Yesterday, many eyes in the UK were on the astronaut Tim Peake as he headed off in a rocket to the International Space Station. My eyes, though, caught sight of his two boys, in particular his four-year-old son crying out something like “I don’t want daddy to leave. I want him to stay with us.” His heartbreak and devastation ripped right through me. Needless to say I had a cry of my own.

Abandonment by a parent runs deep into every cell of our being. It’s not something we grow out of and overcome. When a parent leaves us (through choice or otherwise), our roots are tampered with. In some cases, the roots are severed like a sharp blade cutting through and we never quite get a ‘hold’ of the earth beneath us again. For others, the roots find new ways of growing and seeking nourishment but to think that children are resilient and can ‘cope’ with such a loss is to deny the truth of our early years.

The sad fact is that life also brings death, and we may lose a parent or both parents in that way. One can only hope that love and security come along to ‘hold’ us in other ways.

Tim Peake’s son will have the love of his doting grandparents and brother and vibrant mother, but is that enough? That wound in his heart is gaping right now, and all the ‘count the sleeps till daddy comes home’ and Christmas toys in the world can’t heal that pain.

My dad didn’t fly in a rocket (though I bet he would have given half the chance!) but he regularly flew out of Brisbane Airport to head to the highlands of Papua and New Guinea to work for more than a month at a time. My childhood was one long stretch of saying goodbye. The relationship we have with our father impacts us for a very long time. So much focus and attention is given to mothers, and how we mother our children (indeed, I spent 12 years of my life editing a magazine on this topic) but let us not for one second deny that having an active father around in our daily life is no less important. We happen to live in a culture where it’s acceptable for a father to go off…to war, to work, to the pub, to space. And women are following in their footsteps. Is it any wonder that two year old are asking for iPads from Santa? Children who are connected to loving and devoted families do not seek out inanimate substitutes.

A peaceful culture rests on unified community and families, not absence. Parenting is a huge responsibility. Our actions, on a daily basis, impact our children both in the short term and long term.

I cried for that little boy last night, but I also cried for the little girl inside me. I often wonder, since that day almost four years ago when I held my dad’s cold hand as he lay still in his coffin, if he’d have traded any of his ambition for another day on Earth to spend with his children.

I wonder if Tim will feel the same at the end of his life?

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