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3 May 2019

Matt school pix Feb 2024 (2).jpg

February 2024

I got married in July 2004 and it was always my wish to have children, with the full expectation that this would be a massively life-changing step for us. What an under-statement THAT proved to be.


In 2006 and 2007 we experienced a few miscarriages. Neither of us were spring-chickens, so it's perhaps not surprising that things didn't go by the textbook. Late in 2007, Debs fell pregnant again. We informed my parents on Christmas Day 2007. We did not want to get ahead of ourselves, but at the same time felt obliged to explain why Debs was declining the customary welcoming glass of sherry and any other alcohol. She was determined not to do anything that might compromise this pregnancy.

Our history told us not to get carried away. But I think something inside both of us - some kind of gut instinct or intuition - convinced us that, this time, we WOULD have a child. The 13-week scan was a milestone - we SAW our child. We truly started believing. We agreed then that, if we made it to the 20-week scan, we would take up the option - if it presented itself - of finding out the gender of our child and would even name him or her.

And so it was that, in March 2008, we said hello to Matthew. All was well at 20 weeks, and we know allowed ourselves to fully believe. We started buying things, and preparing his room. To cut a long story short, Matt was born at 26 weeks - three months early - due to complications with the pregnancy. He weighed 1lb 4oz and was not expected to survive more than 12 hours. He spent six months in hospital, all of which is documented in my book, The Bane of My Life, followed by a further six months at home on oxygen.

Matthew is our miracle. But it's fair to say our time with him has been more than life-changing. It's been an emotional rollercoaster ride, full of ups and downs, and challenge after challenge. Matt is profoundly autistic, and has a number of other issues.

There are times when I grieve for the fatherhood I feel that I have been denied. I looked forward so much to the excited anticipation towards Christmas celebrations and so many other paternal milestones and experiences, many of which have not happened because of his level of understanding. I wanted my 'child' to be wowed and impressed by my magic skills, to cheer me on during hockey matchdays and, of course, to pick up a stick himself when old enough; I wanted to hear my son say "I love you, Dad" with the full understanding behind those words. But then, I have come to know families of autistic children who don't speak at all; who harm themselves and who are far more challenging than Matthew.

Yes, we missed out on a lot. But, for all the ongoing challenges, we CAN interact with our son, who enjoys leading the family in a singsong, and, ultimately, are grateful for the fact that he is with us at all. Our experiences in raising him have certainly helped my sense of perspective at times when other things have not gone our way. For all that I mourn, and feel that I've been cheated out of, and all those 'father-son' moments I've missed out on, Matt remains my 'happy thought'.

Update, Feb 2024.

In February 2022, Matt had a seizure at home, which led to a diagnosis of epilepsy, and in the latter part of 2023, he was diagnosed with ADHD, so there are plenty of challenges for us still to face. He has a daily cocktail of drugs to help manage his various conditions but his behaviour can still be erratic and, while his meltdowns are, thankfully, few and far between, when they happen, they're bloody good ones (and I mean 'bloody' quite literally. A pretty decent meltdown in McDonalds in 2023 left me with blood all over the back of my hand, which he had decided to use as a scratching post).

I 'feel' his condition the most at Christmas - I had so many dreams before becoming a parent of how I hoped Christmas would be with my child - or children - all the anticipation and the build up, and what 'family traditions' we might establish, but he doesn't really have any concept of it at all, although as he has got older, he has become quite tolerant and patient, which has enabled us to enjoy our family gatherings a little more than we had been able to in earlier years.

I worry about his long-term future - to the point of having the occasional panic attack about it. I worry that he will end up alone, but then again, in many ways, he may not actually notice too much, so perhaps, in some ways, his condition is a blessing. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

Ultimately, for the vast majority of the time, Matthew is a super-smiley, giggly, happy young man who many say is a joy to be around. And isn't that, deep down, the biggest wish any parent can have for their children? So I thank my lucky stars that, at least, for the vast majority of the time, Matthew does smile and does seem to be happy. People do sometimes remark "I don't know how you cope", and that kind of thing. "I don't know how you do it". Well, I do it because a, he is my son, and it's not as if he chose to be the way he is. And b, because that beaming smile of his, which he does wear more often than not, makes it all worthwhile.


Matt & Dad 3 April 2016 2.JPG
p46 Our little star May 12.jpg
3 May 2019.jpg
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