If I Could Turn Back Time

by Rick Johansen

 * Includes recycled material *

One lesson I have been taught, pretty much since the time I was born, is not to worry about the things I cannot change. What’s gone is gone, what’s done is done; just deal with the cards you’ve been dealt and live happily ever after. Or something like that. However, in order to think and live that way, you have to be of a certain mindset; one that’s ordered and logical and able to just live with it. I understand it but sadly it’s never worked for me. And I am still trying to work out just why that is.

Taking it from the top, I was born into a form of dysfunctionality. Two parents who couldn’t get on and now I am much older I do wonder how on earth they got together in the first place. Physical attraction had to be the reason, the only reason, and after a while, in their case a relatively short while, things fell apart. They fell apart and from an early age – I have no idea just how early because no one has ever told me – I was that pariah,  and only child brought up by a lone parent, a term that didn’t even exist in the 1960s. Things went downhill after that.

My father was a sailor and in World War Two an incredibly courageous one who sailed from the age of 14 or 15 on the Liberty Ships which dodged U-boats to bring desperately needed supplies to hungry Brits. My mother met my father sometime in the early 1950s – again, there exists no known history of how nor when they met except that it was in Rotterdam – and by the time I turned up they were both living in Briz AKA Brislington, an eastern suburb of Bristol. Then, sometime not much later they split up, my father moving to Canada and my mother, a stranger in a strange land largely bringing me up alone. At this point, the autobiographical bit ends because, frankly, it could go on forever and I try to concentrate on the main point. I am quite certain my life would have turned out very differently had I been brought up my two parents who wanted to be with each other.

Here, I need to say that life is not all about one size fits all solutions. What works for one person may not work for another. But now, knowing what I know, my upbringing left me wholly unprepared for life and it would have benefited enormously by the presence, even the occasional presence, of a father (or an additional mother) figure and a parent who had some idea of how things worked in their adopted country. My mother loved me, did everything she could for me, ensured I was always fed even though that it meant that she could not (obviously I didn’t know this until I was much, much older, after which I felt and still feel terrible guilt) and basically did the best she could.

Whether having two present loving parents would have prevented my steady descent into mental illness, which became a scourge of my life from age 11 onwards, is a moot point and perhaps one of them may have suspected I had other issues like ADHD which, to be fair, was only invented more recently, if some cynics are to be believed. It shaped everything for the future and while I have been able to carve out a more ‘normal’ life, it has not been a life I would have chosen.

What I have done, as best I can, is to ensure my own sons had all the opportunities I never had. Obviously, I cannot claim all the credit – in truth mine has been a minority of the credit because I have a life partner who has done much of the heavy lifting I am not capable of, like academia – I would like to think they are in a better place than I was and indeed am.

All this is to say that in my life, things would have been different, and probably (although you can never know) better than they turned out with two parents rather than one. As it is, I am unquestionably an autodidact, having had to navigate virtually everything prior to meeting my partner, and while I can be proud of my efforts, and in some ways I am, it’s a life wasted. And given my scholastic shortcomings and my lack of professional success, I’ll never get over it. So, who do I blame?

The answer is no one. What’s the point? If my parents fell out of love and separated, as they did, it’s hard to say that they should have stayed together in a doomed relationship just for my sake. I know people who have done that and in the end, you can’t fool yourselves or your children. That my mother was a migrant, as I often say, a stranger in a strange land, who had no social support, nor her family beyond her in-laws, who were so poor they had an outside toilet and no bathroom, was hardly ideal. The only word that applies to her was survival. Making sure I was fed and watered and the rest I would have to work out myself. When my father, long settled in Canada, offered to pay for me to attend the Bristol Cathedral School he had attended instead of the local comprehensive, I cried for days and ended up at Briz School where I failed hopelessly. I ended up in the civil service having learned no skills and where I stayed for most of my working life. I cannot believe things would have turned out so badly if I had a more traditional family unit around me.

But, I hear you say, why worry about all that? You can’t change any of it. Why not just be grateful for what you have, which by many people’s standards is very good? Yes, yes – that’s right. Yet I don’t feel that way at all. I am of the view that this is or was, my life, I am not going to have another and much as I’d like to, I can’t turn back the clock.

All around me, I see people splitting up with their partners. It happens and, as I have said, there is no point people who no longer love each other staying together just for the sake of it. It is not a hard and fast rule that all lone parent children end up all fucked up. All I am saying here is that when things are dysfunctional and where the only goal is survival things can go very wrong. In my life, that’s where things went wrong and, frankly, have stayed wrong and it’s far too late to ‘move on’.

Everyone in my life did they best they could and in truth I couldn’t ask for more from them. But in the end, their best was not enough and I wasn’t able to turn it around on my own. I shall regret the waste of life for the rest of my life, which explains my drive in trying to ensure that my old sons don’t find themselves in the same kind of world. And that kind of makes up for everything. Kind of.

If I could turn back time, I would, but I can’t. I hate being me in every way you could ever imagine but while I am damaged, I’m not quite broken. There must be something of the “don’t worry about the things you can’t change” about me, after all.

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