Father’s Day Special: Interviewing My Dad

I interviewed my Dad on Thursday night, and to say it took a lot longer than expected was an understatement… Let me know what you thought about this silly interview, it was so so so much fun to do and gave me a chance to get to know my old man a little better.

I’d like to add, before we get started, that throughout the entire duration of this interview, my dad was wearing a face mask. I would put picture proof in this post, but I love him too much to subject him to such bullying.

Brace yourself… And enjoy!

Okay, Dad. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

….. What? What do you mean tell you about myself?

I mean tell me so I can tell the people who don’t know who you are!

Oh! Right. Okay. I’m fifty… (at this point he looked at my mum, who was sitting in the room with us, for help).

Mum: Four.

Four, thank you. I am married with 4 children and 3 grandchildren and… I’m a professional assassin. I’m not really. I’m a sales director for an electronics company.

Mum: And a landlord… Shall I do this interview for you?

Umm.. I’m interested in music, theatre, art, science… Liverpool FC. But not necessarily in that order.

Where were you born?

I was born in Liverpool in 1962 at the start of Beatlemania.

What brought you to Brighton?

I was brought up in Lincolnshire and came down to Brighton Polytechnic (as it was then) in 1980 to do my degree in Combined Sciences: Biology and Computer Science.

How old were you when you got married and had kids?

I was just 20 years old, just over one month after my 20th birthday when I got married, and by the time I was 21 my first baby came along.

(At this point, a debate broke out between my parents over EXACTLY how old Dad was when my older sister was born. He was, as it turns out, 21…)

If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be and why?

The key for me would be to only do 3 A-Levels. Because if I’d only done 3 A-Levels, I would have joined the RAF, become a fighter pilot and be an astronaut. In that particular order.

Do you have any advice for young men who are about to get married?

Whatever age you are, be sure that the person you are about to marry is your soulmate. It doesn’t matter what age you are really. And stick at it, because it won’t always be as easy as it was on your wedding day.

In a similar thread, do you have any advice for young men who are about to have children, whether they are planning on starting a family, currently trying for a baby, or expecting one soon?

Do some babysitting before you have a child of your own… Because changing your first nappy is quite the experience and it’s probably better if you already know what you’re doing! And I guess the other things is, go for a few nights without any sleep before you have babies. To see if you can cope with it.

What’s your favourite way of showing people that you love them?

Probably… Doing jobs for people. Like favours, or treating them, or doing something for them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that that is what you should do. They might want time, or they might want gifts or quality time together or something. They might have a different love language to you, and so I shouldn’t assume that because that’s what I want to give to you, that that’s what you want. You dig? (You can actually put that in by the way. That I said ‘you dig’. I feel like Bill Nighy when I do that.)

If you could only do one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

I’d listen to music. I’d listen to music all day and all night. I never get bored of listening to music. I also never get bored of… Did you only say one thing? Well, I also never get bored of looking at the stars, or sunsets, or walking along the boardwalk in Maui, or holding hands with my wife… There’s lots of things. My one thing ended up being lots of things. So I guess I have to stick with music.

Do you have any regrets in your life, and if you do, what are they?

I worked too hard, and for too long when I was younger, and I didn’t get to see them as little children and growing up. That’s one regret. Another one is that I never learnt to play the drums. And of course, I regret turning down the marriage proposal from Heidi Klum. But then I think anyone who turns down a marriage proposal from Heidi Klum would regret it… Would it help if I told you that I don’t actually know who Heidi Klum is?

What is it like to have creative children/theatre kids?

It is… The best. And I’m going to tell you why. My dad was born in 1930 in warn torn Liverpool, and was the brightest of the 1840284 children his parents had. He was so bright that he passed his Eleven Plus, which meant he could go to grammar school. However, his parents couldn’t afford to send him to the grammar school, so he never went. He had an ordinary education, which meant that when he had me and my brothers, he wanted us to have the best educations we could get. Because of my education, I ended up with a degree, highly educated, but working in a job that I wasn’t that bothered about or interested in. So, when I had kids, I thought that education would be a great idea, but wouldn’t it better if they also ended up doing what they really wanted to do because I never did. So that’s what me and your mum did, and because we’re both very creative, that’s what you’ve all ended up doing. So I’m really chuffed that my kids are educated but they’re also engaged in living out their dreams and doing what they really want to do.

Long answer isn’t it.

How have you supported their creativity?

I’ve tried to encourage them to do that, to follow their dreams, because they are creative types and creativity can be a difficult and personal journey because it involves taking risks and being vulnerable and being open to criticism and therefore being strong. So I’ve tried, and often failed, to support them in their creative aspirations whether that be playing the guitar and being in a band or being a performer on stage. Sometimes that’s involved literally investing money into them, so paying for education or buying tickets and lessons. Often, with more difficulty, I have to give time.

How would you advice people to follow their dreams?

The first thing you have to do, of course, is find out what your dream is, something I only found out in later life. Spend time finding out what things inspire you or make you come alive, will give you some indication of what your dream is. Once you’ve found that, the next thing is to find out a way of doing it, with or without education, with or without opportunity and with or without encouragement. Some people assume the only way to be a singer is to get on the X Factor and find someone who is willing to pay for you to become a star. But if you really do want to be come a singer, just sing around the house, sing on the streets, sing in pubs, be a singer. Y0u don’t have to be a star to be a singer.

What’s marriage like?

Marriage is… a word, not a sentence. No, don’t put that in. Erm… You get less for murder. No don’t put that in either. Marriage is the most enjoyable and sometimes the most challenging thing you could ever do but it is the most rewarding thing you can do if you’re willing to put the effort into it. It’s one of those things where the results from it directly relate to the effort you put into it.

Does marriage change over the years? If so, how?

Yes it does. The biggest danger with long term relationships is that they can become regular and ordinary and routine and the biggest challenge is actually making it not become those things, making it as exciting and fun and enjoyable as it was at the very start. So yes it does change, but at another level, it gets better because you understand your partner better over time and therefore it becomes a much deeper relationship because of it as time goes on.

If you could have a conversation with one famous person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Alan Carr. Dead.

Dad. I’m not acceping that as an answer. Please try again.

Okay, in that case… Leonardo di Vinci. Alive. I don’t want him dead. Otherwise it would be a very boring conversation. He was literally the Reinassaince man, he straddled science and art without compromising on either. He didn’t understand the restrictions or the division that we put between science and art, and was able to become an expert in everything he put his hand to whether that be sculpture or art or scientific engineering. I find him fascinating.

There are quite a few more questions by the way Dad.

That’s okay, I’m just getting warmed up!

Can you pin point one or possibly a few of your happiest moments?

Yes, I can.

… Would you mind sharing them?!

Oh I see! Okay, one that comes instantly to mind is sitting in a park with my fiance about 3 or 4 weeks before our wedding, in the sunshine, holding hands and talking about our future. The birth of my, well all of my children, but especially the first one because you remember feeling the burden of responsibility having your first child.

If you could give something to your wife, what would it be?

It would be much more quality time. Away from the pressures of life, away from the pressures of work and away from the pressures of the world. I would also buy her an all expenses first class holiday to Bora Bora. Only because I don’t know where it is… But it sounds exotic.

What was it like to watch your children go through tough moments in their lives?

First of all, it’s difficult because children are different when they are children from when you were a child. So it would be easy to assume that the answers would be the same as the answers were when you were a child, but it’s not the case. It’s also quite hard to watch them go through things and not to assume that you have all the answers and to allow them to go through so that they can learn and grow. It’s never easy to see your kids go through difficult times under any circumstances. And part of you wishes that you could wave a magic wand and it would all go away. But the most important thing is to stay in relationship with your children, to make sure that you don’t ever break that relationship no matter what they go through and no matter how they feel or no matter how they treat you.

Has anything changed with age?

Inside, I still feel exactly the same as I did when I was 18 or 2o – I still feel really young. I’m much more tired now, I don’t have the energy I used to have and my body doesn’t do the things it used to do when I was 20 years old. So it can be quite frustrating. The most frustrating thing is that when you look forward you know it isn’t going to get any better! Therefore all the things you could have done when you were 20 you can’t do anymore and all the things you’d like to have done when you’re 20, you’re not capable of anymore. So that’s a frustration too. However, you are wiser, you are more relaxed and you’re a lot more confident in who you are.

Is there any one thing in particular that you wish for your children or grandchildren?

I want them to be fulfilled in everything that they do, not just being happy because happiness comes and goes but fulfilment is based upon the joy of life. And I want them to become great contributors to society, and to make a difference in their life or community or whatever it is that they put their minds to.

(Before conducting this interview, I took to my personal Facebook page for reader questions. The results varied.)

Okay Dad, it’s time to answer the questions I was given on Facebook. Let’s start with the 3 questions that I have from Dave in Brighton. His first question is: How do you always smell so amazing?

By using a cunning blend of Givenchy Apres Rasgase Pour le Homme and Patchouli oil, which is an essential oil which has been used by hippies forever. And I now have a perfumer in Paris who blends patchouli oil for me. Which is cool, but don’t put that in, because it’s not completely true. It’s a bit true.

His second question: Is it embarrassing to be funnier than everyone?

I don’t know. You’d have to ask Dave.

His third question: What is your favourite cheese?

Havarti.

Mum: When have you ever tried Havarti?!

I’ve never tried it. So I’d probably say Emmental because of it’s nutty crispness. And because, like Dave, it goes so well with apples.

Our second reader question is from Sharkey. He asks: How do you keep you hair so “tame and lush”?

I think he thinks I’m somebody else. I have never had tame or lush hair. It’s a ridiculous question so I feel like giving it a ridiculous answer.

Clemmie asks: Is it hard to be funny 24/7? 

Oh Clemmie! Bonjour! Errr… Yes. It’s exhausting. The most important thing is to maintain a certain jour de vive (she’ll like that) whether you’re funny or not.

Moving overseas, an international reader Chris asks: What is your technique when interacting with regular, un-cool dads?

What is my technique?! Okay, Chris, brace yourself. I’m about to reveal my deepest darkest secrets. I practise my techniques of ways to interact with un-cool dads simply by talking to myself in the mirror. So that should give him some idea of how I develop my techniques. I don’t consider myself to be cool. At all.

I don’t consider you to be cool either. A late mid-interview entry now, from Mrs Khan who asks (very broadly): What makes you happy?

My word! What makes me happy?! Errrr… the smiles of my grandchild, seeing my children accomplish great things, being outdoors, travelling and experiencing new cultures…

Mum: ME!

Yes, my wife, hearing the kops singing You’ll Never Walk Alone, the Last Night of the Proms, a pan of Scouse, good coffee…

Mum: (starts pointing at herself frantically)

Yes, I’ve said you!! Okay fine, pointing at my wife… Spending time with my children, feeling like I’m close to God… But I only said that because I knew that Pastor Khan asked the question.

Cheryl asks: How do you stay calm when everything around you is going crazy?

I use the duck approach mainly. You know how when you look at a duck swimming on the water, it’s all lovely and calm, but underneath the water it’s legs are going like crazy?! I think most of the time, people are calmed by having a calm leader. Or a someone who just appears to be calm. So a lot of the time, it’s an act. I’m not calm at all, I’m just as terrified as everyone else. I don’t have all the answers or all the solutions…

I’m letting out some serious secrets here.

Another last minute entry, from your wife this time. She asks: Can you put the bins out?

Yes, I know I can. I’ve been doing it for 34 years.

Mum: Not true! I did them this week!

Finally, your eldest nephew asks: Who let the dogs out?

Sam?

Is that your answer to the question?!

Yes. Sam let the dogs out. No, I mean Baha Men, obvs.

Do you have any final thoughts before I ask my very last question? 

Make sure you vote in the Referendum. And always wear fresh socks daily.

And finally, before we go, the question everyone has been waiting for… Who is your favourite child? Bearing in mind I’m the one in charge of the publishing of this post, and will edit for clarity…

Erm… I can’t remember. Either the oldest. Or the youngest. Or the one in the middle.

Mum: Probably whichever one is making you a cup of tea at the time.

Yeah, that’s good. Put that in.

Thanks Dad! You were great.

That was rubbish, wasn’t it.

My Mental Health Journey

I have been umm-ing and ahh-ing about writing this post for such a long time, because my mental health has been something I’ve always been very private about. I have spoken out a handful of times about my struggles on my personal Facebook page, but this was only after I’d recovered from my illnesses.

I would like to include 2 disclaimers before I begin: 1. What I went through, my journey and recovery are unique to me. I am not a “classic example” of mental illness because everyone’s battles are different. And 2. This post is incredibly long. I didn’t want to give a half hearted account of what I went through, but I just wanted to warn you that if you start reading now, you’re in for the long haul! Okay, here we go…

I think to a certain degree, I had anxiety my entire life. I look back at being in primary school and remember never feeling completely relaxed. I would worry myself sick over the silliest things, I was incredibly sensitive, and always worried about what people thought about me.

My anxiety reached new levels in secondary school, not helped by having to also deal with normal, hormonal insecurities that every teenager faces. I couldn’t help but constantly crave affirmation and acceptance from my peers.

One day when I was 14, I learnt that a boy in our year had been hit by a car and was fighting for his life in hospital. 2 days later, he was taken off life support as he was brain dead and had severe internal bleeding. Although I wasn’t very close to him, it was my first taste of mortality and it completely shook me up. Until that moment, I had considered death to be something that happens to old people once they had lived their lives, not something that happens to 15 year old boys on their paper round. I remember crying into my mum’s lap for hours that night, completely traumatised by the news I’d received.

They say that grief happens in stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. With hindsight, I think I got stuck in the “anger” stage for a very long time. I was absolutely furious that his life had been taken from him, that I saw him a week before his death and didn’t say hello to him, that someone with all of their life to look forward to didn’t even live long enough to take their GCSEs.

For the next year or so, I started acting out. I was so angry about his death that I became completely dead inside. I didn’t feel anything for a very long time during that year. I didn’t care if anything I did affected my education or upset my parents: I didn’t care about anything. I lied a lot to my parents in that year, telling them I was staying at friends’ houses when I was actually at house parties and that it was my best friend who smoked and not me… And although it’s completely normal for teenagers to go to parties and get up to no good every now and then, I was only doing it in an attempt to make myself feel something.

In the end, a family friend told my mum what I’d been getting up to. Funnily enough, while most people would be furious at someone for “snitching” on them, it was one of the bravest and kindest things anyone has ever done for me because since that day, my mum and I have had an amazing relationship. I find it so much easier to tell her when I’ve messed up or how I feel, and it’s all because someone helped start the conversation.

Fast forward through a rocky time at college and my first proper heartbreak and I suddenly found myself in a proper grown up job, on a gap year, with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had let people talk me out of following my dream of being an actor, and began pursuing another dream career of becoming a midwife (incredibly different, I know)! I think I knew deep down that it wasn’t what I really wanted but I watched all of my friends leave home and go to uni and I wanted to do the same.

I often look back on my first relationship and feel so so SO bad for my ex-boyfriend. He started out with a very sweet, occasionally fiesty girlfriend… But within about 6 months, all of a sudden I could be a complete monster to him at the flick of a switch. I would snap at him over the most trivial things (example: I once spent ages getting ready and missed the train. I decided it was his fault because he didn’t tell me I was running out of time. 2 weeks later, I shouted at him for giving me time updates). I remember once standing outside his uni halls screaming at him over nothing, and I started crying out of nowhere. I admitted to him there and then that I was sick and that I needed help. He very tactfully agreed and tried to get me the help I needed, but I refused it for months.

 

During December 2014, I left my grown up job in search for a job in the medical field. My motivation hit an all time low over the holiday period, and I found myself unemployed for the next 3 months. Those 3 months were easily the hardest and most traumatic months of my life.

I know it sounds silly, but I sometimes feel like my brain took all that free time as an opportunity to bring all the things I’d been neglecting to deal with to the fore front. My mum came into my room for a chat one night and I began crying about how horrific my life was and how sad I was all the time. I think my mum was rather surprised to find her 18 year old daughter begging for therapy after a lovely day out at the shops! That was the moment where I accepted that I really was seriously depressed.

I went from bad to worse in a matter of days after that. I describe those few months as “Vegetable Kez”, because I did absolutely NOTHING for days on end. By nothing, I don’t mean lying in bed watching Geordie Shore and scrolling through Facebook… I mean, there were days where I would stare at my ceiling for hours on end, crying my eyes out. I was completely and utterly overwhelmed at the thought of leaving my bed, my house or my pajamas. Anxiety began to set in very quickly, and suddenly even the most menial of tasks became absolutely terrifying. I would cry and shake and black out if I left my house, even going for dinner with my dad made me bawl my eyes out with fear.

I massively struggled when something unpredictable happened. My family and I went out for Mother’s Day and I had a panic attack because I couldn’t decide what to eat, and I couldn’t bring myself to order something that I might not like. I felt like a stranger in my own body when things like that happened, because I didn’t feel like it was me controlling my behaviour.

During the worst depths of my illness, I went to the doctors for help and ended up being diagnosed as severely depressed, bad enough to be bumped up the therapy and medication waiting list. To determine what kind of state you are in, doctors give you a questionnaire to fill out where you have to rank certain thoughts on a scale from “I never think that” to “I think that several times a day”. To give credit where credit’s due, my level of depression was very consistent, so by the end of my time visiting doctors and therapists I knew these questions off by heart. One question however, I always struggled with. The question basically asks if you’ve ever considered or tried to commit suicide. Now… this is something that until the moment I upload this post, only the NHS knows about me. Although I have never tried to, or even considered ending my life, there were moments where I was at my worse that I would just wish and pray and hope that I could just disappear. I knew that no matter what, I would never put my parents in the horrific position where they have to sit down and write their own daughters eulogy, but I couldn’t help but spend my 11:11 wish everyday on “I wish I had never been born”.  This apparently made me “high risk”, something I have never agreed with. I was very clear that I did not want to end my life under any circumstances; I was just upset that I had no choice but exist.

Having depression and anxiety at the same time is the most exhausting thing I’ve ever experienced. I was always in both states at the same time, simultaneously caring too much and not caring at all. Wanting to succeed but not wanting to try. Wanting friends but not wanting to socialise. The only things I could continually bring myself to do was go and visit my boyfriend at uni, and go to my singing lessons. Other than that, I couldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to cope with anything.

In the space of a couple of days, I got a job and a role in a show. That’s when I started feeling a little bit less anxious about leaving the house because for the first time in months, there were people counting on me to be somewhere. I loved my job from my first shift and doing a show with new people was exactly what I needed. All of a sudden, I found myself laughing without having to force it, I was smiling to myself on the bus, I was looking forward to spending time with people and I was caring less about what they thought. Granted, those days were few and far between, but they were becoming more frequent.

I was starting to get to the point where I was done being sick, and so I signed myself up for CBT, which stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I had actually studied CBT in Psychology 2 years before and despite failing the course, I had some vague understanding of what it entailed. CBT is a different take on classic therapy; instead of discussing the struggles in your life, you pin point your negative thought patterns and behaviours, and work towards thinking and behaving in a more positive way. I think I actually only went to about 4 sessions because I had to get the bus there on my own and I chickened out more often than not. However, in my first session the therapist helped me pin point where my depression and anxiety had sprung from, and despite having already been diagnosed with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder – where you are anxious about anything and everything), she helped me realise that I was also suffering from Social Anxiety – a fear of socialising, what people think of you and in my case, psychoanalysing absolutely EVERYONE.

I spoke to her about a lot of things that I already knew I struggled with, like my fear of death and being abandoned, but also found that I had subconsciously been anxious about so much more. Just getting all of these deep dark secrets out in the open helped me massively, because I could then go home and verbalise my thoughts to my mum (who, let’s be honest, was my real therapist through it all)!

I was tired of being sick and sick of being tired. I was completely done with having depression and anxiety, and so I actively chose to change the way I thought and behaved. I didn’t let myself (as hard as it was at times) wonder what people were “really” thinking when they were speaking to me. I decided to trust that people talked me because they liked doing so, not because they felt obliged to. I didn’t let myself wonder what strangers in the street were thinking about me, because I began to realise that it really, REALLY doesn’t matter.

Of course there were still moments where it was just easier to let myself be sad for a few hours, but I started being able to recognise when my hormones were playing a part in my mood. I found myself becoming more and more carefree as the days went by, suddenly revelling in my weirdness and uniqueness and seeing those traits as my best qualities. I did the things that made me happy, regardless of whether or not people understood my decisions. I reached out to people that I’d hurt and set the record straight: I was ready for a completely fresh start.

Although I still have days where I’m moody or self concious or worried, I was absolutely overjoyed last September when my doctor told me that I was officially no longer suffering from either depression or anxiety (as far as their quantifiable measurements suggested anyway). I worked so so so hard to pull myself through a time where I felt like giving up, and I did it all through sheer will power and determination. Oh, and of course my mum. I know full well that I would have never got better if it weren’t for her and so, thanks Ma. You’re one in a million.

I know I didn’t exactly explain how I got over my illness, but I think I’ve rambled on enough for now. I’m planning on doing a few follow up posts and going into detail on certain topics that I’ve only brushed on for the moment. But for now, I think this is as much as I can cope with sharing!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this incredibly long post, it’s something I wasn’t sure about posting for such a long time but felt like it was something I needed to say. Please do let me know if there’s any questions you’d like me to answer, or anything you think I’ve missed out, I’m always happy to chat about my experiences and if even hearing my story helps, then I feel I’ve done my bit!

Massive shoutouts to my patient and very cuddly Dad, my school nurse, Sarah Kelly, Clemmie, Jimmy and my amazing, supportive and wonderful family, without whom I probably would not be as sane as I am now.

Finally, I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: thanks Mum. I couldn’t have done it without you.

xxx