional turmoil, I rang Jon early on in 2007 and asked if I might be his client! Jon was initially reluctant to agree to that, simply because he and I had started developing a relationship in another context, within a completely different perspective, as in me coaching him in the ways of developing his own business. As Jon made clear, he was worried that our existing relationship might get in the way of a very different relationship; one where I was trying to understand the catastrophe that had just taken place in my private life.
I was pretty insistent on wanting, needing, to see Jon; as you might imagine. Thankfully, Jon did agree after giving it some thought but on the strict understanding that if he was concerned about how the counselling relationship was progressing that I had to agree, agree before we started our sessions, that he had the right to terminate the relationship. Of course, I agreed. Without a moment’s hesitation.
Thus Jon and I started my personal counselling relationship soon after.
Naturally, Jon wanted to learn more about my emotional background and gently, when it felt right, asked me to explain the circumstances of my father’s death back in 1956. That was easy for me for the memories of that time had never dimmed.
That I had turned twelve back in November, 1956 and had started that previous September at my new secondary school; Preston Manor Grammar School. At the time of my birthday in November, 1956, I was only vaguely conscious of my father having been ill for a while. Not ill for months and months but bedridden for a few weeks. My father was fifty-five years old and had always been a gentle, caring father to me and my younger sister, Elizabeth.
Then just a few weeks further on, on the evening of the 19th December, when I was tucked up in bed, next door to my parent’s bedroom, my mother came into my bedroom to say goodnight to me; a perfectly ordinary and routine event. But on this particular evening, there was an unmistakeable sadness about her and rather than promptly coming up to me and kissing me goodnight, she sat down on the edge of my bed, just where my knees were under the sheet and bedspread.
I could still recall so clearly Mum giving a deep sigh, a sigh that seemed to confirm what I feared and, somehow, knew in my heart: that his illness might be serious. Mum turning and reaching out with her right hand so that she could hold my right arm that lay on top of the bedspread. “Paul, you do know that your father is not very well, not very well at all. I’m sorry to tell you that he may not live for very much longer.” Words that have never left me.
Mum then leaning forward, kissing me goodnight, and leaving my bedroom, turning the light out as she closed the door. Me falling asleep within moments of the closing of that bedroom door.
My father died that same night: my mother calling the doctor who attended, confirmed the death, issued the death certificate and arranged for my father’s body to be removed from our home.
It all taking place before daybreak. It all taking place as I slept on.
In the morning, my father was no longer part of my life.
As one could easily imagine, the following days were surreal, yet all of my life I have had no recollection of any emotions at all.
Going back to the death of my father, it was thought that my father’s funeral, a cremation, would be too upsetting for me and my sister so we didn’t attend the funeral.
The only other recollection from those times was being teased and bullied at my new school, the one that I had started a few months previously, because I was prone to bouts of crying. I also recall that one day in the playground, surrounded by a group of jeering and taunting boys, I had snapped and gone for the ring leader in a wild frenzied physical attack. Both he and I receive the cane from the headmaster but at least the teasing was brought to an end.
So all of this was spoken of to Jon in those early days of 2007!
Jon gently explored my feelings, wondering what were my emotional echoes from over fifty years ago. I’m not sure I voiced anything particularly revealing.
Then, in a change of tack, he asked me how my own son might have felt if he, my son, had endured the same tragedy at the same age and experienced the death of me, his father, in a similar fashion, and, in addition, not been able to go to the funeral.
It was a straightforward question but one that had me disappearing into my own inner thoughts for some time, Jon sitting quietly in his armchair just next to me, me only half aware that time seemed to have come to a halt. As if for the first time in my life since that dreadful day in 1956 I had the courage to listen to my deep inner voice, to sense my most inner feelings.
I stuttered, “My son would be angry, angry that one of the key events in the life of any person, the death of a parent, no more than that, the death of a son’s father, no that’s still not right; the death of his father, had been denied him.”
Jon looked at me, in a way that seemed to connect with me very strongly. Then he quietly asked, “What other feelings might you expect your son possibly to have?”
Again, another long silence, and then I said, feeling strongly that something very important was about to happen: “He would feel left out. Overlooked. Denied the experience of something irreplaceably important. He would feel emotional rejection; in spades!”
As those last words, quietly and clearly, left my lips, the most incredible sensation overtook me, both without and within me, encompassing me totally, the awareness that for the first time in my life, with me now sixty-three-years old, something that had been emotionally and psychologically hidden from me for fifty-one years, was now out in the open.
The clear knowledge that the circumstances surrounding my father’s death and my subsequent decline in my school performance had left me with a long-term psychological ‘dysfunction’; a certainty that I had been emotionally rejected way back in the Winter of 1956-57. A certainty, for sure, yet an understanding of myself that, hitherto, had been out of sight of my conscious mind, hidden deep inside of me, until this moment, this precious moment, in time.
Jon remained still and quiet as I continued to turn over in my mind this inner discovery. The realisation that, incredibly, for fifty years, my emotional response to my father’s death had remained totally out of my consciousness yet, nonetheless, had influenced me in very real and tangible ways; ways both negatively and positively that came to me almost immediately.
That the negative influence was that I was drawn to any woman who offered me love and affection and, therefore, I was emotionally unable to understand, to judge as it were, whether she had the potential to be a match as a life-long partner, however good a person she might be. I was doing anything to avoid emotional rejection!
The positive influence was that I tried very hard to please others (still do) so as to avoid their rejection, and had successful careers in selling for IBM UK, later starting and building a successful business in the early days of personal computing and, then, when my company was sold in 1986 becoming a freelance journalist and business coach.
So it took a chance association with Jon in those early weeks of 2007 to make me understand a fundamental lesson, one that had its roots fifty years previously, back in those early weeks of 1957. The lesson that we may only fully embrace change when we fully know just who we are. In other words, if there’s the tiniest voice inside you telling you that there may be some hidden nooks and crannies within you, psychologically and emotionally speaking, then some time spent with the appropriate ‘mentor’ will be the best investment you ever made.
There was a second reward from that self-awareness that arose in 2007. Namely, that in the December of that year, while the guest of dear Californian friends, enjoying a Christmas vacation in their holiday home in San Carlos, Mexico, I met Jean. Jean had been married to an American, Ben, for many years, latterly the two of them living permanently in San Carlos. Ben had died in 2005. Jean was born an Englishwoman, born in Dagenham in Essex. I had been born in Acton, North London. As the crow flies, the distance from Dagenham to Acton is twenty-three miles.
Jean and I met on December 15th, 2007. I was now emotionally unencumbered and able to give my full love to her and receive her full love for me. Jean and I were married in Payson, Arizona on November 20th, 2010. Now we live in a rural part of Oregon with our dogs and horses. It is a life together that is everything that any man could ever dream of.
The power of change!
1877 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover
It is only right for me to mention that the above is entirely my own work and while it is my best recollection of a series of true events, the chapter has not been previously seen or endorsed by Jon.