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Fatherless: A Memoir Kindle Edition
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Whereas parents tell their children what their plans for the future are, orphan children are at the last minute told to pack their bags, they’re off to….. leaving friends and carers they may have grown attached to.
Torquay author Phil Barber found himself in this position at the age of 5 and details the trials and experiences from that tender age to when he left the orphanage / foster system at the age of 17.
I was expecting it to be depressing and even sordid in parts but somehow the excellent writing tells the story unflinchingly without making it a harrowing read. It details the day to day life of a kid growing up without parents or warm home atmosphere, without pathos, so that you find yourself fascinated by the events not often brought down by them.
But we all need something to hang on to - no parents, no warm atmosphere – fortunately Phil has a talent for football and the wide open playing field of the orphanage where he can get lost in the excitement of the game and forget the trials inside the four walls of “the home”. Also his two older brothers are with him at different years in the home and he can call on them from time to time for reassurance. How children who couldn’t take solace in sport or had no family contact whatsoever coped, heaven knows? Maybe they……but let’s not go there.
We’re told such a childhood can make a child independent and certainly Phil at the age of 9 years old had more grown-up thoughts, and was asking more questions about his world, than I was at that age. But one senses the trade off: the empty space inside that yearns for guidance and yes, love. This is partly filled by the wonderful people who take on the role of looking after these children, many of these carers (aunts and uncles) do it inadequately – there’s only so much love to go round. Some even seem indifferent as if it’s just a job, and these are disliked, even feared by the children. But if it clicks as it did for Phil with ‘Uncle Colin’ the child can gain a surrogate father.
I would think that this is a fine coming of age story for any adolescent boy, not least of all because it’s true. Apart from the harshness of parentless life it touches on the experiences of young boys everywhere: lack of confidence; fights; girls; masturbation; rebellion, struggling to understand your circumstance. I wish I’d read this book when I was fourteen.
Phil Barber is an excellent writer, I met him a couple of years ago when I went to him for guitar lessons. A handsome, manly, guy. A tendency to be serious. That’s how he struck me, long before I knew he was writing this, his first book. A book packed with detail, breath and insight, though he doesn’t over analyse events but leaves them for the reader to evaluate.
An important book in this day of increasing birth rate, single mums, and possibly more children being taken into care. The importance of getting that care right is so necessary for the wellbeing of the child and their future adult behaviour that to get the child’s experience and feelings regarding their ordeal is of the paramount importance.
A poetic touch periodically entertains the reader. Phil and his favourite foster parent are gardening: “Uncle Colin and I drank tea in between the mowing, and the moments spread out like tree branches in the warm sun.”
Above all it’s written truthfully from the heart – and that way you can’t go wrong.
I wasn't taken into care but I too had parents with mental health challenges.. Bearing in mind the statistics on mental health, an awful lot of people will identify with this. .
Growing up, I was not trying to hide from my school friends the shame of living in a care home. But I was pretending in other ways that my home life was very different to the painful reality. I think most people on occasion inhabit the land of "make believe".
In my search for identity, belonging and purpose in life, I did not experience the aching void Phil Barber describes so well. But I know only too well the yearning for closeness and connection that accompanies a childhood of emotional deprivation and inadvertent abuse from ill-equipped and disturbed parents. I think there is a bit of this yearning or "lost child" in most of us.
The bottom line is that you don't need to have been through the author's odyssey to relate to his narrative. It is so "un-put-down-able" precisely because it speaks to a part of us and tells as something about our own journey.
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