My Meltdown, My Midlife Crisis, My Beard and I…………… 

Two years ago my brother killed himself and I barely shed a tear for eighteen months and then, it hit me! It hit me like an articulated truck hitting me. I’ve learned a lot about how I manage my feelings over the last two years and a lot about grief. There is no timetable for your mind to manage grief, no set of rules and there is no end to the journey, just that upward climb back to life, a different life. 
Of course the day of the news is the moment you remember, that knock on the door, the look on the two police officers faces as you let them into your home, your unbreakable fortress, your sanctuary, as they break the news and break you. However, for me it was the second year when the meltdown took over. The first year was like being under a deep fog, all my emotions locked away in a small void deep in the depths of my subconscious, not prepared to open that box for fear, fear of what I don’t know. 
With hindsight I can understand my minds self defence mechanism, shutting down the ability to grieve in that first year in order to protect me from the reality of the situation. The death of my brother came about the time I had entered my forties, my self-awareness of my being was shifting from the immortality of youth to the reality of the fact that our time here is limited. It’s a critical juncture I’m sure in everyone’s life. The colliding of these two catastrophic life events intensified my desire to take back control.
I think the big eye opener for me following my meltdown was recognising that I am no longer invincible and I am now being aware of that all-consuming cloak of my own mortality, this is a major step in the direction of moving forward. My childhood was chequered to say the least but I became the master of compartmentalisation – if there is such a work, basically locking thoughts and memories away in a box and putting them somewhere far away in the depths of my mind, never to surface again, or that was the plan at least anyway.
My ‘midlife crisis’ I now call it in order to make light of the situation to others without going into the nitty gritty details of my meltdown, had arrived. It would seem, through the various articles, blogs and books I have read many people have a melt-down at some point and fumble around in the dark for a while, some of us go and find ourselves, some self-medicate those uncomfortable feelings that won’t go away. However that unnamed desire for something more doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it can be the best thing that ever happened to us if it spurs us on to a quest for answers.

As I began to reject my old beliefs and easy come philosophy to life, I could feel my body getting restless, I needed to reinvent myself, perhaps a way of saying to the rest of the world, this thing, this grief, this life changing catastrophe is not going to beat me. The first step in my transformation was the desire to emerge from the depths of insanity as something, someone different, a new identity, a new physical expression.
And so began the next stage of my life, reinvention, which mainly consisted of a change in appearance, I grew a beard. I’ve never really tested my hair growing prowess, only on two occasions that I can remember that I left my face unshaven for little more than a few weeks when the itchiness got the better of me. I’ve always had a little hidden admiration of big bearded continentals whose thatch resembled the tight weave of an expensive carpet. My beard, whilst still in its infancy to what I am aiming to achieve, is approaching four months to be exact at the time of writing this blog. When I catch sight of myself in a shop window reflection, my instant reaction is admiration for what I thought I could never achieve. Whilst the internet provides a wide array of style choices to the new wearer, I have one goal, the Bandholz, google it, it is a beautiful thing.
This ‘change’ in my life, the way I think about life is an opportunity to see every day as an opportunity to get my life right, the person I want to be. My meltdown has given me the opportunity to experience my genuine self – flaws, scars, warts and all. My midlife crisis hasn’t manifested as an obsession to buy a fast, two seater sports car, moreover, it’s revealed itself as a slow, nagging case of doubt, accepting that I’m going to die one day, quite soon in the great scheme of things. I don’t think I obsess about this too much but I do think about it considerably more now than I did ten years ago. Best case scenario, the show is at least half over and there are more days behind than ahead. 
I have noticed recently that I am learning and enjoying my own company, I am getting bored with the need to fill in my day, week with time-wasting activities like irrelevant superficialities. Instead, I am consciously calmly focused on achieving tasks. I made the decision about three months ago to start commuting to work by bike, the pedalling kind; I guess a kind of commitment to my new life, new me. 
I’ve found that the time during this commute to and from work is like the perfect pair of book ends to the working day. The unique feeling I have on a bike is the freedom I feel wherever I am or wherever I am going. I don’t ever feel obliged to take the same route, I can choose to go where my will takes me, how fast or slow I choose and sometimes quicker and cheaper than commuting by car or public transport. Rivers, fields, small wooded areas come to life when you’re on a bike. Quicker than walking but slow and gentle enough to take in the sights sounds and smells of both the animal and human kingdoms. Ernest Hemingway said, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” I concur.
All in all my meltdown, although as a result of a tragic single event, has transformed me, for the better and I would say to anyone going through a similar difficult time, embrace it and go with don’t bottle it up because the it will come out eventually, some way, somehow, but it will get you eventually.  

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The Dad and #TeenageSon annual pilgrimage

I’ve written about football before, a common interest for me and #TeenageSon, sharing the positive whilst also turbulent joys and woes of success and failure (Click here for more Footie banter). During the last few months I’ve realised,  I am where I am, I dreamt of this moment many times over the last 18 years, me being forty years old and my son eighteen.

Over many a glass of wine I’ve mused over what it would be like, what my relationship would be like with my #TeenageSon at this point in our lives. Would he hate me, admire me, look up to me, love me, want me when he’s feeling low, talk to me about his deepest worries. I’m sure every parent goes through this angst year after teenage year.

I made it, unscathed, with my son wanting not only to be in the same room as me but go down the pub with me and more importantly wanting to go on what now has become our legendary, annual pre-season Derby County tour, our pilgrimage, that we have vowed will happen every year from this point forward.

As a parent I have experience of the fact that the teenage years can be a turbulent time, let’s start with secondary school, kids grow from little seedlings, the new kids on the block, new to the big wide world and then progress to being the king pins in the latter years and sixth form. The rapid developments in social media over the last ten years consequently means getting the attention of today’s teenager in this digital age is no easy matter and can have both positive and negative effects on the father and son relationship. Don’t be too concerned if you find yourself ‘blocked’ from accessing their profile!

Alongside these complex interactions there is the rebellion and a passion for a teenage boy to excel, to be different and be his own man. I should know, I left home at sixteen! As my son turned eighteen, my greatest worry was that suddenly, I become less like a superhero and less interesting, more of a disappointing hassle, this is where a mutual interest became our saviour – football, more specifically a sense of shared adventure, a long weekend every year to watch Derby County in their preseason friendly football games.
This year the pilgrimage took us for two nights to the Algarve and I left the organising entirely in my son’s hands, (payment excluded!). From the off there was no way the weekend was going to go without a hitch. We drove up to the ‘Meet and Greet’ barrier of the car park at the airport, which I have to say confidently opened once the camera had recognised our number plate. As we drove into the designated lanes, quickly boxed in from all angles, we grabbed our hand luggage and walked to the office to hand in the car keys. (I muted, ‘bloody hell that was easy’, to my peril). Once at the car park desk the computer really did say no, we hadn’t booked ‘meet and greet’ and why would we need it! Once the initial panic was over, we created havoc in the car park to retrieve our car and parked again in the much more convienient short stay car park.

After an eventless flight and reliable transfer from airport to hotel thats when the fun started.

‘We have had some internal problems and have no room for you…however we have transferred you to an apartment in our 4 star sister hotel’

Following a 15 minute taxi ride (gratis) we rocked up at a very plush spa hotel with a dramatic sea view. We were apologetically welcomed and taken to our private detached villa with gardens, sea views and own private pool. Unfortunately we didn’t open the back door (non-sea view) to reveal the private pool until it was too late towards the end of the trip, rookie mistake!

I have to mention the football as that was the reason for the trip: Benfica 4 – 0 DCFC enough said about that. And then there’s the partying, thank god it’s an annual thing, a free shot with every pint, I don’t think I could cope with any more often.


Call me a bad dad but we started the ‘pilgrimage’ last year when #TeenageSon was only seventeen, I took him to Amsterdam by virtue of the Derby County pre-season football match in Utrecht – trust me that was an experience! Oh and if anyone from the the Derby County crowd has any influence – a pre-season week in Vegas next year please 😉

This is my story of my 18 year adventure of fatherhood so far with my son through the prism of football. I’m sure there are millions of other hobbies and interests fathers share with their sons (and daughters) that are equally or more rewarding. I know I am lucky, fortunate and blessed to have these memories. On the news you hear of teenagers dying in tragic accidents, children who have terminal conditions, which I cannot begin to comprehend the impact of this on parents lives for which I am sorry.
If you are a parent, whether birth, step, foster or adoptive parent, make the most of it…..trust me, it’s been the fastest eighteen years of my life!

Sugar be gone. 

jacvoe7

Here I am the night before I’m about to go ‘cold turkey’ and withdraw from all refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, carbs and gluten; I’m staying on dairy because I reckon as a veggie it might leave me with little option and for this to work I need to be fully committed and have a decent variety of food to choose from. The reason I’ve chosen to give up sugar, I’m concentrating on this as it’s the most harmful on my list and has been my nemesis since I was weaned on to solids, is due partly to my desire for optimum health and mostly because I need to finally kick the habit. The sugar habit. The added benefits are hopefully weight loss, better mood regulation (sugar interferes with hormones) and most importantly steering away from the roller coaster ride toward the usual health problems that can rear their head around…

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