The Amazing Ways Nature Helped Me Reconnect With My Son
I have always been at odds with the world. I had my first counselor at age 15. My first breakdown in my mid- to late-twenties. Then again 10 years later. At the age of 36, I had a baby with my long-term partner. I was not prepared for the vast confusion a birth precipitates.
The experience was violently overwhelming, a traumatic force shunting me headlong into a role I did not understand. I had no time to decompress. I never experienced the famed rush of love common to those who have children—quite the opposite. The only tangible emotion was a rushing urge to get away. The guilt and sheer magnitude of this void, the weight of not having a normal reaction or range of emotions were petrifying. Every time I picked him up, I felt deeply inadequate.
I felt dead inside. I had absolutely no idea how to be a father. As the days and weeks passed the weight of this mounting dislocation grew stronger. Men never mentioned having a lack of feelings of this caliber, and I had no outlet to express how I felt. I did not dare. In comparison to the emotions expressed by the rest of his extended family, I felt abnormal, inhuman, and sociopathic. I went into free fall, and for an extended period, my life spiraled out of control. I collapsed. I lost everything. I walked away from my son with no idea if, when or how I would return.
Two things have remained constant in my life. One is art; the other is the natural world. I am obsessed with both. In particular, the natural world consistently intercedes as a place of peace, a welcoming conduit for stabilizing emotion. I find nature to be infinitely absorbing and visually relaxing, I am utterly in thrall to the in-built freedoms and multiplicity of the natural world.
The mesmerizing fractal nodes and colourful noise, the giddy rush of detail, the delicate points of pattern in the forms of animals, plants, elements, tastes, and textures make perfect sense. Deeply democratic, all that scuttles and swims, sucks, prowls, bounces, or blows, everything that hatches, pushes, pulses, flies, fans or breathes, is of equal interest to me. I am in love with the endless creativity. The varied forms, billions of ideas that flip and fold, live and die, survive or pass.
The natural world is the embodiment and perfect playground of difference, a force celebrated simply by and for itself, a place without boundaries or fear, out of which I was able to recalibrate and transform my life. I stripped away all that I considered superfluous, looked outwards towards something bigger, more powerful than myself.
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I saw that my feelings about nature, and birds of prey, in particular, could run in parallel with those of my son. They were, in fact, two sides of the same coin—if I was capable of deep love for one, then with gentle observation, I could inform and unlock the deep love for the other.
I was not easy. It took nearly two years before I was able to free my mind, re-establish contact and forge a positive relationship with my son. I still struggle with the magnitude of what it means to be a parent. I do not conform to stereotype. When I experience moments of doubt and fear, I turn to the two sources I can rely on.
The first, nature, shows me that difference is to be celebrated. There is no one way; nature is myriad, diverse and complex—I am part of it, it is okay to be different. The second, my son, tells me he loves me. More importantly, I am able to tell my son I love him in return.
Ben Crane is a photographer, falconer and art teacher based in the Shropshire countryside. After failing his A Levels, Ben began night school to pursue his love of art, going on to study a BA in Fine Art in Coventry, an MA at Winchester School of Art and a postgraduate teaching certificate from Cambridge University. Ben spent his early career as a school art teacher before turning to freelance work as a photographer and artist selling his art at shows all over the country. Ben is the author of Sparrowhawks: A Falconer’s Guide and rehabilitates birds of prey to return them to their natural hunting environment.
This article was featured in Issue 85 – Top Strategies for Supporting your Family