Men without children historically have not spoken about their grief. Nurden says that almost 40 per cent have experienced depression and a quarter feel a deep anger.
Amanda Hill, The Guardian
Male childlessness is a bigger issue than is usually recognised. A quarter of men over 42 have not had children … Many men do not admit that they are upset about not having children, and it is a taboo that Nurden wants to break.
Liam Kelly, the Sunday Times
People talk a lot about women and their ticking time bomb of fertility but it’s less talked about with men who may want to be fathers but can’t be. It’s often thought that for men it’s a relief when they don’t have children and they’re just having fun without it. Men definitely want to be dads, too. Robert Nurden has interviewed a lot of other men who are in the same situation, so it’s a collaborative effort and he’s bringing to light that it’s not really talked about.
BBC, Radio 4 Broadcasting House
I love this book. With breath-taking honesty and eloquence, Robert Nurden has articulated the life and times of a man who is childless not by choice. Some people say it’s (still) a man’s world – but this book is a powerful reminder that in terms of fertility and parenthood, women have largely dominated the discourse. It’s time for men to be heard and the highest praise I can give this brave and brilliant book is that Robert made me want to lean forward and listen.
Jessica Hepburn, author of 21 Miles and The Pursuit of Motherhood
Robert’s book is an extremely moving account of his experience of unwanted childlessness. Creatively sequenced, he expertly guides us through the deeply personal thoughts, feelings and behaviours regarding fatherhood and the intricacies of his relationships past and present. Robert deepens his multifaceted and multi-layered emotional journey by including the voices of other circumstantial childless men.
Dr Robin A. Hadley, author of How Is A Man Supposed To Be A Man?
I loved this book. The title, I Always Wanted To Be A Dad: Men Without Children was immediately intriguing to me, having navigated these waters myself. And I’ve literally navigated these rough waters as a marathon swimmer, attempting to make peace with being childless-not-by-choice myself.
This book is filled with humour, heartache, and the hard-won battle of accepting painful circumstances. I’m very glad that another male perspective has been added to the complex, emotional, and heart-wrenching conversation around childlessness. When reading this book, I felt like Robert and I could have been having a face-to face conversation. Reflections on life, pain, regret, wondering about the what-ifs, this book is a must read for anyone navigating the harsh river of childlessness.
Rob Hutchings, Author of Downriver Nomad: A Triathlete's Adventures and Adversities into the Rapids
A much-needed autobiographical exploration from a childless-by-circumstance man as he unravels how and why his desire for fatherhood was thwarted. Tender, illuminating, angry, surprising and deeply vulnerable, it shows that behind every man without children is a complex, and until now, untold story, and as deserving of empathy and respect as those of childless women.
Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women and author of Living the Life Unexpected
Mike Carter, author of One Man and his Bike
Taking on the raw and undiscussed topic of involuntary male childlessness, Robert Nurden’s ground-breaking and necessary book is full of grief, regret and despair. And then… the upward trajectory of its ending is all the more powerful, as we are left with a sense of possibility, hope and life. A wonderful book.
Guy Shennan, therapist and author of Solution-Focused Practice
Warmth and humour mixed with grief, regret and hard-hitting reality combine to create a compelling read, as Robert shares his thoughts on arriving at a destination he never expected or wanted.
Stephanie Joy Phillips, founder of World Childless Week
Robert Nurden has written a heartfelt book about being a childless man, reflecting on the pain, regret and questions facing someone in his twilight years. This story resonates with those of us who still wonder why we never had children of our own. In the end, we may never know the answer. What’s most important is, as Nurden demonstrates, to make peace with life and all its mysteries.
Mark H. Massé (www.markmasse.com), author of Nobody’s Father
Annie Kirby, author of The Hollow Sea
If you are a childless man through circumstance rather than choice, or the spouse/partner of one, you need to take this journey with Robert Nurden. The stops along the way will have you examining your own feelings, reactions, desires for ‘normal’. This journey is difficult at times. Nurden is honest and you may find yourself wanting to turn away from what he is telling you as ‘not yours’. However, stay with the journey. I believe the end of this journey is well worth the time it takes to get there.
Bob Stallworthy, poet and author of Father’s Day When You Aren’t
John Lent, poet and author of Navigating the River of No Return
My brother is childless not by choice. I am childfree and we’ve found a talking point through Robert’s elegant words on a topic that we danced around as it’s so difficult. It’s simply beautiful, a sensitive design supports the heartbreaking and hopeful testimonies. I have read Robin A Hadley’s website and found Michael Hughes and his work at the Full Stop. Wow. Thank you.
Emma B, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
I read it very quickly over a couple of days, and as others have suggested, it’s written in a style and a format that makes a difficult subject very accessible. And it’s a tricky subject, it’s really difficult to not have children of your own, when all of society is subliminally telling you it’s the required thing to do. l found it really helpful to read and l’d recommend it for any men or women that find themsleves in that position, or indeed any parents open minded enough to consider that not everbody gets to have kids. l admire Robert’s sometimes brutal honesty in recounting his own struggles, it’s always fascinating to read this kind of upfront autobiography. l don’t necessarily ‘agree’ with all of it, and for me he maybe brushes over some quite big alternative pathways, such as adoption, fostering and therapy, which l think all offer very honourable alternative approaches. But all our stories are different, and l absolutely commend Robert’s thoughtful and heartfelt opening up of the subject. What a great ‘legacy’ thing to do with your life, to open up such a neglected issue in society. And by the way, l don’t have children myself but have been very lucky to participate in looking after / providing childcare / support for a couple of kids over a number of years : there are different possible alternative cultural approaches (eg the Maori concept of whanau), it doesn’t have to be the conventional nuclear family or bust.
Skinner, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
As a father, when reading this book I thought I would be detached, looking in as an observer, an outsider, but author Robert Nurden’s intensely personal account, coupled with testimonies from other childless men, drew me in and made me realise just how much I take for granted having children. As a young man it never crossed my mind that I might not be a father and it was only after I became one that I wondered, during moments of parental frustration and stress, how different my life might have been without children. In different circumstances, I could just as easily be reflecting now, like the author and the other men featured in this book, on my life as a childless man. Robert Nurden articulates his complex feelings with honesty, objectivity and humour, making this a poignant and thought-provoking work that helps to shed light on a sadly neglected issue.
Tony Prouse, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
This was an absolutely unique read for me. I have never had a perspective like that before offered on anything like this topic. I can personally feel rather quite blessed while reading it, by having myself sprogged and (this not true for at least half my friends and acquaintances) having a brilliant relationship with both my now grown up children. There is such an undercurrent of angst expressed in the book as Robert Nurden reveals how painfully his lack of offspring had festered and burned deep into his psyche. This is a work of very intimate autobiographical writing, cleverly interspersed with the interjections of others, and it all made me anticipate the author was constructing a jigsaw like assemblage that would fulfil a safety net like promise, made in the introduction, of a brighter horizon. I’m not sure I was caught and comforted by that net, rather I was left feeling quite sad personally for him and in actuality humanity in toto. As male sperm counts continue to decline worldwide Dads will be an increasingly endangered breed. This book is a great achievement, constructed with elegant word craft, and I would strongly recommend it to both parents and to non-parents.
Guy Anthony Brown, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
Flushing shame away
It feels weird listening to an episode of the podcast as though I’m a listener, dear listener, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make this episode with the incredibly articulate Robert Nurden, writer (of a new book ‘I always wanted to be a dad…’), journalist and member of our community.
Listening to Robert, I was struck by how much if what he has said echoes much of the struggles, I’ve experienced over the years around handling or rather expressing my childlessness. The way it has felt on many occasions as though I’ve had to ‘come out’ to say that I’ve been unable to have children, when posed the typical question…’so, got any kids?’.
I know, logically, there is no malice in this question at all from the person that poses it, who themselves are parents. And I can genuinely say, I’ve never been asked this question by people that don’t have children, whatever their circumstances. However, despite all the work I’ve done on myself and that I’m a counsellor, even now, it still irritates me when it comes up.
And that’s not because it triggers as much as it used to, but because in that question is not only an assumption about my status in society, but there’s also a laziness and lack of creativity when it comes to connecting with other people. I mean do you really want to know me or are you just dutifully filling the silence?
Yes, I have answers to this question that range from answering honestly, to showing how boring the question is, to one of my favourites, ‘not that I’m aware of…’. This one always makes me laugh on the inside as it generates a confused look, a pause, and I can then fill that pause with asking some more interesting questions, so that I can genuinely get to know the person, not just their kids. Feel free to steal it for your own.
But here’s where it connects to something Robert said, the feeling that firstly we’re having to disclose information that equates to us having to ‘come out’, but also witness the changes in us that mean friendships we’ve had also must change. It’s a topic that comes up time and time again in my work as a counsellor, but also in my own life. It’s like the perpetual floating turd that cannot be flushed.
That turd, though represents more than those people that can’t ask anything more interesting than enquiring after children, it also represents the shame we feel when we have to hide the fact that we’re childless. The fact that we’ve not ticked the boxes, not passed the landmarks and ‘grown up’. But who’s expectations are these, and who are we trying to measure up to?
Yep, society at large has expectations, as do family, friends, acquaintances, and that person at work, who only ever goes on about their kids. But, if we flip that on its head, what does it say about society that the only way to tick that box is to procreate? What does it say about Nigel at the office that all he has to talk about are his children? What does it say about family and friends that when our childlessness comes along, they can’t sit with us, allow us to grieve, but instead drift away or leave us to it? It’s because they cannot sit with our feelings, not that we’re too much.
And this means, this isn’t just ours to carry. It’s not for us to feel that shame and take ownership of it, like that unsinkable turd that someone else left behind. It’s not for us to carry those unreasonable expectations around with us, as though it’s our cross to bear. So how do we deal with this then Sarah? I hear you cry.
There are so many ways and too many for me to list and talk about here in this word count (watch the Full Stop Community for resources that will be coming at you very soon). However, my first suggestion would be start to notice when you feel the discomfort when speaking to someone. Is that your true reaction or are you wrestling with a heavy dose of shame. If it’s shame, then it’s time to open it up, look at it, and start to break it down by being nice to yourself. Counselling can really help with this, because we can find our words and start to say how we feel, rather than swallowing it all down and hoping it never sees the light of day.
My favourite quote about shame is this from Brene Brown:
‘If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive…’
That’s not to say that shouting it from the rooftops is going to be everyone’s cup of tea, because we each have our own boundaries and not disclosing is a way to protect ourselves…a very necessary way at times. But, that’s what I admire about Robert and his book, he has opened himself up completely, spoken honestly and compassionately about his experience and because of that shame has nowhere to hide, it’s been completely and utterly smothered by empathy and self-compassion. The unsinkable turd has been completely flushed – hoo-bloody-ray!
Sarah Lawrence - reviewing Robert's Full Stop Podcast
I can’t promise that the Norfolk Street Bakery in Cambridge can create lightbulb moments for all. Still, I can tell you that when Robert joined this recording and said that our coffee together made a difference, I was taken aback at the compliment.
In my time as an in-house designer and freelance, I’ve helped many authors get their words from manuscript to a published book and sometimes a website. Each experience is the same, but different, and the worry about the book succeeding is a very real emotion. For Robert, there is a very personal weight to this concern: his words, those testimonials from other men, and how they are perceived. Robert has also been talking to journalists, having spent much of his working life as one himself. That takes enormous courage.
If you were creating for World Childless Week or any number of online spaces, you may feel a shift in your feelings. We all hope you’ve looked after yourself these past few days and in the coming weeks.
Robert’s story got me thinking about connections and the joy of knowing each other and realising that our community has gifts, strengths, and interests beyond childlessness to create relationship ties. Meeting Robert made a difference as I could see his commitment to publishing I Always Wanted To Be A Dad: Men Without Children, but he would not have found me had Robin not connected us. I knew Rosalyn would be a great fit. She did so much more than edit his work and confidently inspired us. It was truly unique to have all three of us working on this book, and I’m thrilled to see the result.
The design vision for I Always Wanted To Be A Dad: Men Without Children was to create a design that used typography and letter form and was economical and stylish. As I explored the title and first chapters – I have at least 10 alternatives for the cover and the inside pages sketched out – I settled on grace and dignity as themes that are no less than anyone who contributed to it deserved. The result is a cover with impact so that, if read on a train, someone might peek across the aisle and scribble down the title to buy later. In appreciating the courage that was shown in the content, the design had to work extra hard as a marketing tool and to show the levity of the storytelling and make a noise. Ah, the power of a book cover – I could talk about that for ages, maybe not here! I hope I’ve done it justice and welcome feedback.
The collaboration with Robert has led to exciting conversations around providing creative support for our community on getting work out there. Sarah Lawrence and I captured some of that creative sparkle and sought help from Rosalyn, and Janine Ford. You’ll see the results on our website and at events, including Storyhouse.
Speaking of which … I woke this morning and got on with my day; it was with excitement because Michael and Vickie were landing in London after their epic flight from Australia. It feels like we need to get #fullstoptogether trending! Michael’s incredible efforts to connect our community put me in the shade, but I’m determined to get out and about more. I’m still deciding on the camper van, but I have booked a trial weekend away with my dog to see how she adapts to nights on wheels. Paws crossed, we can start to travel around and meet some of you.
Berenice Howard-Smith - reviewing Robert's Full Stop Podcast
Michael Hughes - reviewing Robert's Full Stop Podcast
A sensitive, raw, reflective, well-written account of a very personal predicament, told without self-pity. Honesty and pain emerge from Robert’s experience and his willingness to open up on a topic often skirted round because of embarrassment or discomfort add immensely to this important work.
If the book provokes meaningful conversations elsewhere around the topic, by and with other childless men, it will have served a great purpose and increased the understanding of the little-recognised or discussed plight of many.
Robert draws on the experience of other childless men in short vignettes, to illustrate a wider range of emotions and impacts, which add poignancy to his own writing and strength to his messages. The book is short, but that does not detract from its importance; rather its punchiness enhances its directness and impact. The design, layout and typography of the book are modern and visually very pleasing. They complement and enhance the strength and originality of the author’s approach to the subject. A very highly recommended read.
John Walker, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
An arc from yearning to determined but fruitless action and final acceptance, this is an account of a largely unacknowledged torment: it’s not every man’s destiny to be a parent. There’s a whole world of fertile women out there but the vicissitudes of love leave the author defeated in his quest. We hear many other men’s stories and of the author’s and their karmic conclusions. Moving and very readable.
Frank Jezierski, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
I have never read literature regarding this sensitive topic from a man’s perspective. Robert narrates his childless experience throughout his adult life beautifully and includes other men’s feelings and experiences on the matter.
I found the book a joy to read, a book written from the heart, a must read for men in Robert’s position.
Susana Sutherland, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
A beautifully written, open and transparent story of Robert’s journey – altogether an amazing and hugely valuable literary achievement! A wonderful book. Interspersing chapters with other men’s experiences of being childless is such a great idea and adds to its breadth and depth. Although my life’s been very different to his, there was so much I could identify with. In fact, my own being without children is something I’m only just beginning to understand. Reading this has encouraged me to look at parenting patterns in my own childhood. I love the writing style; humour and happiness stand alongside the more painful and challenging sections. So many men will benefit from this groundbreaking book.
Chris North, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
I thought Robert’s book was a poignant read. It had a profound impact on me. I’m so pleased he wrote it – it will prompt valuable conversations.
Annie D, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
This is an extraordinary piece of writing by Robert Nurden. I learned so much about what some childless men are reluctant to share. Now I have huge admiration and respect for them on this issue. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But this brave and surprising book has been a complete eye-opener for me.
Sue Rowlands, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
An incredibly brave expose. The struggle experienced by men not raising children is well and truly nailed under the carpet of society. I can only hope that this very heart-on-the-sleeve biography is years ahead of its time, and that future generations will acknowledge the intense trauma suffered by (what must be) millions of men across the globe. It is, in fact, exactly the same for women. But they talk, and we don’t. Personally, I’m incredibly grateful to Robert for getting this story out there. It’s something I’ve so far failed to do. For us men who’ve grown into dads-not-raising-children… this is our narrative. We’re not alone.
David Holmes, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
I’m a father and grandfather, so reading this book made me think about the whole subject, which I had never done before. Childless women and problems in starting families are far more public/discussed topics. I also reflected on my own experience with my children from a slightly different viewpoint. It’s clearly a complex issue but this book examines emotions and circumstances with clarity and a kind of illuminating naked honesty. It can certainly make those of us with children think and be better informed.
Kevin Scanlan, as reviewed on Amazon.co.uk
A long-overdue take on male childlessness, fearlessly honest, and without any trace of self-pity. Having read it, I was amazed that this difficult area had not received more attention. Maybe in the light of this important book, such neglect will be rectified.