Like many of you, I had a really rotten childhood. I won’t go into details in this particular post, but I do want to mention the importance of loving your children in a way that they can feel it. Unconditional love. Find a way to demonstrate that love so they grow up with a deep knowing that they, as human beings are loved, unconditionally. Because the alternative is that they will have to live in constant doubt. Desperately searching for love yet not recognising it when it does show up.
Even though I never felt that unconditional love as a child, someone did love me. When I was in high school my first ‘real’ boyfriend totally and completely adored me. I’m not sure if I knew it (or believed it) back then, but he told me often enough, and my father used to tell me all the time, “That boy sure does love you.” But I had no frame of reference, I had no idea what love was. And the fact that he told me and showed me and made me feel this weird feeling, scared the bejeebers out of me. After a couple of years I not only ran away from him, I ran away from home and the country and didn’t stop running for 30 years.
Of course he (I’ll call him Christopher) was devastated. I broke his heart into a million pieces. We tried to stay together, at a distance, he even came to visit me overseas, but soon I realised that my life was going to have many distractions and the best thing I could do for Christopher would be to let him go. So I did. And I didn’t look back.
A couple of years later, I needed to return home to apply for a visa to travel to my second country. I only had two weeks before I was headed off across the globe to explore another continent. Upon hearing that I was coming back, even for a couple of weeks, Christopher broke up with his girlfriend just so we could spend that time together. He was perfectly aware that I wasn’t staying and that my visit would be fleeting, but he didn’t care. “Two weeks was better than nothing.” He declared.
We had the most amazing two weeks, connected in every single sense. It was so easy. And yet, I still couldn’t understand why he insisted on loving me the way he did. He never asked me to stay, never asked to go with me, he just enjoyed our time together and let me go, for a second time.
I can’t honestly say that I thought much about him after that. I moved around a lot, taking advantage of family living here there and everywhere. I crossed continents and barely stopped moving. I kept myself busy with work and with play and eventually settled down to be married.
The man I married came from a completely different culture than me, he was stable in his career, a serious workaholic in fact and had big plans to keep moving around the world.
I think without knowing it consciously back then the situation suited me to the ground, he wasn’t interested in connecting with me on anything other than a surface level and I could keep on running away, from my childhood, from love, from myself. There was no proposal, no romantic gesture, no real deep thought into what marriage meant or what I was getting myself into. He had a job offer overseas and said, “it would be easier for the paperwork if we were married.” And so I went along with it.
We moved and we moved and we moved, on average, every two years.
I didn’t go back home until about 10 years after I had left. It was my best friend’s wedding and I traveled alone because my husband had to work – of course. Christopher heard through the grapevine that I was coming back for a week or so and made a point of coming to see me at the wedding. This time we were both married and there was no reconnecting, just a hug and some kind words which lasted all of 10 minutes and he was gone. I have to admit, I was so afraid that he was going to leave his wife for two weeks in order to spend time with me! Arrogant perhaps? Or just cautious. I felt deep down that it was totally plausible – he had done it before, albeit with a girlfriend and not a wife – so when we met I made a point of keeping things polite and rather distant. It felt so good to see him though. And I made myself believe that he was deliriously happy and thankfully every thing turned out perfectly for him.
My children were born and as a family we became veteran expats, you know the type, moving whenever the company demanded it, flights home (to his home usually) and vacations to anywhere and everywhere. It was an absolutely glorious life, but something was missing. While I could connect with the people I met and the cultures I was exposed to and I was hopelessly connected to my children, there was absolutely no connection with my husband. We were a gold star expat team; he concentrated on his career and provided this privileged life for us and I concentrated on our children, ensuring that they made smooth transitions and grew up without the expat entitled attitude that can so easily develop when you have maids and drivers and luxurious 5 star living conditions. Together we mastered the moving, mastered the entertaining, mastered the image of a perfectly happy family.
But it wasn’t true.
There was no depth to it.
I felt nothing and it was pretty clear that he didn’t either.
As our children were growing I was becoming increasingly nervous that raising them for their entire childhood in an expat world was a big mistake. I started to pay closer attention to this life we were living, to the ups and the downs, the advantages and the disadvantages and how they affect growing children. I also started to look deeply into myself. What did I really want? Is this MY life? Or is it his? Do I want to continue to live this image of a happy family? Or do I really, truly want to BE happy. Authentically so? Dare I give this up? If I want to raise children who are true to themselves don’t I have to demonstrate that first?
After much soul searching and many, many coaching sessions with life coaches and spiritual coaches and copious amount of books and on line courses on how to figure out who you are and what you want….. I left.
I left him. I left the expat world. I stopped running away. And I went back home.
The first thing I told my friend when I arrived home was, “Don’t tell Christopher I’m back.” And I reminded her as often as possible that he must never know. I certainly didn’t want any trouble on that front!
Initially the children were not on board, but as soon as we hit the ground and they saw a very different mother emerge, one that was light and open and joyful, they soon settled and it turned out to be the smoothest transition of all. They kept in close contact with their father, in fact they probably spoke to him more over Skype than they ever did in real life and he showed up as a very different parent, in a good way!
With a massive sigh of relief I was able to really step into my new life.
For the first year I didn’t tell anyone that my move back was a separation. I told the story that my husband was going to continue working overseas and I was coming home with the children for a more stable high school experience. It was totally believable. I didn’t even tell my family.
It worked really well until I started to feel like I was just living an extension of the ‘happy family’ lie and so I began to let people know, slowly. I told my closest friends and family and they were enormously supportive. My children knew exactly what was going on all along and they even expressed their approval and shared with me that they understood and were fully accepting that their mother and father were happier and better off apart. It was all good.
My father was ecstatic. We spent a lot of time together and had so many opportunities to discuss the dreaded childhood. He uncovered some truths that I wasn’t aware of and he shared his regrets – he had so many. But he relished the chance to make up for his failed parenting and doted on his grandchildren, turning out to be an amazing grandfather.
The second year I really started to feel free and hopeful that I was stepping into a new world, one that I was the centre of, my world. I didn’t have to conform to the expat expectations which came along with being married to the CEO of a large company. I got a tattoo and went dancing! I made friends with people who I connected with and not people who were ‘good for business’. I was me and not ‘the wife of….’ or ‘the mother of… ‘
I was floating!
Then my dad started to get sick. We were in and out of hospital and trying our best to keep his spirits up. He knew he was dying and so did we and there was nothing we could do about it. The blessing, of course, is that we had the chance to reconnect with him for a whole year before his illness took over. We have such amazing memories of moving back home and Grandad helping us out by driving us here and there, helping us put up furniture and contacting plumbers and helping his grandchildren understand the local culture and wicked sense of humour. Every one of our birthdays, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving were spent in our new home that year. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to loose a parent while living overseas and I’m so grateful that after all the years I was away, the timing of us moving back allowed me to avoid that.
There was an announcement in the local newspaper of my dad’s passing and not even a day later I got a message from Christopher. He wanted to share his condolences and ask if it was ok if he came to the funeral. It didn’t even occur to me to say anything other than yes. My dad adored him and would love for him to be there. It’s funny but even looking back now I wasn’t at all nervous or worried about seeing him again – I didn’t even ask how he got my contact details – it wasn’t about me or us, it was about my dad.
Driving up to the church I immediately spotted him, he looked so different. Having not seen him or heard from him in almost 30 years I didn’t know what to expect, but he looked so different I don’t think I would have picked him out in a line up!
I was acutely aware of his presence during the service and I started to feel nervous about talking to him again. He arrived alone and my husband didn’t come back for my dad’s funeral so it was just us with family and friends of my dad. At the party afterwards (my dad insisted on calling it a party) I was too busy with guests for us to really talk. I was purposely keeping my distance and desperately avoiding eye contact with him. He, on the other hand seemed so relaxed and comfortable as if he’d always been there. There was a constant flow of people around us, until one moment when we found ourselves alone at the table, we looked at each other and I finally broke the silence, asking; “How are you Chris?”
He paused for what seemed like an hour and returned the question, “How are you?” “I’m ok” I responded.
“If you’re ok, then I’m ok.” And we were interrupted by family.
I felt totally overwhelmed, an intense full circle moment hit me like a ton of bricks. Thoughts of regret, questions and self criticism engulfed my mind and rushed through my body. I was suddenly aware of the connections I felt to the people around me. My children, my sister, my niece, my Christopher. I was breathless as I realised that I was surrounded by a group of people who actually did love me. Unconditional love.
I quickly jumped up to get some fresh air. Luckily emotions are expected at your fathers funeral so my behaviour wasn’t at all out of place. I hadn’t been in the garden for more than two minutes when Christopher came outside. He didn’t say a word, just wrapped his arms around me and held me like I’d never been held before.
I wanted to sob, but was too afraid to let go. I had an urge to tell him every single thing that had happened to me over the past 30 years, and ask him every single detail of his life, but neither of us said a word.
I just allowed myself to be in the moment and realised that this is home.