DARON: BORIS, 26 – ACTOR & MUSICIAN
DARONNE: HANNELORE, 31 – GUIDE AND TEACHER
FAMILY SITUATION: 6 YEARS TOGETHER, LIVING WITH TWO SONS: ACHILLE, 3 AND LUCIAN 1.
Boris was twelve years old when I met him for the first time. Always with a guitar in his hand or acting in a play. It was clear that he was born for a life on stage.
After a successful year that includes the theatre play “The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy, you can expect him next year in Belgica, the new film by Felix Van Groeningen. Rock’n Roll, casual, young and rash. Those are the first word that comes up when you see him at first. But appearances can be deceiving. Hannelore – who swapped her stage life for a combo job as teacher, tourist guide and creative hustler – is the first to affirm this.
Boris just turned 22 when he very consciously succeeded to convince her to start a family together … They recently became the owners of their so-called “Fall House” which was transformed into a peaceful chill out hub.
“I come from a very vivid family myself. My father (the renown furniture designer Maarten Van Severen, editor’s note) had two sons when he met my mother and then they got me and my younger brother. Our house was always full of friends and acquaintances. There was always music. My father used to play his favourite songs very loudly when he was working in his studio. I remember him putting Suzanne Vega’s records on and we all started to dance … My older brothers were already teenagers when I was a toddler and one of my favourite things to do was to snitch their cassette tapes and play them on my Fischer Price deck. When I was three years old, I got a guitar from Santa-Claus, and as a child I wanted nothing more than to be Axl Rose of Guns’n Roses.(Laughs) Music has always been important to me. Today it holds a central role in our family. We constantly put on vinyl records or I play guitar while the boys are playing, Hannelore sings, we also have some little musical projects together … “
I’M ABSOLUTELY NOT THE ROCK’N ROLL LIBERTINE PEOPLE TAKE ME FOR. I ‘M MORE LIKE AN OLD MAN THAT USALLY FALLS A SLEEP IN THE COUCH AT HALF PAST NINE.
“Everyone thinks I’m the nonchalant, cool dad. I’m anything but nonchalant. If we have to be somewhere on time, we are on time. I’m super sensitive and like to be home very much. But on stage, I’m someone else. I’m definitely not the rock’n roll libertine people take me for. I’m more like an old man that usually falls a sleep in the couch at half past nine. (Laughs) I’m strict too. Although I grew up with few rules, my father was very stern. He wasn’t the type guy who caved in when you begged for candy for instance. That’s why maybe subconsciously, I think I need to be rigorous as well? “
“When I met Hannelore, I very quickly felt she would be the mother of my children. We were together for little more then a year when I already started talking about kids. It just seemed the perfect time to me. I was a student at the time and wanted kids rather at the beginning of my career, so I could take them along the life I wanted to lead. I didn’t like the idea of waiting to be in my mid-thirties with some kind of career and than having to pause it all so I could focus on my kids. To me it seemed much more difficult to find a good balance between work and family at a later stage in life. Certainly considering everything I wanted to do … When my father died, it became financially possible to start this kind of independence this early. So I thought, let’s do it! It maybe sounded a little crazy only being 22, but it was a very conscious choice and luckily I managed to convince Hannelore about it. I always wanted kids and I felt there wouldn’t be enough time or worse, that I would end up not wanting them anymore, if we’d wait. Maybe I’d be doing too well or I’d want other things in life. I was really scared that might happen.”
It maybe sounded a little crazy only being 22, but it was a very conscious choice and luckily I managed to convince Hannelore about it. I always wanted kids and I felt there wouldn’t be enough time or worse, that I would end up not wanting them anymore, if we’d wait. Maybe I’d be doing too well or I’d want other things in life. I was really scared that might happen.
“Achille was born when I was doing my master year. Which also had its advantages: I had time because I had few lessons, I didn’t had to go to work, and I even got alimony for myself, we hardly had to pay anything for daycare. Plus, I looked at it this way: when I’ll be 33, I’ll have sons aged 10 and 8. I’ll still be in the prime time of my life. By the time I’ll reach 43, they will graduate … how cool is that!? Achille has classmates whose parents are in their forties. To me, that looks really difficult. I think it’s much more intense to raise children when you’re older.” Photographer Bruno, who became a father again at 45, joins in: “I enjoy having a baby much more now, but you’re right: it’s intense. I suffer much more from chronic fatigue than when I got my first two daughters about 18 years ago. My friends told me I was crazy when they heard about the new baby.” (Smiles)
“Our friends really loved the idea. We also inspired some of them: a 25 year old friend of mine just became a dad. His girlfriend is 23. When you start having children at a young age, people often think that it happened by accident. It wasn’t for us, neither for our friends. Although, it was stressful when Hannelore found out she was pregnant just after 2 weeks trying. You hear so many stories of people who need 2-3 years to get pregnant. We were expecting the same. She began to cry and I could only keep staring out of the window, thinking ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’ I was scared as fuck. But that feeling was gone just as quickly as it popped up. That said, I have not once regretted our decision to start early.”
Achille has classmates whose parents are in their forties. To me, that looks really difficult. I think it’s much more intense to raise children when you’re older.
What do you like most about being a dad? “The unconditional love you get from your children. You’re a hero in their eyes. Seeing them grow up, recognizing yourself in what they do or undertake.”And the hardest part? “The serious responsibility you have. There are also times when I would like to go out at night and it’s not possible since I have to get up the next day for the kids. Still, there are plenty of times when it is possible to go out. It just used to be more spontaneous back in the days.” Have you always wanted more than one child? “I come from a big family and I remember our home being crowded all the time. On each floor there was something to do. That’s the definition of a family to me. I guess that’s why I wanted more then one. But two is enough. I certainly understand those couples who prefer only one child. Two really is a big difference. 1 + 1 doesn’t equals 2 in that sense … it’s much more than twice as much work. Having two children feels much more like a constant rush. You only notice this when one of them is not around.”
Does “me time“ still exist now you’re a father? “During the day I’m home a lot, since I mostly perform at night. But I would really like to do a pilgrimage across Australia on my own. To experience solitude. Only landscapes and nature to overwhelm me. A friend told me about a trip around Alice Springs on Australia. You get there, through the desert, in the middle of nowhere. You meet no one, you rarely cross people going in the opposite direction, because it’s a return trip. That feeling of loneliness attracts me because it’s something scarce today. It feels like no one dares to be alone these days.”
Also interested to go on this pilgrimage in Australia? The trail Boris speaks about, is called the Larapinta Trail and is a journey of 223 kilometers between Alice Springs and Mount Sonder, one of the highest mountains in that region. More information read here.
“I have been raised as an only child by my mother for a while, my dad died when I was about 3 years old. They were in their early twenties when they got me, and both had a turbulent childhood. When I was five, my mother got a new love that led to my half-brother. I was twelve years old and not at all interested in a baby. When he was born, I started touring with a theatre production of Arne Sierens (a renown Belgian play writer). It was a hectic period. From then on, I continuously jumped from one project into another, from Arne Sierens to the Kopergieterij and then a theatre company in Antwerp. I had difficulties understanding the complex relationship between my mother and her boyfriend, especially when I hit puberty. We moved quite often. He was an anarchist artist who suddenly had the idea we had to live in a forest. My mom used to DJ, there was always a party vibe at home. Her lover also worked as a graffiti artist and tattoo artist at times. At some point we even had a tattoo studio at home. They were both fond of Wild at Heart by David Lynch … that movie was really defining them. (Laughs) Looking back at it now, they actually experienced a very intense love. As a child I remember occasionally longing for a traditional mommy, daddy, baby setting; doing my hobbies in the weekend and enjoying a roast at grandma’s every Sunday. Although it’s certainly not what I have in mind for my own family … sounds way too boring.” (Laughs)
As a child I remember occasionally longing for a traditional mommy, daddy, baby setting; doing my hobbies in the weekend and enjoying a roast at grandma’s every Sunday. Although it’s certainly not what I have in mind for my own family … sounds way too boring.
“When becoming a mother myself, I did understand the choices they made … as a child or teenager you do not realize what’s really going on, of course. My mother has – given the circumstances – done very well. I was able to study, they let me go on tour with the theatre company … If I have to mention one thing that I would do differently, it might be that she gave up to much of her own for our wellbeing. It almost seems inevitable: you want the best for your kids, so you almost automatically forget about yourself and your own happiness. I certainly do not want that to happen to me. Although I also tend to give up a lot for my children. Honestly, it makes me very nervous when I notice that I ‘m not making any plans for myself … Or maybe it’s the social pressure? I don’t know if I’m feeling this way because of what I experienced as a child or because it’s part of my own identity, but I really feel the need to continue to evolve and continuously grow as a person. It’s certainly not about rebelling against my mum. I respect her a lot and love her very much.”
“When I turned 18, my passion for acting decreased. Because studying wasn’t really stimulated by my parents, I really wanted to have a degree. It was my way of rebelling … Now I teach and guide in Antwerp and Ghent. I also do a number of small artistic projects. I’m very happy with that situation. When I was pregnant of Lucian, I was afraid that I was going to get stuck on the teaching job. Suddenly my life seemed fully booked, and I wanted to keep my freedom at all costs. By combining these different jobs, I still feel free. Now that the kids are growing older, my urge for freedom only gets bigger, I want to be able to choose my time schedule, experience things instead of being only a teacher.”
It almost seems inevitable: you want the best for your kids, so you almost automatically forget about yourself and your own happiness.
What do you like most being a mother? “Love. Not only the love you feel for your children when you see them, but also the love you get back … To have my family around me – without whining or complaining – fills me with the most pure happiness, a feeling I can’t compare with anything else. I also love the fact that children shift your focus. Before they enter your life, it’s all about yourself and what you like and that’s sometimes … I don’t know … You see things completely different at once. Having children put so much into perspective. The distinction between what is valuable and what is not.” What do you dislike at being a mum? “That’s very close to what I think is so great about being one. Namely that everything revolves around the kids which means having less time for yourself. I can be really jealous when I hear other people planning when they have a day off. I miss the freedom to be able to decide all by myself if I like to stay somewhere or go somewhere else. Because the kids are so small, I quickly feel guilty when I go out. I restrict myself a lot that way. And believe me, going out until dawn in an youthful, uncontrolled way is something I really crave for at times. But it’s just too much right now. It sometimes feels as if I have this built-in restrictor in my mind. I hope it goes away at some point… Our childless friends regularly joke about it, laughing that “mom and dad can’t take it anymore.'” (Smiles)
To have my family around me – without whining or complaining – fills me with the most pure happiness, a feeling I can’t compare with anything else.
Do you still experience “me time” since you became mother? “When we only had one child, I still had time for myself. I practiced yoga and Pilates. Since we have Lucian, I haven’t. It has nothing to do with him. We bought a house last year, we moved, we are with the four of us now, I work full time and Boris’s career grew spectacularly. It’s just a lot busier. When I decided to work less after last year, I feel there is more time again. I’m really, really looking forward to get out again to get a coffee with a friend or to go to the sauna, or swim on my own.”
Boris, you’re an actor, so you’re often away. How do you manage to combine it all? Boris: “Until last year I actually was home most of the time during the day and that worked out well because Hannelore had to get out early to teach. I took care of Achille in the mornings, and took him to the nursery. By the time I had to leave for work in the evenings, Hannelore was back. Since the birth of Lucian it all became a lot more hectic. He was born three weeks earlier, and I was still in the midst of a series of shows in Antwerp. But we managed. Even though I had to leave the stage during the applause to return to Hannelore and the boys.”(Laughs) Hannelore: “Had I known that Lucian was going to be born that day, I would absolutely not have accepted that Boris would play that week.” Boris: “The director and his team did a great thing: they announced I had become a father for the second time in the program booklet of the show, and asked the audience to leave a message for our son… On the last day of the performance I got a pile of handwritten notes with the most personal words, coming from total strangers. A lovely surprise.”
Hannelore: “At the moment, Boris is negotiating a three week job in New Zealand. It’s far from confirmed but we already agreed that if it’s a go, he will take Achille along. I can’t possibly do my job and manage two children for three weeks. Well, it’s possible, but it would be so damn hard, and I don’t want to end up in that situation. Last month when Boris was in Scotland for ‘The Great Downhill … ‘ it was different because I didn’t have to teach, but I trully had no life. It’s now part of the negotiations with the production team. Sure I will miss them those weeks, but it just seems better for everyone this way. And a fun experience for Achille.” You seem to have a lot of respect for each other’s needs. Not everyone is so considering… Hannelore: “It’s evident to us. Boris is also very much looking forward to take Achille with him, and I don’t want Boris to miss out on opportunities because we have children now. There is no competition between us. It does sometimes frustrates me he can play every night, while I sit here at home. But I don’t miss it so much myself to be on the stage. At this moment my children, my man and my small projects are enough. I would very much like to do something with music again, though.”
It’s really nice to get presents when you’re baby is born, but having friends coming over with filled groceries bags and make you dinner, while you only have to pay attention to your kids, that’s the best present ever.
You first lived in Antwerp. Why did you returned to Ghent? Boris, “Lucian was on his way, our friends and our mothers live in Ghent as well. Being closer to them made it easier. In Antwerp we often had friends babysitting, they still do actually. I’d rather not count on total strangers for that.” Hannelore: “We chose the godmothers and godfathers very consciously for both our children. They feel at home here, and act as if it’s also their home. They’re really part of the family.
This is also the case for other friends. We trust each other and we can rely on each other. At Lucian’s birth we got the question what gifts we would like, but we actually had everything. We asked some friends to come over instead and cook for us, or bring soup, so we didn’t need to worry about that for one evening. It’s really nice to get presents when you’re baby is born, but having friends coming over with filled groceries bags that make you dinner, while you only have to pay attention to your kids, that’s the best present ever. Going out now is actually anything but relaxing. It is always such a hassle. One kid loses his soother, the other one falls and then you suddenly remember you forgot to bring something. At home you have everything. Visiting friends make it complete.”
Would you also like to see your sons on stage later? Hannelore: “That really doesn’t matter to me.” Boris: “They should do what they love to do. I’ve been brought up that way. Do what you love to do, but do it well. Follow your heart, your instinct at all levels. That’s the best advice you can give to someone at the start of his life. I believe intuition is the best sense you have. Everything is changing so fast at all levels. It feels as if we don’t have any certainties anymore. That’s why they better choose what they like to do.”
That is of course one the most difficult choices to make when you’re young. Boris: “Right. I grew up with that concept and it wasn’t easy. The positive aspect is that it confronted me with my own behavior, asking myself what I was doing for God’s sake. Failing is part of life. It’s important to remember you need to dust yourself of and try again.”
Aren’t there plenty of young people who keep on making the same mistakes again and again, until they loose all control? We as parents also make mistakes and our children will lose track at some point. Doesn’t a caring atmosphere within the family play a major role to succeed? Boris: “I actually come from a tender and loving family and I have always had great respect for my mother. She’s a very strong woman. As a parent, you are the only support for your children. If something goes wrong at that level, it leaves scars. Being a parent now, I sometimes fear that I somehow started something I could regret later. I would like my sons to be able to do anything with their friends, but also regularly like them to return home. To me, the greatest merit you can achieve as a parent is that your kids love to be around you. Regardless of their age or situation.”
To me, the greatest merit you can achieve as a parent is that your kids love to be around you. Regardless of their age or situation.
Hannelore: “I think it’s risky to convince children that they need to pursue their dreams. That they are told that as long as they keep going, they ‘ll make it happen. Something they try to make us believe everywhere. That’s not true, it’s a bubble. Most people try and work very hard and do not get there, ending up very unhappy. Chase your dreams? I don’t know. We’re all so preoccupied to be unique, with a continue focus on the individual, the feeling that you constantly have to be appealing on social media, or must sell yourself to let everyone know how grand your life is… it creates so much pressure. I ‘d hate to notice my children are unhappy because they can’t be who the are.”
Can you safeguard them from this? Hannelore: “By trying to assist and explain them as much as possible, and provide a framework? Let them see how deceiving appearance can be…? I must admit that I’m afraid of addictions and psychosis … What I mostly see with my students is that they are addicted to technology, they’re hooked on their smartphone and can’t live without their information shot. For some of them, being disconnected for an hour is impossible. It also seems they are unable to create a social network without a smartphone. I find that very disturbing … Are we going to have to come up with rules to limit technology use? “
That’s also a piece of the future, no? You can hardly keep a child away from digital innovation. Hannelore: “Sure. That wouldn’t be a smart move. But it’s all going so fast. Some kind of framework to deal with technology becomes a necessity. I pity parents of teenagers these days … I honestly see it as a new disease. This constant appearance pressure, not being able to deal with a second of boredom. At the same time I am thinking ‘Look at us standing here with our phones! ‘ “
When it comes to education, who’s advice do you ask for? Boris: “Especially other parents’ advice. Not so much our mothers’, because we already know how they will react. My mother is a master in blocking out stress. Her motto is ‘live and let live‘. I’m like her: I’m rather relaxed with my children, but also strict. For sure stricter than Hannelore.” Hannelore:“Yes … I admit I give in more easily.” Boris:“I don’t. For example, when I decide it’s done with using a soother, it’s done.” Hannelore: “While I give in faster because he’s still so little … We are – without a lot of conversations – on the same page on parenting. But, they are still small, of course.”
And when they don’t listen, we threaten to cancel our plans. Threatening works!
Boris: “Parenting actually is really creepy, you want to do it as good as possible, but you just don’t know what the best way is. I hardly think or talk about it, only when problems come along. Most of the time I rely on my intuition, instead of reading all kinds of books or sites. There is no handbook on how to raise your child – well there are a lot – but every child is different. The education and rules we apply, are therefore quite obvious, I think. On weekdays, we are more rigorous: they consistently go to bed at 7 p.m. and hardly get any sugars. No cakes, no soft drinks, no chocolate. In the weekend we are much more relaxed. We often have friends coming over and it’s just hard to live by the rules. We also want to them to enjoy this. They always have to apologise when they do something wrong. We have unspoken rules and make it really clear when they cross them. And when they don’t listen, we threaten to cancel our plans. Threatening works! “(Laughs)
Hannelore: “Achille is going to a method school, together with his nieces. It‘s really a nice school and we are closely involved. Next week for example, we will have a communal group meeting with all parents. We then discuss what’s on our mind and give each other tips. It’s really cool we are supported in this way by the school. Something that certainly doesn’t happen everywhere. The hardest regarding Achille now, is that he doesn’t always listen and that he occasionally pushes or beats another toddler, if he doesn’t get his way.” Boris: “Or that he expects to get something, just because we go into town.” Hannelore: “Actually we know how to solve this: by being consistent. But, that’s really difficult, right?”
When people want to warn you, you are convinced that it will be different in your case.
When you look back, did you expect parenthood to be this way? Would you have preferred to be informed better? Boris: “No one can prepare you for parenthood. You are super naive before you get children. When people want to warn you, you are convinced that it will be different in your case. For example: “A child changes your whole life.” No way, I thought. I’ll take him with me everywhere and do my thing!” Hannelore: “Well it’s true, it does work as long they’re in a stroller. But then, they become tired and they start nagging and then you become tensed towards each other. And then you still have people that insist you don’t have to pay any attention to this. Terrible… “
Boris: “It’s impossible to prepare future parents. It’s to personal. Every parent has his own experiences. You can read stories taken from real life, but then you assume things will be different for you. If people would have a crystal ball, I think many wouldn’t have kids. To be clear: I still do.”
Suddenly an alarm goes off. Boris: “Achille, are you going to put the alarm off? Let’s go to sleep.” Is the alarm clock one of your parenting tricks? Hannelore: “Yes, and I must say it really works. Most of the time. Unless there are visitors.”(Laughs)