Chapter 7: Tears of Joy
In about March of 1986 I got my council flat in the Nechells area of the city. My brother helped me to move my furniture into the flat and visited me almost daily for the first few weeks. My flat was on the fourteenth floor and I looked over the balcony at the ground below but knew I lacked the courage to jump to the ground. I tried to settle down and find some other interests.
I started purchasing weekly bus travel passes and wasted away many days travelling around on the buses, going nowhere in particular. I visited my brother fairly often and paid my sister the occasional visit. I had no idea where my father was living and didn't pay social calls to my mother. I'd been doing this for about a year when I noticed a familiar face waiting at a bus stop in the city.
'I know you from somewhere. Where do I know you from?' I wondered, but said nothing.
The next day, while waiting at the same bus stop, the same familiar face appeared. "I recognise you from somewhere, but can't remember where from," I remarked.
"I used to live in Edgbaston, just up the road from you," she replied.
We both got on the next bus to arrive at the stop. I had no other plans and made out that I was also waiting for that particular bus.
"Where are you off to?" I asked inquisitively.
"I'm going to see my sister. She lives down Smethwick. Where about do you live now?" she asked. I told her my address.
"You can come round to the flat later, if you want," I suggested.
"I'll think about it. This is my stop," she said.
"I've forgotton your name," I said.
"Tracey," she said, as she rose from her seat. She was only a kid the last time I had seen her, but was certainly grown up now, still just as scruffy though.
That night, I was sat in my flat watching television when there was a knock at the door. I looked at my watch as it was getting very late and I wasn't really expecting anyone. I was more than surprised to see Tracey standing at my door. She was dripping wet. It had been raining for several hours.
"Come in," I said. I showed her straight into the bathroom. "If you wait there a minute, I'll sort you a towel out, you're bloody soaked."
She stayed the night and gave me a bit of a shock the next morning. She told me that she was only sixteen, whereas she had previously told me she was eighteen. She also surprised me by telling me that she was from a childrens home. I suddenly felt ashamed at sleeping with a girl so young, some nine years younger than myself and the fact that she was from a childrens home made me feel very nervous.
That was three girls from that family I had now slept with, as I had slept with two of her sisters a few years previously. Tracey went back to the home and later reappeared at my door. I didn't quite know what to do. I let her stay for a few days and then contacted her social worker.
The social worker came to the flat and spoke to Tracey and myself. The social worker agreed that Tracey could stay at the flat. She also pointed out that Tracey was still officially on a care order and that if she ever disappeared I had to inform her immediately. The social worker spoke to me for quite a while and explained that Tracey could be quite a handful at times.
I soon discovered for myself that Tracey could not read or write and she most certainly could not cook. I bought her some new clothes and threw her dirty old rags in the bin. I tried to teach her how to read and write but she showed no patience and very little interest. Tracey and I got on quite well together and I understood her rebellious behaviour against the authorities. Tracey was obviously happy to be free of the childrens homes and, in time, even her own family started to comment on how she was improving in her manner, attitude and appearance.
Tracey's mother lived quite local to my flat with her common law husband. Tracey and I visited them regularly and members of Tracey's family visited us at the flat, none of whom had really changed very much over the years.
After a few months Tracey became pregnant and I tried to encourage her to calm down and take things easy. Tracey could be extremely reckless and wild at times and was very immature for her age.
Tracey frequently visited the home of a friend of hers who lived in the next block of flats. She would spend hours there, helping to look after the children and clean the flat. This flat was filthy dirty with grease half-inch thick all around the kitchen. The bin was always overflowing onto the floor and open discarded nappies lay all around the floors. The place was a stinking, disgusting mess. I called at the flat on a number of occasions to retrieve Tracey from the rubbish tip and often found her lifting heavy items of furniture to clean the stinking mess which was rotting away below them.
After one of her visits to the flat, Tracey had a miscarriage. I was a little upset and very angry at the thought that this may have been caused by the heavy lifting. I started to wonder if I would ever have children of my own, as this was the third child to have been lost.
After the miscarriage Tracey had a few internal problems and was admitted to hospital three times before the problems were finally sorted out. Tracey soon become pregnant again and I tried my best to take good care of her for the babys sake. I was determined to take care of this baby right from the very start and to see it born properly. I went with Tracey to all the antenatal appointments and asked questions if and when necessary. Tracey's understanding was somewhat limited.
We started buying baby clothes and other necessary items in readiness for the new arrival once Tracey had passed seven months of pregnancy. I made sure we bought suitable foods to nourish the unborn baby and really tried to take care of Tracey. I would not let her do any heavy lifting or any heavy work and in many ways I knew I was probably overdoing things. I was protecting my unborn child and often talked to the baby through Tracey's huge belly. Tracey thought I was mad, but I didn't really care what anyone thought.
One day, when Tracey was about eight months pregnant, the baby did not move for nearly twenty-four hours. I tried talking to it and making loud noises around the flat in an attempt to wake the baby, but every attempt failed. The hospital had said there must be some movement each day. I was very concerned and feared the worst. Tracey seemed quite unaware of any possible problem. My telephone call to the hospital did not ease my fear.
I spoke to one of the doctors who confirmed a need to be concerned and he suggested that Tracey be bought in without delay. I wasted no time in getting Tracey to the hospital, who was still unaware of any reason for concern. When we arrived at the hospital, the doctor asked when baby had last made any movement. He was quite alarmed and ordered an immediate scan.
The ice cold jelly applied to Tracey's belly woke the baby up and baby started kicking nicely. The sound of the babies heartbeat and the sight of the kicking brought a huge smile to my face. A ton weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I could feel the great relief.
Baby was due on about the 2nd May 1988 and when the date passed without any sign of an arrival we started to get impatient. I would talk to the baby and ask when it was planning on showing its face. Tracey was obviously slightly more impatient than myself. She drank a whole bottle of castor oil, thinking the baby would come out a bit quicker. She started to get some abdominal pain and was taken into hospital where she lay in her hospital bed, groaning in pain, and produced sextriplet diarrhoea. The doctor and myself almost pissed ourselves laughing.
By the 18th May, the hospital agreed that baby was overdue. Tracey was admitted on the morning of Thursday 19th and we both knew the big day had arrived. Tracey was put on a drip to start her contractions and her waters were broke. I was surprised by the colour of the fluid that poured out onto the protective sheet of the hospital bed.
'Green? ... She's having an alien, ' I thought, my humour remaining silent.
Tracey was connected to the scan machine to monitor the babies heartbeat and her contractions. I was keeping a close watch on the printout from the scan machine, waiting for some indication that baby was on its way. Tracey was given gas and air for her pain relief but as the day went on she started feeling the contractions quite strongly and so went on the epidural. Once this had taken effect she didn't feel a thing and kept saying she thought her legs had been amputated. I could see the contractions on the scan machine. Tracey was totally unaware that she was having contractions, due to the epidural. Student Nurse Ingram paid regular visits to check on the progress. I remained by Tracey's side and wasn't going to miss this for anything.
By about 9.00pm I started to notice some major changes to the printout. The babies heartbeat was fluctuating and baby was becoming very distressed. I calmly went to fetch the nurse, trying not to alarm Tracey at this stage. The nurse agreed that something was wrong and called for Dr Callinan, who had looked after Tracey throughout her pregnancy. The Doctor told us that the baby was having problems and had to be delivered immediately. Luckily Tracey was ready to give birth in the nomal way.
There was a long hard struggle, the doctor was doing his very best and so was Tracey. She could not feel when to push, due to the epidural, and had to push on command. The doctor put forceps on the babies head and pulled with all his might. I held on to Tracey, trying to give as much support and encouragement as possible. Doctor Callinan was joined by another doctor in the struggle as time was rolling on and the baby was still having problems. I was getting very worried and wasn't the only one. Doctor Callinan gave Tracey a snip and pulled baby out to safety. The doctor went to put the baby on Tracey's belly but she screamed at the sight of a baby covered in blood. While the doctor stitched Tracey I remained by her side, watching what was happening to my son. A young Chinese nurse cleaned the contents from his nose and mouth and he began to whimper, he didn't cry. Our son weighed in at 10lb 2oz, born on Thursday 19th May 1988. I could feel tears of joy in my eyes. I was so very happy. I felt so very proud of Tracey and so very grateful to the doctors and nurses.
Despite being asked several times, I had never told anyone that I really hoped for a son first. This was without doubt, the happiest day of my life. I now had; "A Reason for Living."
At about 9.45pm the doctor asked the nurse to feed the baby. I politely thanked them all for everything they had done and asked if I could feed my son. Tracey and I took a few photos of the baby with each other and one with the doctor who delivered him. I fed my son when he was twenty minutes old and talked to him face to face.
"I've waited a long time for this moment," I said cheerfully, thoroughly overjoyed.
Tracey was very tired, obviously happy it was all over. She was taken to the ward and I stayed for just a few minutes, as I knew she would want to rest. Our son, Shayne, was taken to the nursery for the night.
I got a taxi home, singing in my head and smiling nearly all the way. There were many times during my life when I wondered if there really was a God. I have never really been convinced either one way or the other, but that night I prayed and I felt now was the time to say, "Thank you!"
By the time Shayne was born Tracey and I had moved from the high rise flat and were settled in a first floor maisonette, in the next street. We were already prepared for the new baby. The next day I got up very early, took the Alsatian for his morning walk and thought about returning without him. I'd found this dog as a stray, wandering dangerously in the middle of the busy roads. The animal was half starved with his ribs protruding from his shabby coat. I had brought the dog back to good health and had trained him as a guard dog.
I was fully aware that dogs and babies, or children in general, don't really mix. I was also aware that if I got rid of the dog the flat would almost certainly be burgled. Tracey's brothers and most of her acquaintances would rob and steal from anyone, including their own family. I decided to keep the dog and made arrangements to keep the dog away from my son, although I was fully aware that this would not always be possible or very wise to try. The dog needed to be further trained.
I went to see Tracey and Shayne as early as possible. When I arrived, Tracey was fast asleep. Shayne was beside her in a plastic 'fish tank style' hospital cot. He was screaming his obviously well-formed lungs out, full blast. I looked at Tracey and smiled.
'How on earth do you manage to sleep through all this noise?' I thought.
I looked at my son, picked him up and he instantly stopped screaming. One of the ladies told me that he had been screaming for over an hour and that Tracey hadn't woken up.
I looked proudly at my son, "You stink!" I said. The other ladies all heard me and were listening and watching.
"Morning son. Morning ladies," I said cheerfully.
I noticed the state of the cot and turned my son round. He was covered in shit from his shoulder blades right down to his ankles.
"Where do I start?" I said.
I asked a nurse if she could organise a bath so that I could bathe my son but the nurses were very busy, dealing with an emergency elsewhere on the ward. I slowly peeled the dark sticky vest from my sons back.
"How the hell does so much shit come out of such a small baby?" I said. "How you manage to get it all the way up your back is beyond me. Just look at the colour of it... Bloody hell. You Stink!" I declared. I kept the smile on my face and changed, washed and fed my son.
"You're my son and I'm going to be a good dad. I will always be there for you!" I promised.
The other ladies on the ward watched in total amazement as I tended to my son. Shayne finished his feed, I winded him and he was falling to sleep. I held him for just a few minutes more and then returned him to his cot. Tracey was just waking up and I gave her a kiss and the bunch of flowers I had bought for her. I was proud of her for my son, but was fully aware that I would have to keep a close eye on Tracey and Shayne. I knew that she was obviously tired after giving birth, but also knew that she had no maternal instinct.
Shayne remained in hospital with his mother for four days. My father came to see his first born grandson on the third day of his life and was visibly overjoyed at seeing his grandson for the first time. I arranged for Tracey's social worker to collect the three of us from the hospital when the day came for my son to see the outside world for the first time.
I moved the dog to a safe area before Shayne was taken into his home. The social worker had a good look round, trying to find fault. She failed to do so and left wearing a face of disappointment.
Later that day, Tracey and I took Shayne to see the neighbours who lived in the block and then to Tracey's mothers flat. Everyone was surprised at his birth weight, 10lb,2oz.
We registered his birth the next day at Birmingham Registry Office. An old lady gave me a copy of the Evening Mail, "For the baby," she offered.
I thought the offer rather kind and thanked the strange lady. "I'll save it for him. He can't read yet, he's only five days old," I said kindly.
During the first months of Shayne's life it was me who got up twice a night, every night, to change my sons nappies and feed him. Tracey would occasionally wake up but would not attend to his needs. I had always known Tracey would have great difficulty in coping with the day to day needs of a young baby. I had always been prepared to look after any child of mine and I was still taking care of Tracey.
Each day I would generally wake up before Shayne and just wait for my son to start his day. I would get up, bath and dress my son and give him his breakfast time feed. Once Shayne had gone back to sleep, I would wash and sterilize his bottles, take the dog for his morning run and then return and clean the flat.
Tracey regularly went visiting her friends soon after getting out of bed. Tracey very rarely wanted to take Shayne with her, but when she did, I would usually go with them. Most of Tracey's friends were not the sort of people that I considered any child to be safe with and Tracey had proved to me, without any doubt, that she was totally incapable of looking after Shayne properly. Many of her friends had violent and aggressive natures, some were alcoholics and others had serious drink or drug related problems. I did not consider my son to be safe in such company. In fact Shayne was not really safe left in Tracey's hands at all.
In early August, Tracey went visiting some new friends, going out fairly early in the evening saying she would be back shortly. I remained at the flat, taking care of Shayne. At 11.30pm, I wrapped Shayne in a warm blanket and went to the house Tracey was visiting. I was told by one of the residents of the house that Tracey would be back shortly. I took Shayne back to the warmth of his home, put him in his cot for the night and went to bed myself. At 12.30am my door bell rang and I knew I had trouble at the door. Tracey had a key and so would have no need to ring the bell. The dog was in the hallway and barking ferociously at the door. I went to the door and opened it slightly, holding the dog tightly by the triple chain collar round his neck. The dog always greeted everyone in the same aggressive manner as it was what he'd been trained to do.
The two police officers took a step back, "Can you put the dog away Billy? We need to speak to you," the W.P.C requested, frowning, trying to talk above the noise from the dog. I put the dog in the kitchen and closed the door.
"I'll come straight to the point Billy," the W.P.C stated, "Tracey has left you. She's moving in with a guy round the corner and has sent us to collect the baby. Can we come in?"
"Have you got a warrant? I can answer that myself, no you haven't. The short answer to your question, coming straight to the point, is no!" I stated, in no uncertain terms.
The police man spoke up, "We can enter by force if need be. So why don't you just let us in?"
I tried to ignore him and spoke to the W.P.C. "My son is fast asleep. This is his home and I have reared him since he was born. Tracey is totally incapable of looking after him and can't even change a nappy."
"He's staying here! I'm not being nasty or making threats, like your mate, I'm being honest. He's my son and nobody is taking him anywhere!" I said. The two officers spoke to each other quietly for a few seconds.
"Can we just come in and see that he is ok?" The W.P.C requested. "It is getting very late and like you said, he is asleep and Tracey is drunk anyway."
I still didn't trust anyone. I paused for thought and said, "You can, providing you make me a promise first. You don't try to pick him up."
"OK, I promise," she replied.
"And your mate," I added. The male officer made some grunting sound.
"I'll take that as a yes," I commented and opened the front door to let them in.
"This is going to be fun," I remarked, with a devious mind and an overwhelming need to protect my son.
The front entrance door lead into a tiny square hallway, which lead onto another similar hallway, where there were two more doors to choose from. Directly ahead was the reinforced wire meshed glass of the kitchen door which the savage dog was attempting to jump through while barking ferociously, enough to make the bravest feel uneasy.
"Wait there," I requested, as I entered the door to my right and went into the living room.
The policeman had already grabbed the handle of the kitchen door in fear that the man- eater would escape and have him for breakfast.
A few seconds later, I called out to the officers from the living room, "OK. Come on through," just loud enough for them to hear.
"Oh Fuck." The WPC almost shit herself.
"Have you never seen a Rottweiler before?" I asked, as the WPC tried to decide if she was coming in or going out.
I was full of surprises and had hold of a full-grown Rottweiler by a heavy chain round its neck. This dog had never barked since the day I'd found it with its head stuck through a glass window and rescued it. The huge dog stood very still, his teeth beard and the vibration from the growling echoed on the gas fire.
"Go through that door and wait there," I suggested.
I then put the Rottweiler on the balcony, which overlooked the bedrooms and put the Alsatian back in the hall to guard the front door, effectively sealing off both possible exits.
I returned to the officers, "Come through," I requested, leading them into the bedroom. "Remember your promise."
The W.P.C went over to the cot and peered in, "Ah, he's lovely."
"Why did you insist that we didn't pick him up?" the male officer asked.
"If you want the truth, it's simply because I know if you were holding him I wouldn't be able to knock you on the floor," I said. "I'm not making a threat, it's just that I will protect my son in any way I need to."
The officer smiled as he walked round to the side of the cot, "Fair comment, but there are two of us and only one of you. We could take him if we wanted."
"You two cut it out," the W.P.C snapped. "I gave my word and so did you," referring to her colleague.
"Billy, I think you're doing a great job. If I thought someone was going to take my kids, I would react the same. Only I haven't got the sort of child minders you obviously have, mine have two legs, not four." At least she hadn't forgotten about the two dogs they needed to get passed!
The male officer shook my hand, "I just had to make sure you were for real. Not many blokes could do what you're doing. We have no intentions of taking him out of here."
The officers followed me back into the living room and I moved the dog, so they could leave.
"I suggest you find yourself a good solicitor, if you're going to apply for custody," the P.C suggested.
"Thanks, I will. Thanks a lot," I concluded.
At 1.30am Tracey called at the flat with her new boyfriend and two other occupants from the flat. I didn't bother to open the door. I had been expecting trouble and had wired up the doorlock to the electricity supply. Tracey and her friends shouted threats and abuse through the locked door, threatening to break it down with a sledge hammer. They threatened to kill the dogs and me and take Shayne. One of the neighbours telephoned the police and Tracey was arrested for disturbing the peace.
The following day I went out early to find a good solicitor who specialised in custody matters. After speaking to possibly a dozen solicitors, I found one of the best solicitors available and after filing my first affidavit was awarded interim custody of my son. I knew it was very rare for fathers to be awarded custody, especially considering I had never been married. My solicitor pointed out that this was only temporary custody and was not even official until Tracey had received the court papers.
After the ex-parte hearing, I went to Tracey's mothers flat but said nothing about the court hearing. I patiently awaited Tracey's arrival and then announced that I was going to the shop, taking Shayne with me. I went to the shop to get suitable change to use the telephone and made the expected call to my solicitor. The court papers were served on Tracey within the hour. The first step was complete and the custody of my son was now official.
I continued looking after and taking care of my son alone and soon realized that although Tracey had been of very little help, to be totally alone with him was a different story altogether.
Trying to take the dogs for their daily exercise was a real struggle while pushing Shayne in his pram. The Alsatian had become very defensive towards me and would try to attack anyone who came near. I had trained him as a guard dog and had made things more difficult for myself, but I also wanted the dog to be protective towards my son and so he was.
On one occasion, the dog had been released from his lead to do his duty on the waste ground when an aqaintance of mine approached me as I held onto the pram. The dog watched from a distance as the guy approached.
"Don't touch the pram," I blurted out, but it was too late. Yam! The dog had already got him.
I was very proud and very defensive towards my son and was too proud to ask anyone to help. I had to prove to everyone that I could and would manage to rear my son alone, without help from anyone.
I had a number of visits from the police, social workers and health visitors who would call at any time of the day or night, even one visit at 3.00am. On each and every occasion I let them into the flat to see that my son was being well cared for and properly looked after and I showed them every ounce of respect.
"I must tell you, alarm bells are ringing everywhere," Tracey's social worker told me. "A lot of people are very concerned about you taking care of the baby. I, personally, do not believe you are capable of looking after a baby all on your own. It will only be a matter of time before we get him into Care!"
She wasn't ready for my verbal onslaught. "You might be Tracey's bloody social worker but you aint mine. You have got nothing to do with me and nothing to do with my son and you never will have. You will never take my son into care, never in a million years."
"I will prove to you all that I can rear my son on my own. Nobody, and I mean nobody is taking him away from me. I have let everyone who has an interest into my home so that they can see I can and do look after him, without help or interference. I have never complained about being woken up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning by police officers, health visitors or unwelcome bloody social workers. I don't like or trust social workers and especially you. You have just made a threat against my son! Get the fuck out my house!"
In reality, I did understand the reason for everyone being concerned and in a way appreciated the fact that they were just doing a job and had Shayne's interests in mind. I did get very tired and fed up by the number of early morning and late night visits, but remained calm and polite. I allowed these people into my flat on each occasion and they always left completely satisfied with my care for my son.
I took Tracey back twice to try to pull the family back together. She wanted me to drop my application for custody but there was no way I was going to do that. I knew that if I were to drop my application, she would be able to just walk out and take Shayne with her.
She started disappearing for days on end without any word or anyone knowing where she was. She would return with love bites all over her neck and expect me to say nothing. Tracey went out one day and returned two days and three nights later after going to visit a local friend, for an hour. Her friend was a working prostitute. I had taken just about enough of Tracey's irresponsible behaviour and had packed her bags ready for her to collect on her eventual return. I could not rely on her or trust her and she become a hindrance rather than any help. I asked her to buck her ideas up and try to act more responsible but she picked up her bags and walked out.
By December 1988 Tracey and I had attended two Welfare meetings, together with Shayne, as ordered by the County Court. The purpose of the meetings was for the welfare officer to judge who would better serve Shayne's interests and to make a welfare report for the court. The report was to show who would be more suitable, capable and responsible parent for Shayne's day to day needs.
The report was made available for both parents to read but Tracey couldn't read. I mentioned this to the welfare officer, who suggested I read it to her. After first reading through the report myself, I read it out to Tracey in the presence of the welfare officer.
I didn't think the report was particularly strong considering all the important points that I had raised. It was fair, accurate and to the point and described Tracey as, 'A child-like individual.'
By this time the concern had started to die down and I had fewer visits from people checking on Shayne and myself. The health visitors and social services had realized that I was perfectly capable of taking care of a young baby on my own, without any help from any of them. I had made it clear to the health visitor that I would ask for help or advise if I needed to. I had also made it clear to the social services that they were not welcome and had no hold over me or my son and they never would have. They did eventually get the message and completely left us alone but were clearly still waiting for me to make a mistake. I knew how devious they could be. I had nothing to fear from them.
Tracey continued drifting from one place to another and had lived with at least four or five different blokes before Shayne was a year old. This all helped prove that she was not ready to settle down anywhere to any sort of family life and face the responsibilities of motherhood. I was content with what I was doing, proud of what I was doing but regularly had trouble at the door connected either directly or indirectly with Tracey.
One afternoon the disturbance at the door got so much out of control from Tracey and her boyfriend, Derek, that I took the dog to the door. My intention was merely to deter Derek from trying to force his way into the flat. Tracey got worse and tried to force her way in. The dog responded to this aggression by barking fiercely at her, jumping up, trying to bite her. I kept hold of the dog by his three band chain collar. Tracey thought that because she thought she knew the dog he would not go for her. I DID know the dog and had trained him not to think first but to simply respond to circumstances. The dogs gnashing and snarling teeth did encourage Tracey to think again. I was anxious to get back into the flat as Shayne was alone, while I was trying to rid myself of the unwelcome callers at the door.
"Stay, Watch 'em," I ordered the dog and left him to keep guard. I went to check on Shayne.
Shayne was fine, fast asleep in his carrycot in the living room. I made myself a cup of coffee before returning to the door. I was hoping they would have got fed up of waiting and gone away, but they were still stood there like a pair of idiots. I was really tired and pissed off at all the trouble she was continually bringing to my door.
"I'm asking you both nicely to piss off," I said, "I want to go back inside to look after my son properly."
I held the dog by his collar. This was my way of silently telling the dog to prepare to attack. Tracey thought she would try to barge passed us but I had heard her talking to the dog while I was checking on Shayne. The dog had already warned her but she was too stupid to realize this. I let go of the dog and he gave her a powerful bite to her leg, forcing her backwards in a state of shock.
"See 'emoff," I commanded and went to check on Shayne.
The dog chased the frightened pair down the flight of stairs and out of the block. The dog returned to the flat a few seconds later. Tracey and I both telephoned the police about the incident and two officers called at the flat.
"Come in. Just wait in there," I requested, showing them into the living room.
"I'll be through in a minute. I'm just doing my son's dinner," I explained, with Shayne in my arms.
The dog was jumping at the window in the kitchen door, barking ferociously at the visitors. I entered the kitchen, "Baby, leave!" I commanded and continued working with Shayne still in my arms.
"I'll be with you in a minute," I stated, as I entered the living room where one copper was sitting and the other standing blocking out the limited sunlight.
I lay Shayne on his belly on the floor who immediately crawled away, raising his head to look at the giant policeman staring at him. I got the terry towelling nappy from the massive supply in the sideboard and proceeded to change my sons nappy.
I didn't look up at the police officers when I said, "You'll have to excuse me, it's my sons feed time. I always change him first as he usually falls asleep in the middle of his feed. Just hold your noses. This is a ripe one."
The police watched as I strategically placed my leg across the body of my ever lively son to prevent him from turning onto his belly and crawling away while I changed his nappy. After removing the stinking nappy from the room, I sat down to feed my son.
"Sorry about that," I said. "I presume this is about the dog at the door... Or should I rephrase that?"
"We have seen the bite on Tracey's leg," one officer said. "There is a massive bruise and some superficial puncture marks and she has had to go to hospital. She is insisting that the dog be removed and destroyed."
I explained my side of the story, missing out the bit where I had given the command to 'see 'em off.'
"Have you ever heard the saying every dog has its day?" the copper asked.
"I have, but I don't pretend to know what it means," I said.
"It means, every dog can have one bite and if it's lucky get away with it... Well, this is your dogs lucky day," the copper said.
"Thanks. I'll have to take him the vets anyway. He might have caught something nasty off her," I said.
Shayne had finished his bottle and I sat him up, facing towards me and started rubbing and patting his back to bring the wind up. It was a nice warm day and I was quite content sitting with trousers on and no shirt. Suddenly the volcano erupted and the projectile vomit hit me straight in the chest, covering me from neck to waist in the warm milk that my son decided he didn't want.
"Thanks a lot son," I said, as I stood up pushing my stomach out in an attempt to stop the liquid from leaking down the waist of my trousers.
"It's the joys of parenthood," I stated, smiling. My son could do no wrong.
"My Missus has just had a baby, but I couldn't do what you do," one of the officers stated.
"That's the difference between being a father and a dad. I'm a dad and I'm a good dad. A dad will do anything for his kids," I stated proudly.
The council had informed all the tenants in the maisonette that the building was to be demolished. All the tenants were to be rehoused and given the choice of any property in the city, with unlimited offers. I put in a request for a three bedroom, postwar, house in any nice area and waited patiently for the offers to be made.
Eventually, after the council ceased messing around, I was offered a three bedroom postwar house in the Sheldon area of Birmingham. This was a very nice house and a nice area but the house was in desperate need of redecorating throughout. I accepted the property and started making plans of how I was going to manage moving house while looking after my son, who was now eleven months old. I considered things very carefully. My main problem was the dog. I needed some help with this job and knocked on the neighbours door.
"Could you do me a big favour and look after Shayne for a few hours?" I said. "I have to take the dog to Sheldon. I'm moving to my new house on Monday and I'm having a few problems."
The man stood smiling, "I'd love to, but how are you going to get Sabre to Sheldon?" he asked. I handed Shayne over to him.
"I'm taking him on the bus, that should be fun. I'll have to muzzle him and he's not going to like that one little bit," I explained.
"Oh, if by any chance Tracey should come hammering the doors down, don't let her anywhere near Shayne. She has threatened to take him. She had no rights to take him anywhere and has no legal rights to know where we are moving to," I said.
The man looked at me as if I had just insulted him. He knew what Tracey was like. "Tracey will never take him from here. You have nothing to worry about. He will be fine," the man said.
"I feel deeply honoured that you choose to ask me," he said. "I know you don't usually ask for help. I have seen you struggle many times. You just carry on and don't worry."
I started my journey with the dog wearing the muzzle. In reality I trusted the dog to do as he was told, but did not want to take any unnecessary chances. I got the dog to town without any problems at all.
"Shit!" Tracey was in town, waiting at the bloody bus stop. She approached me and the dog.
"Just stay there," I said, wishing she was somewhere else. As usual Tracey thought she knew better.
"What's he got that on for?" she asked stupidly. "Where's Shayne?"
"Just stay there. He will still go for you if you get too close. Shayne's ok, he's being looked after," I replied.
Tracey started shouting and the dog started pulling, trying to get at her. I asked Tracey to leave things as I was in a hurry but she took her shoe off and tried to attack the dog. Tracey could be really stupid at times. I pulled the muzzle off.
"OK Tracey, hit the dog now," I said. The dog was worse with armed attackers. He started barking at her and trying to bite her and Tracey backed off.
I continued my journey without the use of the muzzle as I started to see a weakness in the dog. He become confused in the crowds. I kept him very close and held his mouth shut as we got onto the next bus. We completed the journey without further incident to arrive at the new house, where the dog was left alone overnight.
Shayne was deprived of some attention on the day the furniture was moved in and did nothing but scream all day long. I was working as fast as I possibly could and knew there was nothing actually wrong with him. I continued laying carpets and arranging the furniture, wishing there was someone who could lend a hand to help at the time I needed it most. Once the furniture was arranged and the cooker connected, Shayne and I settled down with the dog in our new home. Shayne was almost a year old by this time and was very active, sleeping a lot less during the day. He was also having tantrums whenever he could not get his own way or if he wanted some attention from his dad and I, for whatever reason, was unable to give it.
When I started the decorating, Shayne started screaming. It took me about a week to decorate the first room which was to be Shayne's bedroom. I left him in his cot in the next room with the cot full of toys while I tried to get the work done. On the third day of the decorating, I heard an almighty thud, followed by a terrific cry of shock. I dropped everything and raced into the next room to find my son lying on the floor. He had climbed over the side of his cot. The pain of failure was hard to swallow, as I picked up my son from the floor. I felt so very guilty and ashamed. I placed the cold, wet, cloth on the back of his head to bring the lump down.
The thoughts of what happened to my sister, Michele, blasted through my head as I checked my son for any other signs of injury. The dog had come upstairs, jumped the gate and was stood next to me. I had tears in my eyes. Shayne was really ok but I wasn't. Guilt of failure was a heavy burden. The dogs concern was also obvious as he nudged at my hand, searching for approval of his trip upstairs. The painting was completed with Shayne in the same room as myself. There was no alternative but to put Shayne back into the cot, despite his fight for freedom. Paint was dangerous, so were paint fumes. I had to hurry.
The decorating was left for a few days before I started wallpapering the room, by which time I had bought a large playpen for my son to play in while I worked. The papering was completed very quickly and my sons room looked nice. I had to continue in order to get the job done so I started on the next bedroom, my own. Again the screaming started. Shayne was removed from the playpen and had total freedom in his room with the door removed and replaced with a childs safety gate. I didn't want Shayne near the toxic paint, the fumes had already got to me. The screaming did not cease from the time he woke up to the time he went back to sleep. It nearly drove me insane. After completing the bedroom, in record time, I continued trying to decorate the whole house and managed to get as far as including the living room when the screaming suddenly stopped.
'Something's wrong, ' I thought and went to check on Shayne.
"You little sod," I said. I picked up my son and removed the bits of carpet from his mouth.
Shayne had decided to help out and had started removing the new wallpaper from the walls and pulled up the carpet and was quite content on eating the foam backing. I was fighting a losing battle and decided to call it a day. The decorating would have to wait a few years.
About one week before Shayne's first birthday the custody case was back in court. The courts ordered that a second welfare report should be made saying the one produced in this case was old and needed updating. This was mainly due to the fact that Tracey had filed an affidavit and had applied for custody. I was furious. Her affidavit was almost total lies. She had walked out on her son when he was just ten weeks old and had never shown any interest him. I believed she was simply upset because she didn't know where Shayne and I were living. The judge fully understood why I wanted to keep my address confidential and agreed that I could do so, but ordered that Tracey must be allowed Reasonable access. The arrangement was that I must give my telephone number to Tracey and she must call to arrange access, upon my agreeable terms. The minimum access was ordered, once every two weeks, to be supervised by myself. The judge stated that this was not the final hearing and that things may still change. The welfare report must be updated before the final decision could be made.
I started going to 'Gingerbread' (an association for lone parents and their children) in the centre of town. My first visit to Gingerbread went quite well as a few of the members came over and started talking to me. The next few visits were totally the opposite leaving me feeling lost and out of place. The people I had spoke with the previous week were not there and I still had great difficulty in mixing with people. One lady told me that everyone at Gingerbread was in the same boat and if I didn't make the effort to talk to people they would think that I simply wanted to be left alone. That was the last thing I wanted. I started talking to some of the other members and soon realized there was a big difference between being `a lone parent' and being `alone parent'. `A lone parent' was not necessarily completely alone and being alone was something I knew about only too well. Shayne also had an outlet. I took my son to a mother and toddler group in Sheldon, twice a week, and received a few unwelcoming comments at first.
One lady came over to me, "This is a Mother and toddler group," hinting that it was not for the dads.
"Thank you! I'm in the right place then," I replied.
"No. You don't understand. This is a Mother and Toddler group, it's not really for the fathers," she stated.
"I'm in the right place. I'm a single parent. I'm his mother and father, it should be parent and toddler, not mother and toddler. We're staying," I replied.
After a few weeks the mothers could see that I was not deterred by any remarks passed loudly enough for me to hear. The mothers started to accept my son and myself as part of the group and even went on to ask me to individually photograph all the children in the group.
Shayne was getting worse with his tantrums and it was getting me very worried at times. If I told my son `no' he would get down on all fours and headbutt the floor. I was very concerned and asked the health visitor for some advice.
"Ignore him," she told me. "He's doing it for attention and if you keep giving him the attention he will always do it. Just ignore him. He'll stop on his own."
"How many children do you have?" I asked her.
"I don't have any. Why?" she questioned.
"I didn't think so somehow. I'm not going to stand and watch while my son gives himself brain damage. Obviously you didn't hear me. He headbutts a concrete floor. I'll stop him my own way. Thanks for your advice," I concluded.
There were times when I really needed a break. As a child myself, I never had anyone to turn to for help and as an adult I had grown to turn away from the help on offer. My mother once had the nerve to offer to look after Shayne while I went shopping. I couldn't believe my ears. She honestly thought I would consider leaving my son with her. I nearly burst my sides laughing.
She had seen her grandson once or twice but was now going blind with Glaucoma affecting her eyes. She was also suffering from Arthritis. I did take Shayne to see his Grandmother on rare occasions. I would never, under any circumstance, leave Shayne or any other child with the woman who had so mercilessly and ruthlessly tortured me day after day, for years on end. I would never be prepared to take such a high risk with any child!!
On one of these occasional visits to my mothers, she asked me to do some gardening for her. Despite my deeply embedded feelings I had never, ever, refused help to any member of my family. I started digging the garden and Shayne went toddling back inside the flat. Suddenly he came back outside crying, screaming hysterically, fighting to get his breath.
"What's happened Shayne?" I asked anxiously. I started checking him for the source of the pain.
"I smacked him," my mother said. She almost sounded proud of herself.
My entire body physically shuddered at the thought of what she had done to my son. I lifted my head and the garden fork ready to ram it through my mothers body. I could feel the adrenaline pumping and the raging anger, a killing anger, building inside me. My blood turned stone cold with hatred for this evil bastard who was about to be buried in her garden.
"What the hell for? He's only a year old," I said.
"He went to touch the cooker, so I just tapped his hand," she said.
The garden fork was still aimed directly in line with her chest. I immediately checked Shayne's hands for signs of burning. He had a large red patch on the back of his hand from what was obviously a powerful whack.
"I wouldn't hurt my own grandson," she said.
"You just bloody did and once is once too many times! You want to think yourself lucky he's not burned. There's no way I would believe it was an accident and you know what I would do... You'll have to dig your own garden. Nobody hits my son and I mean nobody."
Chapter 8: First and Foremost
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