Magnum opus or opus magnum, from the Latin meaning “great work”, refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of an artist.
Taking a snapshot of history, many figures have produced their magnum opus: Shakespeare has his Hamlet, Da Vinci has his Mona Lisa, Brando has his Godfather and Bon Jovi have their Slippery When Wet.
Recently, I pondered on the phrase magnum opus and whilst I am not an artist, I took time on it to reflect on what (if at all) my magnum opus would be and how it came to be. I’m no writer, no painter, no actor, nor musician, but what I regard as my masterpiece thus far is my children (and my wife takes fifty percent of the credit of course).
Modern life is such a complex thing, adding three children into the mix could herald additional dangers to leading the “perfect life”, but with risk comes great reward as the following will document.
I met “J” when he was just two years old in a chance meeting around the renovated docks of my old home town. Trying to blow away the memories of a Friday night down at the club, the cool and chilly sea breeze coming in off the Mersey seemed to be doing the trick. After walking for a while I bumped into what was to be my future bride with a pushchair in hand, trying to shake off a guy who she had unfortunately swapped numbers with whilst under the influence the previous night.
I was a single person at the time and had been living alone for over a year, and for a serial “relationship-ist” a year was long enough. At twenty seven, one comes to terms with the fact that future partners may or may not have children and once I had passed the quarter century mark that didn’t really concern me (although it may have others).
When our eyes met, there was a something; some metaphysical gravity instantly fused us together and it was not long before we had our first date and although there have been rocky roads in between we are still together seventeen years on, as strong as ever.
To say “J” was a handful at the start was putting it mildly, our first true meeting was on a train for a trip to Newcastle and I’ll always remember the very first words he said to me after settling into our seats for the next four hours. Looking deep into my eyes and with incredible force for a young boy he exclaimed “You’re not my Dad!”. Ouch…
His tantrums were legendary. He was a floor dancer, every time he didn’t get his way he would drop to the floor, kick and scream and run around his own head whilst prostrate, a skill Homer Simpson knows only too well.
In time things began to settle down and mum and him moved in with me, stability in his own home life reflected in his mannerisms and by the time a new addition to the family came along, he was great. He took ownership of the big brother mantle and gave it is all, taking his first steps into being responsible for something and he did it very well.
“J” was very bright and did well at school, going to his mum for reading and me for maths and his progress was solid (especially maths and science). He also started to develop a passion for martial arts and quickly started to progress through the coloured belts in Taekwondo until I had a call from the new boss who asked me if I would like to take up an expat posting in Malaysia for three years. After some serious consideration (family & friends versus opportunity), we decided to take on the challenges South East Asia cared to throw at us and left.
Before we left, his grandma on his father’s side pulled me aside and expressed her deep gratitude to me. Taken aback slightly I asked her why, and she said that the love and support I had shown for “J” in a society which often treats step-children and lesser mortals had made him into the remarkable young man that now stood before us, those words humbling me deeply.
“J” took a little while to settle into his new school, forgetting books and equipment on a regular basis and initially falling behind as change is something he continues to struggle with (as do I; as do we all). Once he had settled in though, he started to deliver and deliver well. The international school he went to was at the time in the top twenty international schools in the world (now ranked second) so the education and opportunities it gave him mixed with travelling to far off and exotic places and continued support offered by his mother and I gave him (in my opinion at least) a solid foundation in life and what can be achieved through drive and positivity.
When our three years were up, we came back to the UK, back to the old house, back to the old Taekwondo School and “J” was accepted into grammar school where he shined and excelled as predicted (acquiring his black belt in record time too). Deciding that college was not his thing, he instead took up an apprenticeship where once again he attained top of the class status and he continues on well today in the workplace, already off the family payroll.
As previously stated, some children can be a handful when they are young and some can be angelic. When “L” was born, he was the later – a polar opposite to “J” (noting the obvious behavioural changes would follow and they did, oh the drama…). He literally slept like a baby; he was charming from the outset, never cried at all, never played up and was a happy baby. It was apparent very early on that not only from a behavioural perspective, personality wise “J” and “L” were also dichotomised. “J” is very structured and academic, whereas “L” is chaotic and creative, and that came out early on in school.
“L” was always performing whether it be in class or on small productions, and some of those performances came home with him too which we quickly got on to and dealt with. Whenever there was an opportunity to get on stage or grab the limelight he was always first to raise his hand. He dealt with the move to Malaysia probably better than all of us put together, settling in to his new class and making friends very easily. He did well academically, but again he shined in the school plays (acquiring the role of Harry Potter in the last performance before we came back to the UK).
Once again “L” settled back into his old school very easily, regaling his old (and new) friends of tales from far off lands and countries most had never heard of. He also took up a place in the local drama club (which he quickly outgrew) and moved instead to the premier drama school on this side of the Mersey and whilst there he went from strength to strength, landing actor of the year two years running (awards from UK film director Mark Heller and UK actor Celyn Jones). Once again, he felt that he needed to move to further stretch himself as a budding thespian so joined Sir Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts where he continues to excel today. He has also appeared on UK television as an extra in Hollyoaks, getting a real buzz and insight into full televisual performance and what goes on behind the scenes.
In school “L” is also well liked and is not far behind “J” now in terms of academic performance, again his focus on working hard and being positive about the things he does will no doubt bring the associated rewards.
If there was ever a time to redress the gender balance in our family, Malaysia was the time. My wife could not have worked even if she had wanted to as she was only given a “Spouses Visa” which meant she was subjected to three years of sun, relaxation and coffee mornings so we had the opportunity to try for the girl she had always wanted and as if by some divine magic (or flip of a Cosmic coin) out popped “K” two years into our expat stint.
“K” was very much like “L” in terms of her baby and infant behaviours; sleeping well and never throwing any tantrums. Much like “L” she took to school very well and again was always first in line to perform, never shying away from the opportunity to stand up and narrate, dance, act or sing (and has since joined her brother at LIPA as it’s “buy one get one half price”).
What makes “K” is her endearing nature to others, be it friend, family or animals. I know I’m biased as all parents are, but in terms of all-round-loveliness she really is a model young citizen of Planet Earth. She has been selected many times already by her peers as School Councillor and instead of asking for gifts last birthday she asked to sponsor an animal (Sumatran Tiger) at the local zoo.
I guess it’s a little early to tell what life will throw at her and what path she will choose, but so far it’s working.
Life is balance. Balance is life.
Having the right balance in life is the most important thing. The Yin-Yang principal holds true with bringing up children too.
It is the balance between nature and nurture. It is finding the happy medium between doing things with the kids and doing things for the kids. When the balance is out of kilter on the “for the kids” front, a lack of independence can very easily lead to what I have coined “barnacle-ism”, creating that invisible rod for your own back by doing too much for the kids so that they don’t have too. Much in the same way, doing too much “with the kids” and not giving them the freedom to develop their own interests and relationships can very easily lead to what I have coined “crutch-ism”, making it difficult to choose their own path without have the parental support to guide them.
Looking at my three children, I think they have the balance in the right proportions at present, which sometimes means a nudge from me or my wife when the scales of justice start clanging heavily in one direction.
I look at my kids passions and they are twofold. Some are shared passions with me (music, film, theatre and some sports) and some are not shared passions (martial arts, amateur dramatics).
As they get older the shared passions we have dissipate somewhat as they find their own way in life and that’s already starting to happen.
Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher
During one of our many weekend trips to the mega-malls of Kuala Lumpur, one day I noticed a huge billboard on the side of the road with a quote from Oprah Winfrey:
At first glance, I was taken aback. OK I understood that Oprah had a pretty horrendous time when she was younger but to only surround yourself with positive people was surely not a reality we all live in as many individuals in our lives have issues and as result, negativity attaches itself to both them and to you by proxy.
That comment lay dormant at the back of my mind and every now and again popped up and my answer was always the same, I simply did not agree. That was until a few years back, when I saw for the first time just exactly the message that Oprah was trying to get across.
When my wife was diagnosed with cancer, like everyone else who is associated with it, your world changes. All of a sudden the happy path of life branches off down a dark and as yet untrodden path and there is little you can do to avoid it. Cancer does not discriminate. Yoga, meditation and reiki cannot help the victims of cancer; only materialism can, by means of synthetics (chemicals) or surgery.
So here we had a situation where negativity was forced upon us, and we were floundering. At that time, both my aunt and uncle were also diagnosed with cancer (albeit more aggressive and terminal in nature) and as a result (being a positive person) I spent as much time with them as I could before the reaper took them, whilst at the same time looking after my own.
Sadly, my own extended family did not offer the same level of support to my wife and I either pre or post-surgery, we were left to deal with everything alone which didn’t sit well with me, but deal with it we did and as this blog has well documented over the years, we nearly never made it. Ultimately this resulted in a “contract termination” with my extended family, but not due to the lack of support during those dark times, but due to the negative influences they had on me and my own.
After rekindling my search for enlightenment, I have looked to alternative sciences for answers, Buddhism and consciousness studies have kept me well entertained and pondering the meaning of life over the last few years now. More recently, I have looked to justify my decision to walk away from the bloodline to see whether it was (and still is) just.
From a parental perspective, I see them wholly as very negative people behind the scenes. The personas they portray to friends and family are polar opposite to what they truly are. I have deconstructed my early years recently and come to the conclusion that their negativity has influenced me. Alcoholism, Atheism, drug use, infidelity, corporate fraud, misogyny, racism and a lack of support and morality are the true causes of negativity during my formative years, all of which were kept very much behind closed doors.
Thankfully, I had the (as yet unaware) foresight and wherewithal to know at the age of eighteen that this constant was grinding me as a person down and as a result I left home. Sadly, my sister was younger than me and suffered the same fate as our parents. It really was a tough decision to run for the hills but something inside me said that it was the only way to break the circle of despair and even today I live with that decision.
Even though times were a little grim for me growing up at times, they were of course not as grim as some other folks I know. Over the years I have truly tried to reconcile things with both parents and sibling but their pattern is ever-concrete.
I know I get accusatory looks and comments from friends and excommunicated family members who judge me as a person for deciding to walk the path alone, and leaving behind the chaos and bloodline responsibility. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of them (or in more recent times unconsciously dream of them on a very regular basis), but what I have to ask myself is do I want my children, my magnum opus to be surrounded by chaos and negativity all because society deems family unit cohesion sacrosanct and unbreakable irrespective of circumstance.
I know the answer to that, as do my children…