‘We never stop worrying about our children, whether they’re 15 or 50’
Best known as the creator of Inspector Rebus, crime novelist Ian Rankin talks about the challenge of supporting two sons with very different needs.
Iremember the day my wife, Miranda, told me she was pregnant. We were living in rural France at the time, existing on my meagre earnings as a novelist. My aptitude for French was questionable, so visits to the antenatal clinic meant Miranda had to be the interpreter. But I understood un garçon all right, and our son Jack duly arrived.
A year and a half later, our second son, Kit, was born. Kit, we soon learnt, had special needs, so we moved back to Scotland. As the boys grew up, I was writing novels, playing God, and controlling my characters’ destinies. But, in the real world, it was a struggle as we began jumping through the various hoops to assess the therapies and treatments Kit needed.
As it became apparent that Jack and Kit were never going to be able to have adventures together, I maybe overcompensated, acting less like a father to Jack and more like a pal, while still focusing on Kit’s needs. When your child grows out of a buggy and into a wheelchair, you become sensitive to problems of accessibility and transport. Holidays and trips had to be planned with military precision.
I thought I should involve Jack in sports. My father had taken me to football games regularly, but Jack wasn’t keen. But we did find a common interest in music. Kit enjoyed listening, too – to live concerts as well as recordings. Jack was good at the piano and guitar, which thrilled me, as I’d always lacked that gift.
Although the two brothers couldn’t really play together or share experiences and knowledge, they stayed close. Jack brought friends home and they all accepted Kit for the kid he was – friendly, gregarious and always ready with a bear-hug.
I’ve always channelled problems, questions and (yes) fears into my characters. When I found out that Kit would most likely not walk, I wrote Rebus’ daughter into a car crash that put her in a wheelchair. That was cathartic, though I felt bad about it afterwards and allowed her to recover. Rebus himself has not been the best of fathers – too wrapped up in his work to focus on family. I hope he’s not too close to his creator. But perhaps all parents have these worries.
We’ll never stop learning or worrying about our children, whether they’re 15 or 50. Both my sons are now adults and have left home – Jack is in a flat on his own, while Kit lives in a residential facility nearby.
I’m not as young as I once was, and pushing the wheelchair up any gradient has now become more of a chore. But Jack seems eager to do his fair share and more, striding ahead. Maybe that’s what all our kids end up doing – and we watch them with unalloyed pride as they disappear into the future.