stories

Brought up in a home for boys was hard, then life turned for the better

Around the world with your baggage

2002. It’s no easy road finding God. At least, for Ian Head (Pictured above). In 1956, he was going to end his life by jumping off the Westminster Bridge in London. A pull to go to the remotest part of the world was stronger. Ian arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, later that year. It was not until 1987 that the emotional baggage he brought with him started to fade.

Ian does not know to this day who his parents were. When asked as a five-year-old, “doesn’t your mum visit you”, he replied, “what’s a mum?” We were never taught anything, he says. Family life was difficult when he married Mary and had children, 30 – 40 years later.

It is England, circa 1930’s. Ian and his peers live in dorms. During the evening, they kneel by their beds and say two-minute prayers to a God unbeknown to, at least, Ian. The older boys tell tales about how thunder means God is shifting the beds around for the next set of guys. The pecking order, a hierarchy led by the older boys, means survival of the fittest.

Sexual abuse is common. When you are in an institution, Ian says, and a twelve-year-old wants to “hop into bed” with a six-year-old, you don’t say anything.

When the lights are out, talking, laughing, or joking is forbidden. It is a breach of good manners if someone conducts himself inappropriately in this way. They wear grainy nightshirts, “like the Jews used to wear” – with stripes printed vertically. Underwear is prohibited. These garments are put in pillowcases underneath beds, with the masks for when “the sirens went off”. Ian lived during World War 2 while in an institution. He is a product of Barnardos [at the time; the institution has changed since].

He had been through five institutions before the age of fourteen, when he left them behind to face the world. The shaping of his formative years inextricably followed him.

“They decided when the men came back from the war that the Barnardos boys would stay on an extra six months in Barnado homes.

We had what was called a “secondary education” which was practical things of the world. We played shops and bus conductors, because we never handled money, never been in a shop, never spoken to a girl, never used a telephone …

“When I was gainfully employed as an office clerk, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think for myself. That was one of the hardest things of my life, after coming out of an institution and being brainwashed and having to face reality of life.”

It is February 1949, London. After two weeks living in a Barnardo boarding house, he is coerced to leave. Subsequently, he becomes a squatter all over London.

He goes from job to job, suffers violence at the hands of a flatmate, relishes the London nightlife and red-light district, but feels like nobody when others around him go home to flush houses and good families.

Ian says: “There is that thought inside of you that you’re an urchin, a eunuch, you’re no good, no one wants you and that is my lot in life. If you put that in a package you get a time bomb, someone who is anti-everything.”

His first “touch of love” was a prostitute’s hug. “That was the first cuddle I had in my life, and I liked it. It was the first time I felt attached to someone. It made me feel warm and wanted.

I thought I want more of this. Unfortunately, it led me to a lot of turmoil in relationships, both male and female. My relationships were anything that filled a need in me.”

The self-pitying, self-abusive, partying, drinking and “naval gazing” Ian followed him to New Zealand.

He met Mary while dissipated by the front door of a church. As they got to know each other and she showered Ian with affection, they married in the 1970’s when Ian was in his 40’s and raised two children. The problems Ian had was now buried in a façade of respectability.

In 1987 they went to a church meeting led by evangelist Bill Subritzky. There, Ian and Mary heard that if you had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it would change your life. “If anyone needed their life changing it was certainly me,” he says.

He says giving your life to God does not change your problems overnight. “Like little children we have to grow, we have to prune, we had to get rid of a lot of baggage.”  Recently, Ian participated in a Living Waters course, which he says highlighted many issues that were not dealt with such as those of the father and mother figure and personal identity.

“The first years of our marriage were not the best because I had so much baggage, so many habits that were not contusive to a meaningful relationship.

“It took me quite a while to feel within my heart that, even with a wife and two children, you are family and that somebody loves me.

“I feel connected to people now,” he says. “I feel people do accept and love me and I am free to give and receive.”

By Peter Veugelaers

Published 2002, Challenge Weekly

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