Like many writers, I have used my family as material more often than they probably would have liked. For me, poetry began as a way to find out who I was, and why I was who I was, and to process difficult experiences. Through our families we discover and construct who we are, both in opposition and through osmosis. Thus, in learning who I was, I wrote repeatedly about my family.
During that process – which now feels complete – I avoided, on the whole, subjecting my children to the writer’s lens. My family of origin felt like fair game, although I recognise that on a logical level this is nonsense. But my offspring? Quite frankly it is suffering enough to be born to a writer without becoming the focus of your parent’s pen. All the time you are growing up, a writing parent is obsessively interested in something other than you. They have these other text-based offspring growing in their heads and hearts, taking up spaces that are rightfully yours. A writing parent has no right to embarrass their child publicly, beyond the standard parental actions of singing loudly, dancing badly and the like.
I am very aware of my failings as a parent. For a long time I was a deeply unhappy person, and created a fundamental unhappiness in my children. I have admitted this and apologised to them; something my mother could never do, though I longed for that acknowledgement. So each generation improves on the last. But the legacy of my longstanding depression, even though it is now firmly in the past, is something that lodged, to varying degrees, in my sons, and there are still mountains they must climb, rivers they must cross, as a result. Would that I could undo the damage that I did.
But it seems the damage is undoing on its own, bit by bit. For the last few years, my created family has been fractured. The hurt I originated in my offspring played out nastily between them until there was more than one person that couldn’t be in the same room at the same time. I know I handled the whole thing very badly. Too much invested; too much at stake; too much emotion in play.
But this Christmas, a peace was made. And it was made for me. Unknown to me, my eldest son texted my youngest son, and asked him to spare four hours to make the 100-mile trip so they could not only be in the same room together, but – for my sake – to be in the same photograph, with their two siblings, for the first time since 2008. I had no idea what had happened until Christmas Day, when I unwrapped that photograph of all four of my offspring. I was speechless with tears. The best present I have ever been given is my family. To know that I haven’t completely screwed it up. To know that they are able to come together, and perhaps even one day to forgive each other, in their love for me. That’s really something.