Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (76) The General Practitioner (21); Blue Sky Dreaming
Of course, listening to a wide range of theoretical approaches to working with families at the conference, and at the same time planning to uproot your own growing family and transport it half way round the world, makes you reflect on your own experience of families. Of course, writing about these events many years after they occurred, and with all the accrued experience of an old psychiatrist and family therapist also provokes you into re-evaluating what you did and why, and the impact it may have had on those surrounding you.
At one level to emigrate is easy. You apply for visas, make sure you have up to date passports for everyone, and if possible arrange for accommodation and work for after you arrive; all very logical. But as humans we are feeling entities, and our links with others are crucial to our wellbeing. Our sense of who we are as individuals in the world derives in part from our family history and the place our forebears created for themselves. Much of that information may not necessarily be discussed in detail, or even openly, but in many families you will hear a variant on the phrase: “This is how we do things.” This may simply be a shortened form of “This is how your mother and I have decided we do things.” Or it can be so much more: “This is how generations of my family have done things, and your mother agrees we should continue those traditions” (or some variant).
You may only find out about such things if you challenge the status quo explicitly or implicitly. An example mentioned much earlier in this book might be my episode of stealing some money simply because I came across it. My father took to me with a leather belt, and I must admit the shock of that had a profound effect. I was only to learn much later that his father had belted him, and my great grandfather had belted my grandfather (and all much more violently than I was ever treated). Apparently that is what fathers did to stop emerging aberrant behaviour. As Jan and I began our own family, I determined I would never resort to violence. And I have not (unless you count the fact that the whole family was to learn Karate to a high standard! But that is as much defensive as offensive, isn’t it?)
I think my parents leaving for Australia when I was 16 led me to appreciate family life in the Hughes family. I saw how respectfully they treated each other, and there never seemed to be much in the way of friction in their partnership. Jan’s parents were gentle people, and I admired that and wanted it for my own future family. I believe Jan and I have achieved that.
But my parents also took Andrea with them. There had always been that seven-year age gap, and ultimately I did not have the opportunity to begin to appreciate her as a person until she had finished University and begun teaching my two boys at St. Nicholas School, coming often to stay at Old Gates. Andrea had rented the top flat at Kingsmead Court from Bobby and Reg, and had a flat mate. She was also close to an aunt of Bobbie’s (through marriage) who had a rented flat at Kingsmead. Andy developed a strong relationship with her, and I was to be ever grateful to Auntie Kate for her love and support of Andrea.
The sad thing is that our own mother missed so much of our lives at the point when both Andrea and I were developing our professional careers. My father also missed out, but for different reasons. As might have been expected he was very lonely as a widower at 50, even though his post Royal Air Force career at the British Aircraft Corporation in Bristol was all-consuming. Very quickly after Eve died, he picked up with a Winifred Moss who, rather strangely, had been a patient of mine at Birchington. She was a divorcee with two daughters, one of whom became a University lecturer, and the adopted daughter a nurse. Ted and Win were married on 27 July 1971 at Margate Registry Office, 13 months after our Eve died.
Winifred was a very anxious woman, with low self-esteem. Rather than taking pride in her parentage, she hated the fact that she had been born a miner’s daughter and worked hard to change her accent and social manners, educating herself to the point of completing a teaching degree, and developing a social circle of friends who played bridge and enjoyed ballet and the opera. She never talked about her family of origin. She was also a very jealous woman and rather quickly eradicated memories of our mother around the Long Ashton house and subsequently in several moves of house (even though Ted kept a small private collection of precious memorabilia in an old suitcase right through to his death at the age of 93).
She also distanced Ted from the May side of the family, and bit by bit alienated the extended Martin side of the family who found her controlling ways intolerable and used to tell and retell stories and laugh behind her back.
Andrea was still financially dependant as a teenager and a university student, and experienced more contact and therefore more frequent difficulties. Being gradually cut off from her father must have been awful. I had less contact with Win, being wrapped up in my practice and family. But both Andy and I became part of the alienation process; we both loathed her ‘la-de-da’ ways and the subtle nastiness.
I am sure I added to Andrea’s woes with the decision to emigrate. Even though I had never really been available as an older brother, perhaps during those years from 1970 through to 1974 I had begun to take on some of that role. And then we left, and Andrea had to deal with losing her emerging closeness to Jan, and her love and care for our two boys. It was to be many years before I really came to appreciate how difficult it must have been for her with virtually no supports, and a rather evil stepmother who would much later cause immense financial problems before she passed away. I am sure I owe my sister an enormous apology for not being aware of these things, but our primary bonds had been broken 9 or so years before when I was 16 and she a 10 year old – ironically when she left with our parents for Australia. The newly developed 1970s bonds were only tenuous. It was not to be until recent years that those bonds have been strengthened, despite the enormous geographic distance between Australia and the UK.