A Knight’s Tale (44: A Concerned Single Father)

Woodland sunlight I noticed in the New Forest in October 13th, 2012, took me back to July 1967.  It was in a wood in Sussex that Michael and I had stopped off for a play en route to Brighton where, the summer after Vivien died, I planned a bed-and-breakfast tour of the south coast with our son.

The photograph I took of that scene could well have been captioned ‘Where’s Michael?’.  After our break we travelled on to Brighton to find a bed and breakfast establishment.  Of course we had to spend some time on the beach first.  Although the weather was hot and humid the sky was completely overcast, so I thought a short time would be safe enough.  Not so.  After 50 minutes Michael was covered in blisters which required dressing in a hospital casualty department.  The nurse there was very understanding and gentle in her explanation to this rather daft Dad that the sun can penetrate cloud cover and blonds burn more easily than people with dark hair.  That was the end of our holiday.  Michael was safer whilst I was able to receive the benefit of advice from Veronica Rivett, my future mother-in-law, with whom we then stayed.

This was the year that my little boy began Day Nursery attendance, in order to give my own mother respite from sharing herself between Michael and his Uncle Joseph, just three years older. By then I was working as an Assistant Child Care Officer in Kingston. I would travel from Kingston to Wimbledon to pick him up by 6.00 p.m.

One evening I arrived to find him missing. “Where [wa]s he?”, I asked, to be told that he had been taken to hospital because he had had a fit. No attempt had been made to contact me. No apparent knowledge of the history that had led to his admission to the nursery. Perhaps a concerned single father was beyond their ken.

I was able to collect him because he had apparently undergone infantile convulsions following a measles vaccination. There are details of this event that I can’t quite remember. My mother could probably have filled me in, but she is no longer with us.


  1. I spotted him amongst the leaves super photo. Being blonde is great but being out in the sun is terribly risky, I always wear a hat with a wide brim and some people laugh and tell me I’d look better with a bit of a tan. My younger brother and I only have to spend 15 minutes in the sun and we’re red.

  2. A few days ago I was thinking about my daughter’s having been born on a Saturday around 10-11 am. I knew that I too was born on a Saturday, but I didn’t know exactly when. I thought,”‘I’ll ask my Dad when I see him.” That will be a long wait.
    Those sort of thoughts never leave you.I’m glad to say.

  3. That’s a wonderful photo of Michael. As for that sun: there are adults aplenty, new to our coast, who still have to learn that lesson about cloudy days. Without a blazing sun to drive them indoors, they linger, and the damage is done.

  4. Another wonderful tale. I am a blond who wears sunscreen on an exposed skin because I burn. I learned cloudy days are much worse than sunny days myself.

  5. In the context, ‘Where’s Michael?’ would have assumed a sadder hue. It wasn’t until I read this statement that I went back to the picture and found him squatting on the dappled floor of the woods. That must be a deeply embedded memory in your consciousness.

  6. A lovely photo of Michael in the dappled tree shadows. Such scary moments for you, that he probably doesn’t remember. So odd that the nursery didn’t contact you–or anyone?

  7. How scary not to be notified. And to arrive to find the perfectly terrifying cause of the seizure. When I was growing up the assumption was always that the mother was available, not the father. I remember a big kerfuffle back in the 90’s when Chelsea Clinton (who knew her parents’ schedules) told the school to call her father not her mother…

  8. Raising kids comes with all kinds of medical emergencies that can be quite terrifying for a young parent. I found Michael in the shadows of the trees, seemingly quite content to be outdoors with his dad 🙂

  9. My blood runs cold at the thought! It also reminds me of an awful (though thankfully brief) experience of the loss I felt when I went to the (large) hospital nursery to fetch my two-day-old daughter for a feed … I went to ‘her’ cot and instantly realised that the baby there was not mine. I peered into every one and couldn’t find her! “I took her to your room”, a nurse told me cheerfully – and there she was, tightly swaddled, lying in the middle of my high hospital bed!

  10. Oh, my gosh, Derrick. I bet you about lost your mind when you went to pick up your little boy and he wasn’t there. That’s a terrible thing to do to a parent.

  11. Being a parent is hard work. Being a single parent is especially hard. How frustrating that the child care staff didn’t call you about the hospital transport. As a red head I understand about blistering childhood sunburns but didn’t learn my lesson until my late teens.

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  13. I can imagine how terrified you were, and probably let them know it in no uncertain terms! Yes, it is a kind of rule of thumb that the chances of sunburn are higher on cloudy days. Even olive skinned as I am, I will burn. I usually go brown the next day, and then start peeling two or three weeks later. LOL. But blisters on dear little Michael (who I can spot in the woods) must have been distressing for him. So much to learn, when you wouldn’t have been at your best anyway.

  14. What a sweet photo of Michael! 🙂
    That is so scary to go pick him and he is not there. 😮 🙁 And to not even be notified! 🙁 I’m sorry you had to go through that.
    Derrick, I so admire you for being such a great dad! Single moms have issue related to other people’s perception, etc. I know single fathers face those and other issues. We have a friend who’s wife died of cancer when their kids were ages 9, 7, 4. 🙁 I was always so proud of him for the great way he cared for the kids…he truly became both parents to them.
    I know you did that, too.
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  15. I congratulate you on you being such a great dad. I know of quite a few mothers that had some quite nasty awakenings over “sun” instances.

    When my son was 2, he attended a play group under the care of a respite carer. My son was literally allergic to the 20th century and my nerves often frayed while hubby was away on RAAF secret business, especially when his big sister had become afraid of her terror of a baby brother. She would lock herself in her room. The carer must have turned her back for a few seconds and he disappeared but she wasn’t aware of it. I happened to be driving home after a couple of hours of childless shopping and came across a shadowy scene, similar to your “Where’s Michael” photo. In a split second I realised it was a toddler with his bottom in the air playing with – probably a bug. A car was coming the other way quite quickly so I steered the care just past the toddler, jumped out of the car and raced to this toddler. You could imagine my horror when I discovered it was my own son. The story continues of course… but the greatest horror was the carer was not aware of any of the incident until the care co-coordinator contacted her following my hysterical phone call.

  16. I wish there was a ‘hug’ icon up there, beside the ‘like’ one.

    It’s hard enough being young parents, being a single parent must be incredibly tough.

  17. I spotted Michael in the photo. What a harrowing experience to have gone through. The day care facility should have made every effort to contact you! I am so sorry you went through that!

  18. Even in 1999, fathers could be left out. We moved town then, so t Childminder. I was working 3 days a week and had a very long commute so my husband did the drop off and pick up to/from our new childminder. She refused to tell him about our sons day, or anything pertinent about his care. At that time it was customary for carer’s to write a diary of the day and hand it over at pickup. She did not do this because “fathers cannot be trusted”. We changed childminder VERY quickly.

  19. Thankfully times have changed. Although, I remember at school we were sometimes told that the parents had split up and the child shouldn’t be allowed to leave with dad. I often wondered what would happen if a father gave the instruction to not let the child leave with mum!

  20. I’ve been quietly catching up on these marvellous reminiscences, Derrick, not commenting because I’m sure you have quite enough to do keeping up with comments on current posts. But this – I can’t imagine how it felt to arrive at the nursery and hear that news and the reason why Michael had been taken to hospital. Thank goodness all was well in the end but you certainly didn’t need that trauma. I hope the nursery reviewed the incident and learned from it. The photo of Michael in dappled shade is simply beautiful!

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