I'm no superhero - and that troubles me
I've been reading books of old The legends and the myths Achilles and his gold Hercules and his gifts Spiderman's control And Batman with his fists And clearly I don't see myself upon that list
I rarely ever take meaning from songs, however I realised that these lyrics resonate with me (The Chainsmokers, Coldplay – Something Just Like This).
For those unaware of my story, I grew up with an abusive father, whose aim in live was to control and dominate over his family. He stripped my mother of any sort of life as he ratcheted away all of our freedoms one-by-one. He attacked any self-confidence and self-esteem I tried to develop growing up, to make me more subservient.
For long before I can even remember, my dreams centered around freeing my mother and sister from our family home, and securing a well paid job in which I could then look after them both. I longed to treat them to the Saturday coffees, days out, concerts, holidays and so much more which our father denied them both. Unfortunately, for 25 years of my life they were just that - dreams. There seemed to be no way to escape from our father's prison. We had no money, we had nowhere to go, and we had the dogs who we would never leave behind. It wasn't until my brother, Luke, and I had started working and saved up enough money, and for Charlotte to have left the family home for university, that our escape was possible.
Five days later our father murdered my mum and little sister in the car park of a swimming pool.
Now, back to the lyrics. As mentioned, growing up I felt a huge weight on my shoulders; a responsibility which I was in no way capable of bearing. I needed to protect and provide for my family, as my father not only failed in doling so, but actively worked to destroyed us, like a virus infecting and spreading through a body.
I felt powerless in my situation. I set high expectations of myself in school; I knew my path to freedom required succeeding in school. However well I performed, it still wasn't good enough for my father. Not in the overly-pushy-but-doing-it-because-it-is-in-your-best-interest way, but in a way to trample me, to make me feel like a failure so that he could climb atop the ruins of my self-esteem. Our father was a failure of a man but he also strived to be superior in the household. He had two ways to achieve this; better himself, or push us down so he could crush us beneath him. He chose the latter.
However well I performed academically, it didn't immediately help the situation at home. I knew it would be years before my efforts would materialise into tangible happiness for my mum and sister. I achieved almost straight A*s at GCSE and four straight As at A-level (before A*s were introduced as a grade) - but I never felt proud. Even though I achieved the highest scores that were possible to be awarded, I always felt like I had done the bare minimum. 'Overachieving' was necessary for our survival; anything less was failure. Throughout school and university I never once felt proud of what I achieved; only satisified that I had managed to meet the unreasonably high expectations I had set myself.
I wasn't allowed to participate in sport or learn to play a musical instrument growing up as it would have cost our family money. We were poor, and so genuinely couldn't afford to do much. Our poverty was a creation of our father to make our escape impossible. We had to choose between homelessness or living with a tyrant. Rather than paying for the fuel to take me to football training, or a basketball match, my father would much prefer to gamble the money away or give it to one of his internet 'friends' who 'needed money to pay off his student loan'. Hence it wasn't until I had left for university and had some spare money from the student loan that I was able to take up sports.
I took up triathlon and dedicated myself to it. I wanted to earn a place on the national team and race abroad. My father refused to allow my mum out of his sight, and he refused to travel anywhere sunny for fears of skin cancer. To cut a long story short, I achieved a place on the team to compete in Turkey and it had been talked about how mum would accompany me if I were to make the team. My mum was very excited about the prospect of her first holiday in over 10 years, and that made me push even harder in training. Once my place was confirmed on the GB squad, my father hid my mum's passport and insisted she stayed at home whilst he came with me.
He had allowed my mum and I to develop hope, as he knew it would hurt us all more once he finally revealed his intentions. It is almost impossible to put into words how it feels to have three years of hard work shattered. It appeared that achieving a place on the national squad wasn't good enough either. I needed to do more still.
But it was just the start of worse to come. My life's goals would be shattered on the 19th July 2016 in that swimming pool car park.
Having been through therapy and now able to see my life more objectively, I am left feeling a need to be someone I'm not. I don't know if I have always felt this, but I am at least now able to see it.
I feel the need to be extraordinary; to have the gold, gifts, control and fists of Achilles, Hercules, Spiderman and Batman. The belief that I will only be good enough for myself or someone else if I posses superhero qualities. That I need to save lives in a dramatic act of heroism/stupidity. I need to be Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne, James Bond etc...
I took up skydiving this summer and have achieved my 'A' licence. It's exhilarating, awe-inspiring and terrifying. I have in fact just returned from a skydiving trip in Spain. However, I've started to feel that skydiving isn't enough; it's not daring enough, adventurous enough, dangerous enough. I stood in the doorway of a plane at 15,000ft about to jump out and I was no longer terrified. I feel like I need more; base-jumping or wingsuit flying. I've tried flying like Superman but it's still not superhero enough.
I bought myself a supersports motorbike, capable of reaching 60mph in 3.4seconds. I've taken it round racetracks and scared the living daylights out of myself with near miss (and actual) crashes, yet I still don't feel like Ethan Hunt chasing down enemies in Morocco.
I swim, cycle and hit the gym until my lungs are bursting yet I haven't the fists of Batman.
I've co-authored a book with my brother, and have since received messages from many women who have managed to recognise and break free from abusive relationships having heard our story. Some even say we've saved their lives. Yet I don't feel like I've done enough. I haven't made an impact of Herculean proportions.
Am I the only guy who feels this lack of purpose? This need to pursue the impossible; to be the impossible.
Perhaps it's down to the lack of a positive male role model growing up? Maybe I searched for someone to aspire to become and films/stories provided me the men whom I respected. I don't believe this is 100% the case; my mum and sisters were, and always will be, my role models.
Perhaps it's due to the fact I have almost always been single. I attribute my relationship history (or lack there-of) with a lack of personal qualities and desirable traits. To improve my situation and be worthy of someone else, I need to drastically improve myself.
Perhaps I still feel responsible for what happened to my mum and sister. In a different universe it would have been me in that car park, meeting with my father on the following weekend to perform the exchange of paperwork. Perhaps I am searching for a way to prove to myself that I am a capable person; searching for a way to show myself that I am worthy of being alive.
Perhaps it is elements of traditional masculinity still infecting my mind, where I am attributing my worth by arbitrary, unachievable standards.
I don't know what it is. All I know is that my name is Ryan Hart, and I'm not a superhero. I don't see myself upon that list