Tuesday will be an odd day – it always is in this one week. In addition to all the Holy Week stuff, it will be the anniversary of Dad’s death. I never remember the actual date – but it will forever be associated with the Tuesday of Holy Week in my head and heart. It’s a long time ago but still – on that day there is a wee tug at the heart. Just for a little while, a 5 minute oasis of quiet reflection. But its there, and I’m aware of it coming and its somehow appropriate in this week of remembrance, journey, forgiveness and grace.
I still remember the phone call word for word as I crumbled in the kitchen of the place I lived in Sheffield. I remember the smells, the sounds, the reassurance as John L arrived and cried with me, even though I wasn’t sure why I was crying. I phoned another friend, Anne, and in response to the usual “if there’s anything I can do…”, sank into the absurdity of my response – “boil 4 dozen eggs and get them to Church Thursday afternoon!” That lifted the mood for a moment as I half-giggled, half cried in a heap on the floor.
Dad was an enigma, and one I have never fully understood. We never had the best of relationships, he could be scary and hard as nails but the little me loved him to bits, daddy’s girl to the end. I can’t count the number of times I felt the sharp end of his tongue (or his belt!) over the years. I have some fond memories too – heading out to Sutton Bank to watch the gliders and climb the rocks, dad to the rescue if I got stuck or became too adventurous near the edge (and it was usually me, not Big Brother that was the adventurous one!), long hot family summers at his uncle’s farm outside Glastonbury, just roaming and exploring, meeting Jon Pertwee together and being ever so dissapointed that he was in his “Wurzel Gummige” gear rather than The Doctor!!
I think he often felt trapped (and this is purely my pondering and theorising) – he was a merchant sailor before he married my mum and Big Brother and I appeared on the scene. For much of my early life I remember him travelling – he always had to be moving, driving somewhere, seeing somewhere different, and so he worked on the buses, local and long distance. Every opportunity, every weekend – getting away in the car, a need to be out of reach of the 4 walls of home, even for a little while. O how I hated birthdays – a drive to Blackpool Pleasure Beach to see the lights – every year! (strangely I miss that now, I must go back sometime) He was a wanderer, trapped in an urban landscape, and it showed in his actions and in his temperament.
He left just before my 15th Birthday – maybe the wanderlust had become too much – and he made a new life for himself away from the trapped nature of his life: a new partner, a new home, a new family in a city far away. I didn’t see him much after that, but for a while things were messy, and I hated him. I spent years being angry at him, and being stupid to myself in the process. Slowly hate turned to apathy (more a self-protection than a reality), and I rebuilt my life in a new town. Then the phonecall came. Gran called at work “Dad’s in hospital in London – he’d like you to phone if you can”
It took a wee while and a lot of courage to make that phonecall, intent on speaking to the ward nurses, just to check how serious it was, but they would tell me nothing. They gave me another number to call, and so I did. When I heard the voice on the other end I started shaking, and wished I hadn’t. It was him. Years of pent up anger and sadness coursed through my veins as I listened to that fragile, frail voice that had both delighted and terrified my childhood. He talked, I listened. He apologised for being a useless father – I didn’t correct him on that one! He talked about his life, and asked about mine. He knew he wouldn’t be getting out of the hospital, and wanted to put things right. At the end of the conversation I heard the words I had waited a lifetime to hear “you’re my daughter, and I love you, no matter what you think of me”. It’s the first time I ever remember Dad saying that, and he meant it. The anger and pain faded away with those words, and I was a little kid again, in his arms after falling off the rocks at Sutton Bank.
That phonecall was just before Christmas, and it took him until Holy Week to die. I never made it to London until his funeral, but we talked on the hospital phone each week, crying and laughing together like father and daughter should. We built a relationship as best we could, in between the wheezing and coughing and the grasping for the oxygen mask. We acknowledged but largely ignored his increasing frailty – not so much afraid of it, but not wanting to spoil what was being built in these precious moments we had.
From the World Trades Fair in New York, brough back on ship. He’d been there, and had cherished these. As kids, we were allowed to look at them through the display glass of the cupboard – no touching, no using them for cola or juice. They were precious to him, a reminder of who he was and where he had been. And now they are precious to Alan and I. Dad was at our wedding, and is with me now. Tomorrow I will take these precious glasses out, remember with a smile and light a candle or 2, and I will pray that he has found the peace that eluded him in life.
Dad never knew me as an adult, never had an inkling of the person I have now become. But he was a part of that process, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Rest well Dad