Sunday, November 4, 2012

Birthday boy

Earlier this summer in my shed

Three years ago this morning, I wrote a letter to Dylan. It was his fifth birthday and I published it here on the blog.  For all I spend hours crafting my lines, that particular piece took me fifteen minutes. It was published in my book; one day he'll read it and understand.

This morning he was eight, in our room at first light, delighting in his presents. Of course, he's bigger and the gifts are now largely electronic (as is the way), but fundamentally he's much the same - still looking to us, innocent and protected for all his worldly demeanour. With luck, we'll have a few more years of this.

Last night I spent some time with my eldest son - he's applying to university and asked me to scan his personal statement. In the early hours of this morning he went off on a trip to the Hadron Collider in Switzerland - very soon he'll be eighteen. He's his own person already but in his daily presence, he's still one of 'us'. We'll be lost when he leaves for good, and again when my second son (a year younger) does the same. Dylan will be just as bereft.

Outside it is snowing, the earliest I can remember. There'll be no cycling or walks in the wood today - instead, we shall play games, read books and have a party of sorts. The flakes look pretty on the window, but already they're heavy and melting.

Nothing lasts they say; treasure it while you can.


Here is the piece I wrote three years ago.

For Dylan

Five years. Has it really been that long?

It feels like yesterday and forever. So much life in such a short time.

Time Passes. Tick-tock, Tick-tock...

So wrote Dylan Thomas, after whom you’re named. I wished you his genius if not his weakness. You have his charisma already, and his bombastic ways - you sing like a Welshman too! But I forgive you your faults, as I always will.

Strangely, I can't remember your birth, perhaps because it was so early in the morning. What I do recall is bringing you home. And your brothers sitting on the bed; looking not touching, just as they were told - then gently, one at a time, holding your hand. They wanted you to wake, but you slept through it all, oblivious.

Oblivious too of the years of yearning, the three miscarriages, the nuchal scans, the waiting for results, the tests and more tests - and the waiting - always more waiting - until the final phone call. And when it came, the nurse asked if I was sitting down.

'All clear,' she said.

You see that's the thing about probability - it doesn't work in the real world. There is only one you and you were always perfect. Just like there's no probability or quantum for love: you either do or you don't; all or nothing, no half-measures. And every day you remind me of that simple, inexpressible, fact.

Happy birthday Dylan; it's the least and the most I can say.


  1. Happy birthday to a much-loved boy. That letter is so moving.

    I well remember the wrench when our two left home for college two years apart. Yes, things were never the same again, but the memories are still there and the new relationship with now adult children is different but equally satisfying.

  2. Happy Birthday to Dylan...beautiful post Mark.

    I've long pondered the very same only too fast passing of time. My eldest is off to Berlin on the 18th Nov. My second one is more often not here than here - his bedroom an occasional cave for him and at least one of his pals. Last night - for the first time in many years - R and I were on our own. The wee one was on a girly sleepover; the tricky 4th one was at his pal's for an overnight as was middle one; number 2 was partying and clubbing somewhere and number 1 was working. R and I sat looking at one another. Unsure how to be just the two of us.
    Today the house is full again. But we are well down the road to their independant living. We have managed to get two to the point where they are redy to face the world on their own. Our primary job as parents is almost done. There is such bittersweetness in the achievement. And it is just as well they do not know how much it sometimes costs us to let go and move on and do this wee bit of growing up that we have to do as their Mum and Dad.
    Perpetua is right though - the relationship changes but is equally satisfying. In fact, in some ways it is such a joy to argue politics and world affairs or talk about poetry and song with these adults that we had a hand in making.
    My sister-in-law is one of the Hadron scientists:
    It would be lovely if she were one of the folk showing him around!

  3. Hi Mark,
    I absolutely loved this post, especially your letter to Dylan - so much love and respect for your sons. I can't begin to imagine how it must feel to let them go into their "wide futures".