Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Modern Father

I watched a couple of venerable journos pontificate over the papers about Tory leader, David Cameron's interview on ITV during which - stop press - he became "emotional" discussing the death of his son, six-year-old Ivan. It's been slightly over a year since Ivan died. Not long. No time at all really. The pain within touching distance.Cameron told the interviewer "the loss is very tough and it takes a very long time to even start to get over it. It's a sort of journey between understanding what you're missing, what you've lost and being grateful for what you had. It just takes a very long time."
There were raised eyebrows among the country's world-weary. Oh so world-weary. Could it be that Cameron was seeking to electorally profit from the death of his son? "How distasteful", they muttered among themselves. After all, they'd seen it all before.

In February during another ITV interview, this time with Piers Morgan, Gordon Brown spoke of the death of daughter Jennifer, born prematurely weighing just 2lb 4oz, dying in 2002 at just 10 days.
“She would be 9 this year and you know, you think all the time of the first steps, and the first words and the first time you go to school and it’s just not been there… this is the happiest time of your life and then suddenly it becomes the most grief stricken time of your life. It was such a pendulum swing. I couldn’t listen to music, I really wasn’t much interested in anything for a while because you had to come to terms with something that, you know... you’d expect it would work out so completely differently.”
One commentator came to the verdict "He might have steered the country on to the rocks but last night we were invited to vote for him because, I'm sorry to say, he and his wife suffered the intense sorrow of losing their first child. That sounds harsh but this excruciating TV appearance left one no alternative conclusion."
Another opined: "Was it a cynical U-turn by a man who once decried personalised politics and Blairish exploitation of family? Yes shouted an army of cynical pundits and bloggers."

My child (stillborn at term) would be 10 if I hadn't lost him. Lost him like a sock or glove or pair of spectacles for reading. Just like that. But worse. And what these pundits don't understand is Brown and Cameron don't have a choice to talk or not to talk, to weep or not to weep, because the life and death of their children runs right through them. Tragedy defines them more than any manifesto ever could. Whatever power each man holds or chases, he would abandon it all, without hesitation, for just one more day with his lost child. He would sell his own soul for his lovely political wife never to have had her heart broken up into ugly pieces that no policy or strategic thinking - however clever and well-meaning - could ever mend. These party leaders may day-dream of glory, but at night they dream of sons and daughters they can no longer hold. They are not wrong to talk about it, they are right. Unspoken griefs twist and turn and do not grow smaller for darkness and a lack of air. They speak their children's names and they tell of their sorrows because to do otherwise would be to deny those children, it would be to say those children came and went, and that coming and that going did not matter in the scheme of things. Honesty in politicians - isn't that a good thing?

17 comments:

Suzy said...

Whatever anyones political persuasion these two men are Fathers who have both lost a child. The political pundits should leave their personal lifes alone and concentrate on politics.

Carry on blogging the election its more informative than the dry commentaries on the press or tv

I am down your way next weekend I Shall keep an eye out for you i hot pursuit of your prey camcorder and dictaphone as your weapons of choice

billatbingley said...

What a sensitive piece of writing Judith. We do admire you, especially as you know first hand what the loss of a child means. We had three still births and still remember them all. The pain does diminish with time, but they are never forgotten.

Sometimes the political pundits forget that they are not only dealing with politicians, but also with real human beings, who have real emotions. In situations like this a little bit of sympathy would not be amiss.

Mimi said...

Beautifully written.
Honesty in politicians is definitely to be desired. As is being in touch with their emotions.
For too long, infants who died were denied,(never forgotten by their parents, but denied by society).
These are brave, real, honest men.
I wish we had some of them here.

Emma said...

Yes. It is a good thing.

lifesart said...

Politicians are people, though they sometimes don't seem to remember that fact. These men have dealt with an unfathomable loss, as you know too well, and because their public lives require them to speak about it, they should not be vilified for showing their pain.

Yes, it is important for politicians to be compassionate. As an American, I have seen too little of that from some of our elected leaders.

I am so happy I have found your blog, Judith. (through Andrew Sullivan's blog) You seemed like a dear friend after I had read just one post. And the insights you bring to British politics, and life, are enlightening, thought-provoking and entertaining. Thanks and keep blogging! Now to buy a book....

Jan said...

A different perspective from the pundits, rightly. Well written and moving post, and got me thinking.

Potty Mummy said...

It IS a good thing - and thanks for providing an alternative point of view to those war-weary cynical commentators who, it seems likely, have had the good fortune to never have been in that situation themselves.

Anonymous said...

Pleasure having you back - missed your writing.

reluctantmemsahib said...

Honesty in politicians? Yes a good and a rare thing. And that was beautifully written. I'm sad you lost a son; I have friends who have lost children and I know their ache never goes, at best it grows less acute. One friend described moving away from the grief and getting on with the business of mothering her other children as learning to step away from a big black hole, learning to look into its cavernous black depths less often.

Sarah said...

Thank you for this. Beautifully written and very moving. I'm sorry for your loss and agree w/ previous commenter that those who have a cynical reaction Cameron's and Brown's comments must have been spared this particular pain. They should be grateful and keep their mouths shut.

Abigail said...

When David Cameron's son died, Gordon Brown cancelled PMQs as a mark of respect. On making his condolences in the Commons, he said, 'the loss of a child is an unbearable sorrow no parent should ever have to endure.' It is poignant that this sorrow remains the only real point of empathy and understanding between these two very different men.

Suffolkmum said...

What a beautifully worded piece of writing. So right. I wish more people would feel able to acknowledge that they'd stared horror in the face instead of feeling awkward or embarrased - or worse, seeing self-seeking motives.

Deer Baby said...

Beautifully written and expressed. I have read your book and so knew you had lost a child. My mother lost a child too. I'm glad you have stood up and written about this. I must admit I have squirmed a little - on the Piers Morgan interview it did go through my mind that they should just leave Gordon Brown alone- that something's just aren't for public consumption. I didn't think that Brown was exploiting his daughter's death for political gain or that matter, Cameron, his son's. But I just think it was the way Piers Morgan asks his questions. It makes it seem like they'll drag out every last bit of a person's for the public to feed on. But I know that for someone who it has happened to, it is the very essence of them.

billiecat said...

As a father who lost a still-born daughter, who would now be four years old, I know (and wish I did not) that you are absolutely right. What both men said describes exactly the pain I felt, and am feeling, and will feel off and on for the rest of my life. I wish I had the luxury of being cynical about this.

Manicmum said...

I must admit, I was cynical - especially with Gordon Brown whose Piers Morgan interview seemed designed to force him to 'emote' in a way that was uncomfortable and foreign to him. I felt it was Sarah's idea to 'PR' him into popularity. Should politicians be forced to squirm under the spotlight about somethings like this? Is nothing sacred? Seems a very American style of leader-selection. Looking at the who, not what what they stand for. But what do I know?

bentonbag said...

Time was when journalists and other interviewers would have had the decency and compassion NOT to ask questions about such personal and distressing things. I know it's good to talk and to grieve, and possibly helpful to others going through similar trauma. But it just seems so tasteless and cruel to bring the death of a child up in such a public and political place. I'm not so cynical as to believe that either man would use his child's death as a lever into power. But in allowing the question to be asked they make it look that way. Which is not good for parents or politics or the memory of their lost babies.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Judith.
I suspect there is always going to be a strange dichotomy between those of us who know the grief of losing children and for whom that fact is like an ivy that twists around everything we do, say and are, those who don't know personally but can empathise through their associations with those who have and those who,try as they might, just simply cannot understand. x