Going soft?

I went to see Shutter Island the other night: a surprisingly average film remarkable in just one particular way: it was the first film I’ve ever seen where I came even slightly close to leaving the cinema.

Now, horror, even more than science fiction, is my cinematic genre and I’ve seen more horror films than I’ve had hot dinners, both the best and the worst that the genre has to offer.  These days it takes something a bit special to scare me

So what was it that nearly sent me scurrying for safety after all these years?  What could have had me seriously thinking “I don’t want to watch this any more“?

It was a scene in the film involving some dead children.

I won’t say anything else in case you want to see Shutter Island for yourself.  However, a few years back I could have easily watched this scene and simply thought, “Ooh, that’s not good.  Dead children=very nasty,” and carried on watching without difficulty.  Now though…

I didn’t, of course, leave the cinema – I stuck it out; but as someone who’s never even thought about stepping outside during a film before (except for the loo, obviously!) that’s honestly the closest I’ve ever come to doing it.

It’s the old chestnut of empathising more with the character in the film because you have your own kids: you try to imagine (and simultaneously try not not imagine) what it must be like to be that person – that poor damned soul who loses all their children.  And my imagination pretty much failed me on that score – tripping some kind of emotional failsafe, perhaps…?

Furthermore, the Lovely Melanie and I watched One Born Every Minute last night, a fascinating real-life TV show about babies being born.  Filmed in maternity wards around the country, cameras follow some of the women there having babies, their circumstances and those of their partners and families, all interspersed with talking head observations upon pregnancy by the professionals there – the midwives and nurses.

Anything related to the marvel of childbirth, basically.

This week was an episode about premature babies, which brought back so much of our experience with Millie in 2005 and had me feeling quite emotional about it all (I kept looking over to check that the Lovely Melanie was OK, but she was fine!)  At almost five years past it seems like such a long time ago for us now: Millie is a healthy four-and-a-half-year-old at big school who loves princesses, Star Wars and Cheerios, and most of the time we completely forget how she very nearly didn’t get the chance to be any of those things.

Watching the families on this programme struggling to keep their spirits up, to come to terms with what had happened, and to do the absolute very best for their new arrival…and having been in that same situation it made me want to reach into the screen and give them a hug; to help and comfort them any possible way I could.  It reminded me of why I volunteer for BLISS on their telephone helpline (even though I feel I’ve done disappointingly little to really help people on there of late).  It reminded me of how lucky we are to have both our girls – even if sometimes they’re a complete pain in the ass!

Between One Born Every Minute and Shutter Island it was a real jolt to my memories of that time in 2005, how amazing and how simultaneously terrifying it all was; and so I gave Millie an extra big hug this morning. 🙂

I’d be interested to hear if anyone knows of any scientific studies or evidence that being a father makes you “soft”.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing by any means, but I would swear that since the girls were born I’ve become “softer” – more willing/able to shed a tear, maybe more upset by other people’s pain and suffering, and I’m curious to know if that’s a universal experience or not…

Chaps – have you turned into a right ponce since the missus dropped that sprog?!  Let me know!


  1. I always wondered about this working on the ambulances and I actually asked some of the people who are mums/dads if having their own children made it more difficult (as if it could really get any harder) to deal with sick/dying/dead children….

    Surprisingly the answer was no…Going to a very sick/dying/dead child sucks whether you have kids or not and while you might empathise a little more having your own, I think you must kind of block it out the way we do with the other horrible things we deal with..

    I don’t have kids obviously but am very interested to see if my attitude changes if we have some…


  2. Hmm, that’s interesting, Rich.
    I can be way more dispassionate than Mel when dealing with the girls – e.g., taking them for vaccinations, or when Millie went for her eye operation (Mel had to wait upstairs while Millie had her IV put in).

    Maybe it’s different when you’re watching films – it’s not real so you can afford to let your guard down and feel that distress…?

    When we were in hospital after Millie was born I remember mostly blocking out the thought that Millie might very well die and just getting on with things, “Keep calm and carry on”, as it were.
    And when we were certain she was going to be OK, I remember relaxing that block and bursting into tears for about ten minutes – because I could *afford* to let go then.


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