This documentary follows former England star Rio Ferdinand a year after losing his wife, Rebecca, to cancer. It focuses on how he tries to come to terms with the loss and the effect it has on him and his three young children.
Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad (BBC One) was an uncompromising, soul-baring examination of grief and in particular its effect on men. With around 75 men under 50 becoming widowers every day in the UK, this was no small issue. Ferdinand met with fellow young widowers who, amid occasional banter about playing “the shittest game of Top Trumps ever”, discussed the importance of crying and expressing emotion. “I know how short life is,” said Dan, who had lost first his wife then his first child with his new partner. “You’ve got to keep working at being alive.”
Bereaved children attending a support group counselled Ferdinand that there was no right or wrong way to tackle grief, and at heart it was his children for whom he was most concerned, as he found himself paralysed between saying too much and not enough. His father Julian appeared a little later on: it was clear that emotional reserve ran in the family.
Yet Ferdinand didn’t hold back on camera. His honesty was at times breath-taking, as he discussed his anger, compartmentalising his feelings, and near-suicidal thoughts. He often broke down in tears, confronting some hard truths and learning to be selfish for the greater good. Bereaved children often mimic the behaviour of the surviving parent, and Ferdinand conceded that “if I’m happy, the kids are going to be happy”. At the close, he joked with his kids about his dismal first effort to chat up Rebecca and the change was perceptible. A weight was lifting as his mind opened up to both past and future.
Most television documentaries insist on some sort of journey these days, but this one was a genuine emotional odyssey. Few who remember Rio Ferdinand – a footballer of greatness but also a loudmouth, a braggart and a bit of a clown (remember the agelessly idiotic Rio’s World Cup Wind Ups?) – would have expected this transformation, but it was affectless and very moving. Rebecca, he thought, “would be looking down now and saying, ‘well done’.”. If so, she wouldn’t have been alone.
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