On Tuesday, BBC aired a heart-wrenching documentary, Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum And Dad, which follows one of England’s greatest footballers raising his 3 children after his wife Rebecca died from breast cancer in 2015. The hour-long film shows that Ferdinand’s tragic situation is same for all widowers, and thousands of UK dads went to Twitter to support the former Manchester United player.
One of Ferdinand’s big revelations is how close he was to thoughts of suicide. In one scene, he reveals to his wife’s doctor that he couldn’t understand people who committed suicide until he reached a place dark enough to grasp the logic. “There’s times when you think … you kind of know how they feel,” he says. “When I look at my 3 kids, I couldn’t do that to them. I’m not saying I ever sat there and thought I was going to do it, but I sat there and now I understand. You can sink into a mad place and you think, ‘you know what, forget it.'”
According to a study by the Office For National Statistics, there are 400,000 single-father families in the UK. It’s also known that men in grief are much less likely to seek counseling or any type of help. Ferdinand knew he needed to cope, so he sought an all-male widow bereavement group. They discussed how to move on with their lives, and overcome the symbolic hurdle of simply removing their wedding rings. Ferdinand takes comfort in one his dad friends, who years after his wife’s death, found love again and remarried.
The subject matter is heavy, but the doc isn’t just one long bummer. There are warm and fuzzy moments, like when Ferdinand perfectly braids his daughter’s hair during breakfast, or the family creates a “Mummy Memory” jar. The pro athlete also admits to the cameras that he has some newfound dad problems. For instance, he never had to prep lunch meals and had no clue where the washing machine and dryer were located. “That wasn’t my domain,” he says.
One of the big reasons fans across the UK tweeted messages of support after the doc aired is because Ferdinand’s personal narrative is shedding light on a topic that’s not often discussed. If a soccer player as tough and successful as Ferdinand can open up on national TV and admit he needs help, hopefully that’s enough to get dads in similar situations to do the same.