I refuse to teach my boy how he should be a son, but I will gladly let him teach me how to be a dad
There were a variety of reasons why I decided to start writing a collection of my thoughts on the different subjects that make up this blog – principally it was to explore Niceness as a concept, by trying to answer the question ‘what’s wrong with just being nice?’ and introducing my own thoughts on the intricacies of Niceness in social beings. The idea was that a thorough examination of Niceness through the lenses of various schools of thought beyond my intellectual capabilities might make a compelling case for its importance to the future of humanity. It’s ambitious – and almost certainly beyond my skill set, but I’ve enjoyed the process, tapped into my Genuinity, and found out a lot about myself, so there is no doubting the value of undertaking the project as far as I’m concerned.
Now, Niceness is important to me – critically important. But there were also other more personal reasons for undertaking this literary quest. My father suffered a brain infection in his late fifties – long and heartbreaking story short, aphasia basically wrecked his brain, robbing him of his ability to communicate, and us, effectively, of him. I say long story, but it actually all happened in the space of a decade. Which, conversely, sounds like a reasonable amount of time in certain circumstances – but, believe me, really isn’t. My father, a bright, humorous, difficult, puzzling man with a PHD in chemistry, was all too rapidly reduced to the intellectual and physical capabilities of an infant.
I knew my dad, Andrew Shackley, in his most Andrew-esque essence for a good 20-odd years – some people don’t even get close to that long with their loved ones, so I’m thankful for the time we did have together. I’m immensely grateful for the way he and my mother raised me and my two sisters, Victoria and Rebecca. I know he always did his best and made plenty of sacrifices along the way to ensure we were well looked after, protected and given the means to live enjoyable lives. I look back on my childhood with nothing but happy memories and I believe, ultimately, you really can’t ask for any more than that.
I don’t have many regrets – this is a good thing. But some of those I do have help to inform my decision-making in a positive way, so they’re not all bad – especially if you apply a bit of Complex Niceness reasoning to them. An example would be relationships – I regret the way I’ve treated previous partners. I regret not being honest with the people involved, including myself. But I choose to apply that knowledge, those memories, those regretful feelings, those failures, a touch of reason and some Complex Niceness, and aim to avoid repeating those mistakes again. And the least anyone can do is try.
How well did I know him?
Back to my father – because it’s concerning my relationship with him that I harbour perhaps my biggest regret. I regret that I never really got to know him. Of course I knew him. But I mean really know him. I know he loved Aston Villa Football Club. I know he enjoyed political satire. I know he liked his own company – probably more than the company of others. I know he loved children – and he was great with them. And another regret I have is that he’ll never know my son, Sammy, or any of my sisters’ children. They’ve met him – but they’ll never meet him.
The question of my regret here though is – did I ever really meet him? I wish I knew what his political leanings were (I know he voted for John Major once when it seemed everyone in East Anglia plumped for the Tories). I wish I knew what his core values were. What did he think of the state of the world? What did he want from his life? Was he truly happy? What did he regret? Was he proud of me and my sisters? What things in life really brought him joy? My mother, my sisters and I all suspect he had what would now be classified as a learning difficulty – possibly a touch of Asperger’s.
We’re all on the spectrum a bit, of course, and my father was certainly prone to such traits as favouring solitude, shunning social gatherings and rejecting any opportunity to share his feelings; emotionally speaking he was something of a closed book. Now, I realise this is historically not such a big surprise – older generations have always been more stoic, less open and more reserved about spilling their guts to anyone willing to listen (or not!) compared to how we are these days. His brothers, Ian and Duncan, are also the same. The latter has told me as much to my face when we discussed my dad at one of our regular family meets. “Hugs, kisses and affection just isn’t what Shackley men do,” Uncle Duncan assured me. And I of course agreed. It wasn’t. I suspect it’s highly likely that my dad didn’t even shake my hand when my parents sent me off to university.
Use your regret to help you
But that’s how it was – and there’s nothing I can do to change that. However, I can use those regrets to benefit me going forward. Complex Niceness informs me that I don’t want to repeat those mistakes in not attempting to get to know my father better – I don’t want to miss the chance to open up to someone in my life that means that much to me. And for this reason, I dip into my Genuinity, I think about my son,
Sammy, and I think about how I’d like him to know me; of how I’d love to share with him what makes me tick, what my values are and what’s important to me. And the act of Complex Niceness I thought of to bring us closer together (at least one day – he’s only eight months old as I write this!) was to write this book for him, too. To bare my soul on paper – to embrace my Genuinity, share my inner voice and show my son what type of person, man and father I am (and try to be).
So here it is, son – I believe I’m a good person. I know I’ve made mistakes – mostly not too bad, but certainly plenty that I should have avoided making. I believe I’ve learned from a lot of them. And I believe I learn something new about myself every day. You’ve taught me so much and helped me grow as a person in ways I never could’ve imagined. Sometimes, I’ve felt like I could’ve handled things better when you were really young – unlike your mum, who is just amazing with you. But I also feel that new parents need to give themselves a bit of a break sometimes, because it really is a hard job to learn from scratch. Having said that, it’s an amazing learning curve, a real pleasure and an honour to be your dad. And I hope you’re proud of me, because I know I’m proud of you.
Fit to burst
When you were born, when you were flopped onto your mother’s chest like a tiny, purple baby deer, I felt like my chest was going to burst. I was so overjoyed to finally see you, after months of watching you grow inside your mum, feeling your frequent kicks and singing silly songs to you (at you). I blubbed uncontrollably to be honest (I’ve always been a softie, whereas your mum has a heart of stone that not even a good Meg Ryan rom com could chip away at). Just to qualify that joke/true statement – the Chambers side of your lineage seem to be far more measured in their emotional responses, whereas me, my sisters and my mum appeared to get our more gregarious nature from mum’s Scottish side (me and your mum see a lot of that Foy side in your temperament). We also graduate towards singing/performing/showing off/drinking alcohol/being lary in a way that your early, inexplicable screams appear to suggest you’ll be highly accustomed after you sample your first alcoholic beverage.
Anyway, I hope after reading these blog posts you have more of an idea of who I am than perhaps you had previously. Who knows – perhaps we were/are so close that you didn’t need these words to help you get to know me? And if so, I hope you at least enjoyed exploring some of the concepts I’ve introduced. I hope you can use your Genuinity, and acts of Pure and Complex Niceness, to help you become a Nice person.