Gay Times Magazine - - Boomerang Kid - Words Si­mon Fox

De­cid­ing on a ca­reer change in your thir­ties is no easy task. It means start­ing on the bot­tom rung of the lad­der again and work­ing your way up just as ev­ery­one you know is forg­ing ahead with their ca­reers, rent­ing bi er houses and flats, and start­ing their own fam­i­lies.

My so­cial me­dia newsfeed had be­come an end­less stream of baby pho­tos and new fam­ily firsts. First kid, first smile, first fam­ily car, first house... It seemed to me that I was fall­ing be­hind and that I had some­how failed at be­ing an adult. When an ex-boyfriend died sud­denly, it made me re-eval­u­ate my life. My achieve­ments seemed mea­gre, I had lost sight of my am­bi­tions and I re­alised that I was deeply un­happy. I knew I was ca­pa­ble of much more than my half-hearted ef­forts thus far. Some­thing had to be done.

To en­act sweep­ing life changes, sac­ri­fices had to be made. I’d have to com­pletely up­end my life, lean into the fear of change and em­bark on a jour­ney that would lift me up out of the mire of un­sated as­pi­ra­tions. I thought long and hard about ex­actly what I wanted to get out of life. It was then that I had an epiphany of sorts, through the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of an as­pect of my char­ac­ter that I had hith­erto taken for granted; the need to care for oth­ers and to make the world around me a lit­tle bit bet­ter. But this stepchange meant I also had to go back to uni­ver­sity. I was lucky enough to be among the last stu­dents to get an NHS bur­sary, but it was still im­pos­si­ble to ac­cept a place on the course with­out also re­turn­ing home to live with my par­ents.

I felt as though I had come full cir­cle. Mum and dad had taught us how to fend for our­selves, teach­ing us how to cook, bake and do laun­dry - the build­ing blocks of an in­de­pen­dent life in the cru­cial devel­op­men­tal years of child­hood and ado­les­cence. As you grow up and leave home, th­ese lessons act as foun­da­tions, upon which you es­tab­lish your own ideas about how things should and should not be done.

Com­pro­mis­ing my in­de­pen­dence did not seem like an at­trac­tive op­tion. I had spent years mak­ing my own mis­takes and build­ing upon lit­tle tri­umphs, and while I was un­happy with the di­rec­tion of my life, I was fiercely proud of my abil­ity to look af­ter my­self. While I was grate­ful to my par­ents for tak­ing me in, I feared that they might see me as the same per­son who had left home and treat me ac­cord­ingly. I was also fright­ened that I might like be­ing back home too much and get so comfy that I may never leave, di­min­ish­ing my al­ready frag­ile self-re­spect com­pletely.

Soon af­ter mov­ing back home, my dad’s health be­gan to de­te­ri­o­rate. He was suf­fer­ing from a neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion orig­i­nat­ing from an ac­quired brain in­jury af­ter a fall from a lad­der many years be­fore. For the first time, I re­alised the ex­tent to which not only I had changed as a per­son, but that to which my par­ents had changed as well.

I had al­ways seen my dad as a big strong ox of a York­shire­man who could turn his hand to any­thing prac­ti­cal, from build­ing fur­ni­ture, to plumb­ing, to rewiring a house. My en­dur­ing mem­ory of my dad from when I was grow­ing up was him tak­ing the sta­bilis­ers off my blue bike and letting me ride down the cul-de-sac for the first time.

Mum had al­ways been the ul­tra-or­gan­ised driv­ing force in the fam­ily, the lynch­pin around which the rest of us were teth­ered. She was the one to whom my brother and I would go when we needed some­thing soothed or sorted. From bro­ken glasses, fall­ing off walls and out of trees, and horse­play gone wrong to mak­ing sense of job ap­pli­ca­tions and ad­vice about life, we al­ways de­pended on her.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years, we had all pro­gressed as peo­ple, and their view of me had changed ac­cord­ingly. Through this new dy­namic, my view of my­self be­gan to al­ter, too. I would lis­ten to my­self talk­ing and re­alise that not only did I know what I was talk­ing about, but I had con­fi­dence in my own words. The traits I had in­her­ited from both of my par­ents had be­gun to pay div­i­dends for all of us. My dad’s deft prac­ti­cal­ity and my mum’s prob­lem­solv­ing were a per­fect fit for my de­gree in oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy. Through learn­ing about the dis­ci­pline at uni­ver­sity, I was then able to pass on my knowl­edge to them, so that they could keep do­ing the things that they loved and main­tain a good qual­ity of life.

My dad’s con­di­tion had im­pacted his life to the ex­tent that he was al­most house­bound, caus­ing his world to shrink to just four walls, my mum and the dog. Mum was feel­ing the pres­sure of be­ing dad’s only source of con­tact with the out­side world. She was grate­ful to have an ally to talk to as her plans for a long re­tire­ment with her hus­band of over forty years looked like they might be de­railed. Our sim­i­lar na­tures helped both of us as we put our heads to­gether and planned for the fu­ture.

Af­ter months of preach­ing to them, I fi­nally per­suaded my par­ents to get an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy re­fer­ral. Through this re­fer­ral, help be­gan to flood in from the health care ser­vices, pro­vid­ing dad with the kitchen and bath­room equip­ment, hear­ing aids and sen­sory train­ing he so badly needed.

For the first time in my life, I had found a pas­sion. While the he­do­nism of my teens and twen­ties had sub­tly segued into a pas­sive list­less­ness in my early thir­ties, a new en­thu­si­asm had taken me over as I hur­tled to­wards forty - thanks in no small part to my bur­geon­ing role in my fam­ily unit.

The as­sis­tance worked both ways. Un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees can be tough. Dead­lines and pre­sen­ta­tions put you un­der pres­sure and fill you with self-doubt. As a ma­ture stu­dent, I lived for the first two years un­der the heavy cloud of im­pos­tor syn­drome. I was con­vinced that any mo­ment, some­one would say that a mis­take had been made and tell me to get out of the lec­ture hall: “It’s too late for you”.

My mum proof-read my as­sign­ments. She per­suaded me to learn to drive - some­thing I had never needed be­fore, but was now vi­tal as part of my course. She even bought me mo­tor­way lessons as a Christ­mas present.

The per­ceived sac­ri­fice to gain my de­gree had turned into a chance to re­build and rein­vent my­self. I had never seen my­self as a fam­ily man - that had al­ways my brother’s prov­ince. Now, how­ever, I re­ally am. They gave me a roof over my head when I most needed it, and I gave them the en­cour­age­ment and ad­vice they needed to make the most of what the health care sys­tem had to of­fer.

For the first time, I know how lucky I am. Not ev­ery­one has a fam­ily who would will­ingly take in their grown-up off­spring while he sorts out his life and stresses over the word count of as­sign­ments, not to men­tion suf­fer end­less re­hearsals of pre­sen­ta­tions.

The sit­u­a­tion won’t last for­ever, nor should it. I need my in­de­pen­dence back. I need the chance to hand over my hard-earned money so I can rent a flat. I need rooms to dec­o­rate and my own plants to for­get to feed. I need a big tele­vi­sion on which to watch my Doc­tor Who DVDs. One day, maybe, I might meet a nice fella and ask him to move in with me. Then, it will be my turn to post all those firsts on­line. First date, first dog, first house…

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