From what I understand, one of the few benefits of divorce is that you occasionally get a break from the kids. One of the benefits of migration is that you get to keep the day-to-day responsibilities of being part of a dysfunctional family at arms length.
In spite of the logistics, my father managed to track me down from the Queen Mary 2 during his recent honeymoon, precariously adrift somewhere in the Atlantic. Which goes to prove that you can run but you can’t hide when it comes to family.
My close family are all still healthy and thriving, fortunately, but the tormenting fear that lodged itself at the back of ours minds when we made the impulsive decision to do this gigantic move to the other side of the world a decade ago, remains the same to this day; it’s that a parent or a close family member will become suddenly ill or start to struggle in some area of their life.
And we won’t be there to pick up the pieces.
And each time we go back, the guilt increases, and becomes a truly visceral pain; the sort of pain that only the tug of familial love can create.
For each time I see my family now, my happiness is tarnished with shame, even though I stand wholeheartedly by our decision to emigrate and would never clip the wings of my own kids to prevent them challenging themselves, if they made the decision to move away from us in the future.
Several friends here in Australia are coping with the ongoing physical and emotional demands of looking after frail, ageing parents at the moment, and it is an intensive, gruelling stage in our lives that contributes to recent statistics that suggest that our happiest time of our lives is closer to sixty now.
It’s not only the parents that we can’t watch over, because we have siblings ageing with us and nephews and nieces who are now vaulting through the next stages of their young adult lives towards careers and long-term relationships; and we’ve missed most of their precious milestones.
I have a large, extended family, thanks to a father who has now married three times and a mother who was one of four children. Social media has provided me with a wonderful life-line to many members of my family – at least those of the generations that understand the vagaries of modern technology – but there are many that slip through the net in between visits.
The loss of not being able to contribute properly as an integral part of my family community is the reason I intend to return more frequently now. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to catch up on two years in the space of an afternoon, aided by the wonders of technology to keep us informed in between, and the lubrication of alcohol that is always so shamelessly on offer.
It’s almost as though we’ve never been away. Nevertheless, each visit takes its emotional toll and makes it that much painful to leave again; never fully erasing the nagging fear at the back of our minds of whether everyone will still be there the next time we come home.
In truth, I probably see many of my family more during these two-yearly visits than I ever did when we lived in the UK, when weekends were dominated by the demands of kids’ sport and community responsibilities.
They say that if you have a friend for more than seven years, they remain a friend for life. Fortunately, family will always be there… until they’re not.