Tim Lott

It’s my fi­nal col­umn: so long and thanks for the flak and the fan mail

The Guardian - Family - - Front page - @tim­lot­twriter

This is my last col­umn for Guardian Fam­ily, and I con­tem­plate with mixed feel­ings the prospect of 2018 lack­ing an out­let for my frus­tra­tions, rec­ol­lec­tions and ru­mi­na­tions. I have shared, and shared deeply, with my read­ers over the past six years. They have helped me to walk through my guilt at nearly break­ing my daugh­ter’s an­kle in a bike ac­ci­dent, the death of my beloved fa­ther, a cancer scare and the lightly dis­guised ins and outs of my 17-year re­la­tion­ship with the mother of my two younger chil­dren.

Dur­ing this time, I have been through de­pres­sions, crises and times of loss and dis­ap­point­ment – as well as much joy and sat­is­fac­tion. I have strug­gled to save my mar­riage – as did my wife – with­out fi­nal suc­cess. I have tried to be a good fa­ther, but have failed inas­much as I have once again left my chil­dren in a so-called “melded fam­ily” (“bro­ken” is a bet­ter word). I have tried to be as hon­est as I can – while al­ways seek­ing the ap­proval of any mem­bers of my fam­ily be­fore I al­lowed any­thing to be pub­lished.

This has not al­ways been enough to stop the col­umn be­ing a source of con­flict in my fam­ily life. Oddly enough, af­ter all the con­tro­ver­sial top­ics I have writ­ten about since I started, the most in­cen­di­ary was a piece I wrote about house­hold fi­nances. This pro­duced such con­flict that my wife and I sep­a­rated for a short while over the con­se­quences. I will not go into de­tails, even now – but suf­fice to say that writ­ing a fam­ily col­umn, how­ever su­per­fi­cially de­sir­able, is not risk-free by any means.

Which is why I have mixed feel­ings. Be­cause in some senses it is a re­lief to put an end to all this. I first ex­posed my per­sonal life to public gaze in 1996 when my mem­oir, The Scent of Dried Roses, was pub­lished. Since then, news­pa­per edi­tors have paid me to make “con­fes­sions” about my pri­vate life, and I have taken their coin – partly be­cause I needed the money, and partly be­cause I thought that, by show­ing to the world what most peo­ple would pre­fer to keep pri­vate, I was at least re­as­sur­ing some peo­ple that they are not alone in their trou­ble. We are all flawed and it seems to me that the more we are able to ad­mit it, the more we might see our com­mon hu­man­ity. But the con­se­quences can be, and some­times have been, ex­cru­ci­at­ing.

I am not try­ing to cast my­self as a vic­tim. It is my choice, and I have ben­e­fited from it and take re­spon­si­bil­ity for it. All the same, it has left me very re­luc­tant to open up any more in public. Un­wit­tingly (as the in­ter­net was hardly a thing when I started) my en­tire life is now on­line; not a con­se­quence I planned for. When I started jour­nal­ism, you told a story and it was for­got­ten the next day. Now, those sto­ries are im­mor­tal.

Much of the down­side of writ­ing such a col­umn now is the bru­tal­ity of some of the be­low-the­line com­men­tary. It hurts. In the end, I learned to be se­lec­tive in read­ing it. I had the op­tion to have it switched off, but I wanted my read­ers to have a fo­rum to re­spond to what I had writ­ten. As a re­sult, al­though I come in for flak – a lot of it – I have had hun­dreds of mes­sages of sup­port and recog­ni­tion. And if my jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for writ­ing the col­umn lies in any­thing, it lies in those mes­sages, which have re­as­sured me that what I have been do­ing has had many pos­i­tive con­se­quences, even con­cretely help­ing some peo­ple. That seems worth­while.

So now I have to say farewell to my read­ers, with sad­ness, grat­i­tude and re­lief. It has been a great un­bur­den­ing to share my sto­ries. The rest, as they say, is si­lence.

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