Posted by: christinelaennec | July 20, 2013

The commuting fathers, husbands and partners of Aberdeen

Now that we are nearly relocated to Glasgow, I want to blog about something that I haven’t mentioned as such, namely the fact that Michael has been commuting for the past ten months.  We’ve been very lucky insofar as he’s been able to do a lot of working from home in Aberdeen, thereby only being absent two or three days a week for much of this time.  From January through April, however, he was usually away four nights a week.  That was tough, as the Dafter was so ill and during those months I was getting the flat ready to sell, and then showing it.

I will admit to having had some spells of self-pity – but these have never been very prolonged, partly because what’s the point, but also because Aberdeen is a city where absent husbands, fathers and partners is a very, very common phenomenon.

A very surprised Dad - Michael's Happy New Job surprise party, organised by the Dafter.  September 2012.

A very surprised Dad – Michael’s Happy New Job surprise party, organised by the Dafter. September 2012.

I don’t know whether there are many other relatively small cities with such a high proportion of long-distance commuters.  For example, within a radius of about 100 yards on our street alone, there are four women whose husbands regularly work much farther away than Glasgow.  Three of these husbands work in the oil industry.  One neighbour’s husband was suddenly required to be away for a year and a half, with few visits home, after an oil spill.  My next-door neighbour (whose children are grown) regularly flies to spend time with her husband in places like Dubai and Siberia.  My downstairs neighbour, J, is without her husband for a month at a time.  He works offshore in a very faraway place, “one month on, one month off” as they say.  The fourth neighbour’s husband, like mine, doesn’t work in the oil industry.  He’s in a very specialised technological field and commutes every week to London.  They have two small children and he has flown down every Sunday, and back every Thursday, for years.   Other neighbours, who lived around the corner from us for a few years, had a mother who was the commuter.  She did regular stints in Calgary, Canada, while her husband juggled work and childcare.

There are so many, many stories about people commuting from Aberdeen – for example, friends of friends.  He moved his family down to London from Aberdeen, but they hated it.  The family returned to Aberdeen and he has commuted weekly to London for 30 years.

So to have my husband a mere 3-hour train journey away has been a relative luxury.  And during this difficult time, God thoughtfully provided me with a heroine to emulate:  my downstairs neighbour J.  I’ve always admired how she copes as a single parent every other month, and I’m well aware that there are many single parents who never have a partner on hand – I take my proverbial hat off to them.  While I was going through my own relatively minimal stints of having my husband away, J became a complete inspiration to me.  My mantra over the past year has been, “If J can do it, I can do it”.  Shaving wood off the side of the swollen back fence?  Finding a roofer to fix a perilously poised slate?  Grocery shopping when you’re unwell and beyond exhausted?  Taking your child to the hospital?  Selling your house?  You can do it!

In fact, J did the last thing on the list as well.  And guess what?  They are moving to Glasgow too!  So we can continue our friendship there.  As the children have grown up together, we are all very delighted.  I’m glad that she will have us to call on if ever she needs help – which, being J, she hardly ever does.

And of course the best thing of all – for me, though not for J – is that my husband will be home for dinner (which he usually makes) pretty much every night from now on.  Some people seem able to adapt to long commuting stints, but not us.

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Responses

  1. This must have been very tough for you and pretty exhausting for Michael. I’m glad the end is in sight! Your neighbour sounds like a lady of considerable resource. It must be reassuring for both of you that your families are moving to Glasgow. When I first started working offshore and had no ties I wondered how many of my colleagues coped, having young children and partners at home, but I discovered that for most of them it suited them to do things that way (maybe the marriages wouldn’t have survived if they’d been home full time!). However, it can have its down sides. I was bobbing about at sea on one occasion when I had an email from my dad saying that my mum had been taken into hospital with heart failure. I was reassured by the powers that be that they could get me off the boat and home as soon as possible but thankfully that wasn’t necessary as she was doing fine in hospital. All the same, I couldn’t help worrying about her during the rest of my trip and was mightily relieved when I got back and was able to see her.

  2. I really enjoy reading your blog, you write so well. That long distance commuting must be very hard for family life. I like your reflection on single parents.
    In my family, we both have demanding jobs in the center of Brussels, and we have three kids, and I think it get’s hard sometimes. So I can’t imagine how it would be like having one of us commuting so far or being a single parent?
    Hopefully the move to Glasgow will make things much easier for all of you.

  3. Thanks for writing about this interesting topic. It’s often struck me how Aberdeen is full of families living in this way, so different from most of the rest of the country. When I was young my mum commuted from the highlands to Glasgow for a few days every week. But that was pretty rare for where we lived. In Aberdeen it is very much the norm! (Though usually fathers, not mothers). I hope you enjoy living in Glasgow. Best of luck with your new home!

  4. Commuters have my fullest admiration, Christine. I used to take the commuter train from Southampton to London on occasion, to attend seminars, conferences, etc. It’s just a short hop, skip and a jump compared to Michael’s 3 hour journey. However, when I had the opportunity myself, to work in London, it was the travelling that proved to be a dealbreaker. Horses for courses, as they say.

  5. You certainly have my admiration, Christine. Selling a house and moving belongings has got to be one of the most onerous tasks to do on your own, but parenting a sick daughter without face-to-face discussions and and hugs of support from your partner must really test your inner resources. And 160-character snippets of advice don’t really substitute very satisfactorily.

    Actually, your mantra might be “If J can do it, I can do it”, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if J is thinking “If C can do it, I can do it”!

    (That doesn’t work with me though. I tried saying to myself “If C can do it, I can do it”, but myself answered: “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re not half the person that C is.” In fact I could neither be Michael-the-long-distance-commuter nor Christine-the-rock-of-support.)

  6. You certainely have my sympathy in this, it is never easy no matter how long has been doing it. As you know we have never had any other life. First long 6 months stints in the army, and the worry of safety, and since leaving a constant commute from N Wales to London for 4 days a week plus long distance travel. But still after all this time I hate it with a passion and I am really happy for you that its all over for you and your lovely family.
    Hugs xx

  7. When my four daughters were very young my partner left every sunday and returned late friday having been promoted… looking back I dont know how I coped, also dealing with getting house ready to sell..well done to you, you got there.

  8. This was such a nice story to read, here in Holland everything seems so close by..Nice picture of the Dafter and Michael..
    Hugs
    Erna x

  9. Oh that is so special that your neighbors are also moving with you!!!! I love the picture of Michael and the Dafter — the colors go so well and they have such happy faces. I’ve been thinking a lot about my single parenting friends this summer. Yikes! We are only facing 7.5-8 weeks and Michael has been able to come home every 2 weeks and we can text throughout the day and talk each evening. Seems a luxury compared with my friends who must do everything on their own.

    I am so behind on reading blogs and commenting……somehow I don’t get as much time, even for little bits, when Michael is gone. I’m not sure how that works but it happens. Maybe I’ll get back into the regular swing of things when we return this fall.

  10. Between the on-off shifts of our oil workers and the more sporadic time away of our fishermen, I think this is a trend that extends through much of Aberdeenshire. My dad has worked in one or the other of these industries my whole life (my grandad and a number of uncles likewise) and so it’s a lifestyle that feels comfortable and familiar to our family. What we lose out on (every second Christmas; a lot of sleep worrying about kidnappers in Nigeria..) we more than gain back in the consistent chunk of time they spend at home, so it suits us fine.

    What a time for you to suddenly find yourself thrust into this unfamiliar way of life though! I so admire your strength and resilience to persevere through all that’s been going on. Praying that your move to Glasgow brings a renewed energy, peace and refreshing!

  11. During the 20 years my husband worked for IBM we experienced a few separations during various moves and then a six week stint while Louis was working in Japan. We had two adopted sons and two naturally born daughters at the time. Our youngest daughter was less than a year old while he was in Japan and one crisis we weathered in that time was that the older children and I managed to lock the baby in the house and had to break in with a neighbor’s help to rescue her!
    Cheers for the good job you are doing in your current situation, Christine!
    I missed hearing your radio interview 😦 And I am glad you enjoyed the photos of Blue Lake which reminded you of your 12th birthday 🙂
    Gracie xx

  12. It must have been a really difficult time for you all. I am glad that you are able to spend evenings together now. I also can’t imagine how hard it must be to be alone for long stints at a time. I was a single mum for 2 years with my first daughter and it was gruelling at times. I think single Mothers are amazingly strong people. I too take my hat off to them.

  13. Love the photo of the Dafter and Michael: I imagine looking at it could help you feel better when you’re down. I admire you!

  14. That sounds like a difficult time and you are lucky to have such a positive attitude and role models. Congratulations on the new situation. I hope you find it a happy relief.

  15. You have all been rather heroic throughout! We have been spared commuting as a family so far, but I think admiringly of people I know who do it.
    My maternal grandfather was a trawler fisherman in the 1930s and 40s. Sending postcards was the only way to let family know they had arrived safely in port, in places as far afield as Kinlochbervie and Great Yarmouth. Thank goodness for email, phones and Skype.

  16. Dear everyone,
    Thank you very much for your kind comments. I’m really glad we’re through with that chapter of our lives, but I’m well aware that other people have far more difficult situations.

    Lorna, Laura and Linda, I was thinking about fishermen and people who work at sea when I wrote this, but I didn’t know enough to write about how long they are usually absent for. I think if you have a network of family around you at home, it’s perhaps a little easier than if (like us and so many others in Aberdeen) you have very few people, if anyone, that you can really ask for help. Thank goodness indeed for modern technology and communications!

    oldblack, I think it’s extremely unlikely J looks to me for inspiration in the coping-alone arena! But as you yourself know, it’s amazing what we human beings can adapt to, and the situations we can rise to, if that’s what needs to be done.

    Asplund, I love that photo as well. She worked for months to arrange the party for him, and he was so surprised and happy!

  17. Women are absolutely amazing aren’t we? Give yourself a nice pat on the back – you have been strong and courageous and it doesn’t hurt to have a good role model in the form of a good friend and neighbor. It is interesting to read about the local women keeping up the home fires while their husband’s (and vice versa) are away. Being married to a man in ‘sales’ I can relate. I am fortunate in that now my children are grown, but it was tough when they were young and I had to ‘haul water and chop wood’ which was not just a saying for me. Lovely photo of your daughter and husband. You must be greatly relieved to finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. And a good meal on the stove waiting! xoxo

    • Thanks, Karen. I think people in general are pretty amazing. Yes, you did have to haul water and chop wood, and look after four little ones. Maybe one of your neighbours was looking up to your example. And yes, thank heavens there’s someone who can really cook around here again!

  18. Growing up it in Aberdeen it felt like virtually all the men in our family and outwith worked offshore. Being from a family of mostly girls anyway, this made us all the more independent – often assuming that men were superfluous to life itself!

    I still find it funny when I here other women stating that they would need to know if their husband would like a piece of furniture or a certain wallpaper, or curtain fabric before buying it. In my childhood my mom and aunts did everything – the men came onshore to newly decorated homes, replaced appliances & holidays booked!

    • Amanda, I can exactly see the “man-free” kind of life that these women led (and lead). I have to say that I much prefer to make decisions with my husband! But there are so many ways to live a life, aren’t there?


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