The Sadness

He emerged from the bedroom for the first time as an eleven year old with hair sticking out in unusual places and seemed a bit slow getting started for the day. I remembered that last night he’d wanted to talk but I was too tired.

After cooking his birthday dinner my head was feeling tight and I was done talking so I’d said we’d talk in the morning.

“Did you still want to talk about something this morning mate?”

“Yeah.” he said tentatively with maybe just the tiniest break in his voice. “What should I do today?”

He was obviously still raw. He’d been dobbed in for doing something he hadn’t done, then been punished for it at school despite doing his best to explain. It was his eleventh birthday and he’d been hoping for the best day ever. Now today he doesn’t want to go to school. It was his mates that dobbed him in and he didn’t know what to do about it.

He said even mum didn’t know what to do either.

Christ. If his mum didn’t know what to do what hope do I have, I wondered. She’s the relationship guru.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he sat in front of an over-filled bowl of Weet-Bix and wiped them away on the sleeves of his green woollen school jumper.

Mum had said he had lots of friends. He wasn’t so sure. I wasn’t sure either. At his age, friends come and go. Besties today, but acquaintances tomorrow. Things are fluid in primary school land. But what should he do today? I read between the lines. How could he play with his mates as if nothing happened when they stabbed him in the back yesterday? And how could he confront them and fix it? Would anything make it right?

“Do you have to do anything today?” I wondered if he had detention or any other consequences from yesterday.


“So if you don’t have to do anything … that gives you options right? You might not actually have to do anything at all”. I explained that sometimes when I try and fix things when I’m sad or angry, I usually muck it up and make things worse.

We stand in front of the bathroom sink and brush our teeth. I put my arm around his little shoulder. I’m still thinking. I feel his sadness. Easy answers evade me. I try to talk with toothpaste in my mouth but it it’s just garble. I spit in the sink on top of his spit and say “You know what mate? It wasn’t right what happened to you yesterday… but it’s not wrong to feel sad.”

“What do you mean Dad?” He sounded open. Gotta love how inquisitive kids are.

“Well, feeling sad is just part of being human. Everyone feels sad at times. Do you remember that book we read about the boy who had anger*? Sadness is like that too. Sadness goes away if you take care of it.”

“How do I do that?”

“Well, do things that you feel like doing today to care of yourself and allow that sadness to pass away by itself. Be kind to yourself and your feelings.”

“Like maybe play with Reid instead of the others?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. He’s a good kid. Or maybe just hang out with Ella and Erica or go to the Library. Whatever makes you feel a bit better.”

Then my brain kicks in and I come up with something. “Hey I’ve got an idea. How sad are you on a scale from 1-10?” I ask.

“Umm maybe about 5…?” He said thoughtfully. Not as bad as I thought. I thought he’d put it up around seven or eight.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do. You write down on a bit of paper what you think your sadness will be like at bedtime and I’ll write down what I think it will be and then tonight we’ll have a look and see how close we are.”

“We’re going to Ella’s for a BBQ tonight aren’t we?” he asks.


“So I’ll probably be happy after that.” He’s catching on.

We wander over to my study, and grab a sticky note each. He thinks, then scribbles, and sticks his note inside the front of the top drawer. I write on mine and stick it inside the drawer and slide it shut.


It’s 10.30 pm as we pull into the driveway. I smell like chops and sausages. The kids are exhausted from their swim and I just want them in bed. I check on the little one. She’s not happy that she can’t find the ripped off hem from her comfort blankie so she’s sooking. I threaten that I’ll find it and confiscate it if she doesn’t stop. She stops.

The middle one has made a hammock by hanging his doona on the underside of the top bunk. He’s curled up inside it looking like a possum in it’s mother’s pouch.  I’m too tired to care. He hands over his MP3 player that he’s not allowed to listen to because he hasn’t been focussing at school and is distracting others – according to the teacher who rang me while I was at work today.

The newly eleven year old has disappeared. He’s the responsible one. Doesn’t need checking on. I lift the lid on the fish tank and sprinkle some food in. I just want to go to bed. Dad’s arriving tomorrow … house is in a mess…. radiator in the Hilux needs replacing…. Then I remember the sadness.

The eldest appears. He’s remembered too.

“Dad! My sadness – It’s gone. It’s a zero!” This was better than expected. I feel happy – proud too.

“That’s great mate. Let’s check our numbers” I say.

He pulls his out first. It’s a three. Now my turn. A two. Happily, we were both cautiously wrong.

His problem hasn’t been fixed, but like dark clouds scudding across blue skies, the sadness has been allowed to pass and maybe, just maybe the problem isn’t as big as it first appeared to be either.


*Anh's Anger is by Gail Silver and published by Parallax Press.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Brought a smile to my face. I remember many such days with my own kids – both of whom are grown now.

    I handled their issues pretty much the same way: not by telling them what they should do, but telling them how I handled my own stuff. Especially for my daughter, once she was old enough to have boyfriends, and wanted to know how to evaluate them. The first one was OK but I wasn’t particularly in his corner (I doubt most fathers are, really). She was conflicted about him. Though the temptation was to give my opinion of him, I stopped myself, and got her to ask questions for herself. I said “honey, just ask yourself: ‘do I feel valued?’ ‘how do I feel after we’ve gone out?’ ‘do I feel respected?’ If you do, then great. If not, then you have some decisions to make.”

    She appreciated it sometimes. Other times she said “Dad I just wish sometimes you would tell me what to do”. Then she’d smile. “I know it’s better that you don’t, and that I figure it out myself, but just the same…” In this way, we eventually grew to be friends, instead of just father and daughter. Same with my son.

  2. Thanks WS. Do you think sometimes those of us who have parented with mental illness who are in recovery develop skills which are actually an advantage for our kids? Mostly research focuses on the negative impact of parents’ MI on their kids, but I actually think sometimes we can offer things that parents without it don’t have….

    • Hmm. Good question. I think if nothing else, it allows us to maybe have more sympathy (if not downright empathy) for our kids. It certainly questions the “my way or the highway” dynamic doesn’t it? 🙂

      My son has a learning disability, which affected pretty much everything in his life, from his schoolwork to his social skills. Put simply, he processes everything differently than the rest of us. He may get to the same location, but not without a lot of effort and time. And he’ll arrive later than the rest. It took time to come to terms with it, as we worked with him. My then-wife who suffers from BPD found herself very sympathetic to him, and the two bonded well. Though they live about 3000 miles from each other, that bond persists today.

      On the flip side, my ex could not bond or relate to our daughter at all. They ended up almost becoming enemies. (Bear in mind, this was long before she knew she had BPD – but we all still affected by the effects). They’re OK today, especially after my ex got treatment. My daughter makes an effort to talk to her now and then, but can generally make the mental trip to do so only in short bursts.

      Flipping that around again – my daughter shows all of the same symptoms as I do with ADHD and so guess who bonded well on that side? There’s a cool aspect of the condition that doesn’t often get mentioned: our thoughts go from dynamic subject to dynamic subject in an almost random way, and we sort of get addicted to it. Makes it hard to talk with other people sometimes – particularly after not getting enough sleep the night before, but man is it ever cool. The other side of it is extreme boredom and disinterest in anything requiring attention to details. It affects our schooling – and so her and I were in the same boat there too.

      But as for parenting skills – I really think maybe it comes down to the humility that MI brings. The way you related to your son indicates you were able to empathize almost completely with him, and where he was coming from. That kind of thing is fairly rare from what I can tell. I think you and him are going to probably be quite close as he gets older too – which is such a gift.

      • WS I can’t believe you had ADD, depression and bipolar disorder all in the one home! It sounds like life must have resembled a parallel universe which could have been the stuff of X Files!!

        Very sad about the difficulty that BPD has created in your daughter and her mother’s relationship…. It takes a big toll doesn’t it.

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