Seeing the ‘built-in loneliness’ of parenting – and it hurts

Enda Sheppard on the bitter-sweet realisation that his children aren’t babies anymore

So there I was performing what must have looked like some weird CPR procedure as I force-palmed a bunch of newspapers into the already brimming green bin at the side of our house. I looked up and my own heart could have done with some extra ventilation as I spotted my son loping down the long straight stretch of path that leads to phase one of our housing estate.

The pang in my chest felt as real as any ailment as I watched our 12-year-old, his back to me,hair glistening in the low winter sun, all the way to the corner where he turned down the avenue.

He was on his way to school, and beyond.

Walking on, half way through school already, and who knows where his path will take him?


The lovely padded school rain jacket was in his bulging schoolbag, of course, the blue of his school jumper blending with the clear sky and the end of his grey trousers hovering a good inch or more above the dark grey expanse of sock. We really have to get those altered in Mrs Stitches’ place.

Much has happened over these past few weeks for our boy. A decent first semester school report in his first year of secondary school. Finished up at the local soccer club he joined as a buzzy bee six-year-old, chasing the huge-looking football with all the other buzzy-bee kids in the little yellow-tiled sports hall. Literally half a lifetime ago.

He has left the league representative team he was lately captaining because his new club play in a different league.

We let the league team manager know he would be available for one more inter-league game as he would not be signing for his new team for another month.

“Leave it with me,” said the manager, finally, wishing us all the best. His ultimate response was the removal of my WhatsApp connection to the group.

Tough game football – not just on the field.

How does that Fleetwood Mac song, Dreams, put it …

“Players only love you when they’re playing . . . ”

Coaches are like that too. Loyalty is not to be separated from usefulness or context.

I don't know if that manager is familiar with Dreams. If he is he could have quoted:

“You want your freedom
Well who am I to keep you down
It’s only right that you should
Play the way you feel it
Didn’t happen. This is life, not Dreams.
Play the way you feel it”.

A lovely idea but how many of us live life that? Myself, I feel more like the Rhinestone Cowboy – there's been a load of compromisin' on the road to my horizon. But hey, I'm good.

Little things

I have played it the way I felt it when it came to some of life’s major moments though, like meeting and marrying my other half, but the little things that make up a big life have not always been so straightforward.

Maybe my son will be in a better position to play his football, and make his major life decisions, the way he feels it. I do hope so and of course my wife and I will fret and worry about all of this along the part of their journey we will be around for, both for my son and daughter.

All the time. It’s part of the deal when you get together and produce these wonderfully frustrating and endearing new people, and eventually release them back into the wild.

We hope our dreams for our children work out, or that, more importantly, their own will, and even now I am thinking of the impermanence of it all. These children who have spent almost every day of their lives with us up to now, will all too soon leave the nest and move out and on.

Yes, we will always be connected but there is a built-in loneliness to this whole process which hit me unexpectedly, and hard, when I looked up to see our boy walking to school.

“Dreams of loneliness,
Like a heartbeat, drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering, what you had,
And what you lost and what you had and what you lost”