Posts Tagged ‘disappointment’

This blog is dedicated to everyone who has ever tried and failed but never given up…

Back in the 1960s, an annual sports day was held for the various synagogue Hebrew classes. My parents didn’t have a car so the coach trip from Redbridge to Clapham Common was quite an adventure. There were all the typical races of the day including the sack race, the three-legged race, the 50-yard dash and my favourite, the egg-&-spoon race. I was never the most sporting of kids but I was happy to participate and it was a great day out.

I must have been about six years old when I took part in the egg-&-spoon race and came third. Third! For me that was an incredible achievement – until I realised that only the top two received a prize. But third – wow! About 10 minutes later I saw the boy who had come fourth walking around with his prize, a ball. Why did he have a prize for fourth when I didn’t get one for coming third?

I asked my dad why this was so. His reply? “He didn’t win the ball. His father bought it for him.” I have never forgotten those words or how it felt to believe that another boy’s father loved him enough to buy him a ball but mine didn’t.

Over the years I’ve tried, and failed, to win a sporting award. Swimming, putting, pool, darts, snooker… always the bridesmaid, never the bride!

Fast forward 55 years. Having had to stop running for almost 20 years with a serious lower back problem, I started jogging about two years ago and found little reaction from my back. Apparently the stiffening of ligaments due to age has stabilised my lower spine and allows me to run again. Since October 2015 I have completed two London Marathons and dozens of 5k, 10k and half-marathons including regular Saturday morning 5k parkruns.

On Saturday 9th September 2017, I was in America visiting my son and his wife. Being the 9/11 weekend, there were numerous commemorative 5k and 10k events including one in Bridgewater, New Jersey, the 9/11 Heroes Run for the Travis Manion Foundation. As this was only 20 miles from where I was staying I thought, “why not?”

America is never short of patriotism and the speeches before the 5k run inspired everyone. I was amazed at the number of first responders running who were dressed in full uniform including fire-fighters replete with oxygen tanks! I ran around 27 mins 30 secs, which was OK given the hills and heat, and placed 57th of the 200+ runners. I picked up a drink and a banana and drove home.

Next day I saw some photos of runners with a medal round their neck. I should know better – there’s always a finishers’ medal in UK events and I’d missed picking this one up. I emailed the organiser only to be told that medals were reserved for the top three in each age range. On checking the results, I was amazed to find that of the 13 people aged 60 and over, I’d come third…

At that moment, the memories came flooding back. I was a six-year-old again completing that egg-&-spoon race only this time I didn’t need my father to buy me a prize – I’d actually won one by right.

The organisers mailed the medal to my son. He must have thought I was mad when I asked him to post it rather than wait a few months until he came to London. I even insisted on him using a tracked delivery method!

Had my father bought me that ball all those years ago, I wouldn’t feel this sense of achievement. I realise now that it wasn’t because he didn’t love me. It was his way of preparing me for life’s disappointments and instilling in me the ethic that winning something has to be a worthwhile experience. Prizes have to be deserved. He was right.

Read Full Post »

Watch 2

As children, many of us were taught the old adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” But while broken bones heal, the damage done by hastily spoken words rarely does and the pain can be multiplied manyfold when words are left unsaid.

Around 1970, I remember going to Valentines Park in Ilford and hiring a rowing boat with my father. When we finished, the boy in charge of the boats (who was probably my age, 14 or so) somehow insulted us – I don’t recall exactly what happened. A short argument ensued and when my dad threatened to turn it physical, the boy apologised. As an ex-commando, even at 50 he was still a force to be reckoned with. As we walked away, I remember dad saying to me: “I’d have let you sort him out if I’d have had any confidence in you.” Those words have stayed with me throughout my life and are as painful today as they were 45 years ago. Did he mean them to be so hurtful? Probably not but at the time he was not in the best of personal places.

Through circumstances beyond his control my father spent 15 years as a tailor’s presser for my grandfather, using a heavy iron day after day to press cloth. When by the early 1960s this had physically damaged him, he managed to get a job as an international telephone operator for the GPO, now BT. Still technically an ‘alien’, having retained his French nationality, he didn’t receive a pension and wasn’t allowed to be promoted to supervisor until after 1973 when the UK became part of the EU. He continued there until 1982 when a major heart attack curtailed his employment.

It is difficult to comprehend how frustrated my father must have been. Prior to the war he was a trainee accountant in Paris yet after the war he spent 35 years in London doing unskilled or, at best, semi-skilled work. It is difficult to share the reasons here but let’s just say this was a choice he made for the sake of his new bride. It didn’t take a lot for his frustrations to rise to the surface and to be translated into physical situations, something my brother and I knew only too well as children.

Some time back my relationship with my parents became difficult. I found it impossible to tell them I loved them. I tried once with my father but the words stuck in my throat. A few years ago dad said to me: “I never told my father I loved him until it was too late. Don’t make the same mistake I did,” but his comments fell on deaf ears.

On the death of my parents earlier this year, I started to clear their house. One of the items I found was my father’s chunky Omega Genève watch that mum had bought him in the 1970s. At the time she worked for Ernest Jones in Ilford and would have got a hefty discount – even so, it would still have been expensive. Perhaps it was a silver wedding anniversary present, I’m not really sure. Dad really loved this watch and wore it until about five years ago when it became too heavy for his weakened wrists.

The casing was worn and the gold-plated strap had been eaten away by sweat so I set about trying to get it repaired. My local jeweller informed me that straps could no longer be purchased for this model. I spent a couple of weeks searching online, missing out on a stainless steel replacement strap on ebay, and even registered for a dedicated watch auction at the end of July.

Last week I asked myself the question: why am I doing this? It’s a heavy watch that I would never wear. In fact I haven’t worn a watch for many years, relying on my phone for the time. Then came the stark realisation that repairing the watch was my way of trying to bring my father back and it wasn’t going to happen. I wouldn’t be able to ask him why he’d viewed me as such a disappointment as a child. I wouldn’t be able to reassure him that I’d look after mum after he died. And it wouldn’t give me the chance to tell him I loved him.

He knew the pain he’d gone through with his own father and wanted to save me the agonies of making the same mistake. To my cost I ignored him. His words may have hurt me as a child but my unsaid words have hurt me far more as an adult.

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Read Full Post »