x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dad matters: Saying goodbye to family is painful

The long summer parting is particularly poignant for a toddler's father who knows he will miss a big chunk of her development.

The sorrow of summer is the goodbye to family as they flee to more clement zones. Standing at the "passengers only" barrier in Terminal 3, flanked by other fathers waving farewell to their broods, it is as if we're all left on a ship having safely dispatched our kin to the life rafts. Few people seem to know what to do. The place fizzes with nervous energy. A handful of Etihad staff try to impose some semblance of order. They hurry from group to group telling people to use the self-check in machines, guiding them through the process, struggling as the screen freezes at a vital moment and once again abandoning them to fend for themselves.

Goodbyes never really bothered me before Astrid was born. What's the problem, I used to think, I'll see you again in a few days, weeks or months. Usually I was the one leaving, the person going somewhere or doing something. Even if I was the one being left behind, I always managed to frame the absence so that I had something to look forward to, something to fill the gap and make the time pass more quickly.

Saying goodbye to Astrid as she heads off to the UK is different. I'm surprised by its rawness. So much can happen in a month of Astrid's life. She will have changed perceptibly if not dramatically. She will have learnt new skills, developed new mannerisms, acquired fresh quirks. I will miss out on these moments. This realisation does not strike me until I come to say goodbye. Astrid is in her pushchair and as I bend down to kiss her I am mugged by emotion, pricked by the premonition of the pain of her absence, struck by the yawning chasm she will leave in her wake. Suddenly I feel tears welling up in my eye sockets.

I stand waiting for a last wave before they disappear through passport control. Next to me the father of another family is already turning to leave. He seems less perturbed by his goodbye than I do. His children are older. He's been through this process many times before. I turn to fight my way through the crowds back to the entrance. Back at home, the apartment is quiet and empty. The day stretches out before me like a desert that is featureless and uncharted.