Thursday, June 26, 2008

Being married to the sea......

Being married to a man who spent 99% of his working life away at sea, as a career Merchant Navy officer, meant that my life was completely unlike those of my friends. And my children also, consequently, grew up in a "different" kind of home. Daddy was not going to turn up every evening, and when he was home on leave, he was not going to be at work during the day. So everything I ever knew about marriage and parenthood went out the window, and I had to make up my own rules and work things out for my little family instead.

I didn't know other mothers in the same situation. I did eventually get to know a couple, but our lives have been uniquely different in many ways. Geoff was away for 9 months of the year generally, a minimum of 3 months at a time. 2 trips on, and 1 trip off. I used to say that the first couple of weeks of leave were like a honeymoon. The next couple were like normal life and the last couple, it was a race between us to find out when he was going back to sea.

He was who he really was when he was at sea. People who only ever saw him at home, had no idea of his identity once he set foot on a ship. He moved differently, purposefully. He was very very good at what he did, and he loved it absolutely. He was also enormously respected.

I always knew he was a sailor. I knew he would be away most of the time, and at 21, I was too young to understand just what that would mean for me. Especially once we had a family. But I adapted and adjusted and it worked out in the end. It is just as well that I have always been fiercely independent. I needed to be. And coming from a very close family, and living near to them, was also an enormous blessing.

When I had Andrew, Geoff was in Norway, on his ship. Those were the days when you had to call the company head office, then they would send a telex, which the radio officer would pick up and print off and take to Geoff, and then the whole thing would be repeated in reverse for him to communicate with me. Telex sending was only for emergencies. Like babies. Otherwise, you wrote letters and sent them to the company head office and they would send them to the agents in ports the ship was visiting and somehow sometime, the letters would arrive on board. It took weeks. Conversation was not something you could keep up by letter easily!

Nothing like emails, texts, mobile phones etc. Now it is so different, of course.

Anyway, I drove myself to the nursing home to have Andrew, and handed my keys to the receptionist for my parents to collect, and went off and had my baby. Geoff only came home when he was 6 weeks old. He left again when Andrew was 3 months old. I swear the nuns at the nursing home all thought I was a single Mum, because even though his photo was next to my bed, and the flowers he sent were there too, they had rarely had the experience of absent fathers at births. But I had my family there and they all helped enormously. Andrew was the first grandchild/great-grandchild, and was adored by all from the moment he arrived.

Geoff absolutely loved his babies. He spent endless hours with them. He walked them, winded them, changed their nappies, played with them. He crammed everything into the few weeks he spent with them. All of them.

So where was I....

The company he worked for allowed wives to travel. Children under the age of 2 could do coastal trips, and over 2 could go deep sea too. So Andrew went to sea when he was very small, just a few months old. By the time his first birthday rolled around, Geoff was standing by a very large container ship being built in France. Dunkerque. "Standing by" means being there as it is built, so that you know how it works, and how to fix it when it doesn't. He was there for months, so Andrew and I flew over to join him for a while. He turned 1 in Dunkerque. The company had taken over an entire hotel, so it was easy to stay with Geoff, and Andrew and I used to walk around the town every day, go to the beach, and explore. And then I came to England for a couple of weeks to introduce him to his Nanny, in Plymouth before we flew home to SA again.

Once he turned 2, we could go to sea, and so we spent a year on the big white ships (container ships) before we decided to have another baby, and 3 years and 9 months after Andrew was born, Diana made her appearance. This time, with Daddy present.

Up until the time Diana was born, our lives were very much centred around travelling. By the time he was 3, Andrew had probably spent half his life, at least, on a ship. It worked well, as there was no schooling to consider, and so it was only once Andrew started pre-primary when he was nearly 4 that things started to change. And we had to adapt to shore-life.

But that is enough for now.......


Janine said...

It all sounds so romantic. I dated a merchant navy sailor for a while and I hated it when he went off to sea. Probably just as well that you were so young when you got married - at that age you feel like you can take on the world.

Crystal said...

This is fascinating, Linds! It's so far out of my realm and I appreciate your candid sharing. You have the gift of writing and holding your reader's attention, my dear!

Barb said...

I had no idea this is what Geoff did, Linds. How romantic this story is. I can only imagine how much you had to adapt to his "work schedule."

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Very wonder that you and Barbara have so much in common (except for the children traveling).

Hope that you have some good books and that your knee isn't paining too much. Wanna try some vanilla on it? ;>

Judith said...

Linds, Now I understand why you're such a capable, "get it done" kind of person. You've had so much practice adapting to how life is. Hope you're feeling better today.

Susie said...

Hi Linds,
My brother was at sea much as your husband. My SIL is like you: very independent and quite capable. When he retired it was like starting the marriage all over again (lots of readjusting to be together all the time) She went back to work LOL!!

Dawn said...

What a wonderful story - keep them coming! Now tell us how you met Geoff.

I don't have any desire to have a bum knee, but lying on the couch and drifting off sounds lovely for a few days! I hope your books get there quickly and that you have a great time catching up on your reading.

As far as Africa - having a Kenyan DIL has definitely opened our eyes to so much we didn't know before. It is a very troubled continent, for sure!