'I thought I understood about life before I had children - then my son was born'
Phil 49. Married, with two children from Hertfordshire. Managing Director for an events company.
How are you?
Over the last few years I have found myself in a downward spiral physically. I have high blood pressure so I have to take Ramipril. I measure my blood pressure twice a day with my own machine. I feel the physical decline - I’ve had two new knees too. I don’t have the outlook or opinions that I had when I was 18. You know when some people say they feel exactly the same - I don’t!
I’m 50 this year, I’ve got 12 years to pay off my mortgage. I can’t see me retiring anytime soon. The burden is huge, it occupies my thoughts day and night. It’s amazing what you get used to. My time is dedicated to work, family and friends. I haven’t got time for everyone else’s problems. I am pretty content with my lot but saying that if I lost my job our lives would be fucked. That’s my biggest fear. I have no choice but to make sure that doesn’t happen. It terrifies me. What I do is very specialised so it would be tricky to get another job. Fear is the single biggest motivation. There’s an expectation from myself that I will provide. I do what I can to make home life comfortable and loving. We have chosen the life style we have and the big part of that is - it has to be paid for. I would feel that I had failed if I couldn't provide.
I know half a dozen men at my age who’ve lost their job. They’ve found it a struggle to get another one and that terrifies me. If I wasn’t doing my job, what would I do? I don't remember anything I learnt at University. I need to keep going.
What do you like about yourself?
These aren't necessarily my natural characteristics, I’ve worked hard at some of these. To treat people as I would be treated myself. Be nice to people. Be generous. I don’t take myself very seriously - the flip side of that is I don't like people who do.
I have a good sense of humour. There are things I’d change but I like me - partly because I’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve myself in order for that to happen. I understand myself - although not fully.
When I was younger I would react impulsively. Making a bad situation much worse by not thinking about my response and failing to understand that my reaction wasn't the most important aspect of whatever was happening. Why is you being offended the most important thing - no one cares! I try to take a more measured approach, it’s my medicine - it takes away the agro. How much time and energy does it take to have an argument - sleep on it.
I’ve taught myself not to rush in, not to respond when I’m upset - or press ‘send’ when I’m angry. I’ve had to take a deep breath to curb some of my natural instincts. I see these tendencies in my children. They’ll get it in 30 years time.
How do you see yourself?
Inherently contradictory (laughing). I have always seen myself as pretty decent at some things but not exceptional at anything. ‘Always representing the school but will never make in the County team’. I can turn shit into good but I can’t turn good into excellent.
One thing I know for sure about myself is the feeling that I am being ignored - both professionally and personally and I hate it!
What do you think about marriage?
Marriage is a very good thing, it’s a stabiliser, a backdrop for having children. I think a lot of people probably stay married for a lot longer than they ought.
People go on a stag dos because it’s a marker that life is going to be different forever but I think the difference between being married and single is inconsequential compared to being childless and having your first baby. Having children is the really big change in life.
To what extent do you become shaped by your marriage - you change so much over the years. We share pretty much everything. Our marriage is equal in lots of ways; the decision making, earnings, child rearing. Does she do more house work? - yes - but I do all the finances.
When it comes to household stuff, she has very clear ideas. I’m much less strident. It’s a classic case of anything for quiet life, it’s not worth it. I will occasionally dig my heels in and say say ‘Hold on - I live here as well’. I do have an opinion. I think in a typical ‘male way’ - very practically and if something has a practical reason not to do it, then it makes no sense to me to do it - why would I want to do something to make my life more difficult?
What do you think about children?
I thought I understood about life before I had children then when my son was born, I was suddenly consciously overcome with the feeling of ‘Oh my God, ah, now I get what it’s all about!’
I’ve tried to pick and choose from the parenting that I observed as a child taking the best bits, leaving the rest behind and adding on some new bits too.
My son once said to me - “You’re quite tough on us but you’re fair” - I’m happy with that. We have lots of belly laughs together - we are very similar. On the flip side my kids would say I’m quick to criticise or raise my voice and that’s because I’m tired of saying the same thing 500 times (laughing).
Having children is a great way of understanding yourself. Having children is like learning a foreign language and when you learn a foreign language you suddenly understand English a lot better. Seeing their impulsiveness has helped me recognise it in myself - and to try to do something about it.
What are you views on body image ?
To quote George Orwell - ‘Everyone gets the face they deserve when they’re 50!’
The body image thing is unhealthy. It drives people to do some odd things. It’s about a deeper insecurity and malaise in their life.
About 5 years ago I saw something for the first time and was astounded, since then I can’t stop seeing it. It’s the way women look at other women when they walk into a room. That half a second glance up and down - the expression that follows says everything!
When I first noticed it I thought it was particular to that situation - then I started noticing all women do it. That’s why I think women have bad body image - you’re so horrible to each other without uttering a single word. You say ‘Oh you look lovely’ but your expression says ‘You look like a piece of shit’. I would be mortified if people looked at me like that.
A woman I worked with once said - ‘compliments to women by other women don’t count - they’re 10 a penny, or they’re just not true.’
What have you taken from doing this today?
It’s a really good thing to do. I’ve really enjoyed it. Everyone likes talking about themselves and you don’t often get to do it - especially for 3 or 4 hours.
It’s a bit like my blood pressure medication that opens up your blood vessels - it opens up everything - it’s Ramipril for the soul.
I feel I have been challenged but without being scrutinised. What I’m struck by is what am I like compared to other people - am I really boring - is my life so boring and my outlook so vanilla - what is she thinking?