Theatre

'I got a letter saying I had a six-year-old son I knew nothing about. One of us had to grow up'

In 2012, after seven years of recovery from addiction, Si Mack found out he had a kid he'd never met. Shortly after, his life unravelled. He lost his mum and his marriage ended. But he knew one thing – he wanted to be a good dad.

Si Mack performs his new show, kid, at BEAF Festival in Bournemouth.

Si Mack performs his new show, kid, at BEAF Festival in Bournemouth in June. Photo: Roz Pike

I received a letter in 2012 from Children’s Services. In it they said they believed I was the father of a six-year-old boy. They wanted to talk to me. I knew I was his dad, although I had never met him. I called the number on the letter. The boy had been in foster care for three years and was in the process of being adopted. His mother had relapsed into alcoholism. He’d had a rough time. They asked me if I wanted to meet him. I said, yes.

I’d been in recovery from alcohol and drugs for seven years. Recovery had been good to me. In those seven years, I’d gone from a homeless alcoholic-junkie stumbling into rehab with a bin liner that contained all my possessions, to a married, home-owning lecturer in poetry. My work was being published. People were happy to open doors for me to more opportunities. I’d arrived.

I’d also managed to keep my sex addiction on the down low. It was the one addiction I couldn’t let go of. The one I couldn’t talk about. And if I’m being really honest, it was the addiction I didn’t believe I had. I was living a double life, a triple life when I consider the denial I was in, and as far as I could tell, I was doing it well. Why wouldn’t I be able to add a six-year-old boy to the mix?

But over the next six months my mum died, my affairs became public knowledge, my marriage failed, I lost my job, and the vast majority of my friends distanced themselves. It was a dark time full of loss, grief, self-pity, anger and the budding awareness that I had brought this house of cards down all by myself. For some reason I kept on turning up for the boy. I was looking for a crumb of integrity.

I jumped through the hoops, engaged in interviews with social workers, visited him at children’s centres, applied through the courts for parental responsibility, and eventually my son came to live with me. We moved into a small council flat together in 2013.

Fast forward 10 years and I am on the verge of performing a one-man show, kid which tells the story of how that relationship changed me. It wasn’t a straightforward change. It’s a story of a traumatised man raising a traumatised son. Both of us were experiencing those feelings of loss, grief, and anger. Both of us were dealing with them like children. One of us had to grow up. It felt like a story worth telling.

In 2019, I joined a weekly creative writing group in Bournemouth – The Outsiders Project (TOP). Their vision is to show that people side-lined from society can write, perform and create work at the highest level. They support their artists to push boundaries to prove they can create work of outstanding quality and worth. I found myself in a writing community where I felt comfortable, surrounded by people who came from a background of shared outsider experiences.

As I became more settled, I began writing short pieces about my relationship with my son. They were well received, and so I wrote more. I became more involved with TOP, helping to build a scaffold theatre in an abandoned department store that has now become a permanent home for Outsider performances. I’d never delivered work to an audience before, but soon after the theatre was built, and with tremendously kind, patient and professional encouragement from the Outsiders team, I found myself performing one of these short fatherhood pieces alongside other TOP performers.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working with TOP, and as an outsider artist, is the sharing of authentic experiences through words and performance. At TOP, a writer owns their story from the first scribbled ideas in a creative writing group, through to performing a finished piece in the theatre. It’s a unique endeavour, transforming a messy first draft into a polished performance, but through each stage the artists at TOP find an authentic voice. After one read-through of a short fatherhood piece, a fellow writer came up to me to say thank you; the piece reminded him of his childhood, being raised by a single dad. I’ve had the same experience listening to other outsiders share their work. For me, the best feedback is not “you’ve done so well” or “that’s such a brave story”, but rather, “Yes, I had that experience too. I felt the way you felt.” I have found that sharing our stories honestly creates a space where outsiders do not feel quite so “outside”.

In 2022 I became writer-in-residence for The Outsiders Project. Not only had the project re-ignited my love of writing, it had also provided the opportunity for me to help others in their writing journey. As part of the residency, I have had the opportunity to develop those initial pieces into a full show, working with the artistic director, Nell Leyshon.

And so, here I am, two weeks away from opening night. My son has just arrived home from school, and wants to tell me how his English Language GCSE went. After that, I’ll get cracking with dinner. We still live in the same flat. It’s the longest either of us have ever lived in one place. We’ve come a long way.

Si Mack’s one man show kid is at Boscombe Arts Depot (B.A.D.) in Bournemouth, June 17-18, as part of the BEAF Festival 2023. For tickets and more info see gotbeaf.co.uk

[UPDATE FROM BEAF FESTIVAL: Unfortunately kid has been cancelled for personal reasons. See the rest of the programme here.]

Si Mack is part of The Outsiders Project. The Outsiders Project vision is to show that people side-lined from society can write, perform and create work at the highest level in a safe space and supportive environment.

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