As a child I didn’t see much of him, he worked long hours and often abroad and when he was home he was usually in the massive garden or taking 40 winks in a chair. He was never at home for my birthday and the most feared phrase in the house was my mother saying: ‘Wait till your father gets home!’ He took us to the library on a Saturday morning and would sit us round the dinning table to write thank you letters on Boxing Day, he was the one who took us to Church and he was the one who sent us to bed. He was our banker, writing our pocket money in a little black book with a blue pen while at tea-time we could request money out of the book which he would record with a red pen. Woe betide you if you asked for more than you had, or wanted to withdraw money at some other time. He was strict, boy was he strict, but also would have fun with us. Allowing us to ride on the top of the enormous wheelbarrow full of grass cuttings as he trundled it to the biggest compost heap in the world. While in the Autumn as he spent hour after hour raking up leaves which he would place in piles that made houses or mazes for us to destroy again before we had to help load them on to the same barrow. He hated to loose at board or card games and consequently if we beat him it was a major triumph – he didn’t believe in letting us win if we won we had won fair and square.
In my teenage years our relationship crumbled, I didn’t do what he wanted. Despite me not being the oldest I was the one who had to fight the battles about how late to stay out. He refused to let me go to university and I in turn refused to take the job that he had set up for me. Instead I went out and found my own job, boy was he mad. Things got worse between us, he disapproved of everything I did and everyone I was friends, especially boyfriends, with until one December.
As was common in the early 80’s the company I by then worked for took the staff out for a Christmas meal paying for everything including the limitless bar. I remember the meal and also the cocktails and then, well then things start to get a little blurred, it was the first time I had ever got really drunk. I remember we left the hotel at 7pm having been there since noon, I remember getting into a taxi but not anything else until my mother opened the front door and I fell in. She took one look at me and uttered those fearful words: ‘Wait till your father gets home!’ I was then ushered into the living room and the door was shut on me, I collapsed on the sofa and fell asleep. I don’t know how long after I was awoken by the sound of the door being opened and shut accompanied by my mother’s voice saying: ‘You can get in there too.’ Standing inside the door giggling like a school boy was my father in much the same condition as I was. My mother had made one vital error, she had shut us both in a room with drink in it. He made his way towards it and announced: ‘Guess we better do what she says and stay in here for a bit, what do you want to drink?’ I don’t remember how long we stayed in there, I don’t remember what we talked about, I don’t even remember leaving the room and going to bed what I do remember however is my mother’s horror in the morning, you see neither my father nor me had a hangover. Her one hope after the previous evening had been that we would be suffering in the morning and we weren’t! After that night things changed between him and me, we could talk without it ending in an argument and he started allowing me to be me, he would take me with him when he went shopping for a present for my mother things weren’t perfect but they were a whole lot better. He still saw my chief roll in life and getting married and providing him with grandchildren, which in time I did.
When the children came along he played with them like he never played with us, well he had the time he was no longer working, he allowed them to do things that we would have got into trouble for, he loved them and they knew it, but he didn’t spoil them amidst the fun he remained strict with them too.
Then he had his first stoke, and for the first time I saw him cry and afraid, he recovered and became someone who was always looking for fun and to cause trouble and I became his partner in crime, especially if it involved winding up my mother. Then one day I told him I was going to start ordination training and he walked out of the flat and didn’t speak to me for nearly a month. Suddenly I was doing things he didn’t approve of again, I was a woman I couldn’t get ordained, I was a mother my place was at home with his grandchildren. Eventually he came round and the fun returned, he also started to talk to me about things which my mother would gawp at. Later telling me that he had never told her about the thing we had just had a conversation about, our relationship had grown again.
His second stroke was more sever, he was left with a weak hand and difficulty in talking, my mother had to go into hospital and I was still training, so between taking children to school writing assignments I was scooting up to help him dress and make sure he had food and was eating it. It was precious time we talked a lot, laughed a lot and prayed a lot. When I was deaconed he gave me a home communion set, when I was priested a stole and chasuble, along with a heart felt apology for walking out all those years previous.
His health started to slowly deteriorate, suddenly roles reversed, I would get phone calls from my mother asking me to tell my father to do something or other as he wouldn’t. He would then come on the phone giggling and I would say something like: ‘Stop giving mum hassle and go do the gardening.’ and he would say: ‘Yes daughter’; hand the phone back to my mother and go and do it. It was a good job my mother could see the funny side of it all otherwise I think it would have driven her mad. Despite wonderful medical care he continued to have a series of strokes loosing more and more of his functions and spent the last couple of years of his life in a nursing home almost permanently in bed.
He would be curled up in the foetal position with usually a tape of hymns playing in the background, he would always smile and give a little giggle and I would slip him a miniature of his favourite whisky. The staff knew and the doctors where okay about it, but it had to be done as if it was some kind of undercover operation that nobody else knew about. His faith remained strong and never wavered and the sparkle in his eye which had never been there when I was a child twinkled like never before, but he also wanted to die. He wasn’t scared of death all the fear had left him long before that came.
Along with my son I bore his coffin, I stood by his grave and committed his soul to God, and just as he had wanted I drank champagne and ate Chinese food afterwards. In the days and weeks that followed I cried and missed him, I grieved as people grieve and life moved on as it does. In the years that have followed his warm shadow fading but never dying has been there through thick and thin. However over these past weeks it has been ever present. I find he is constantly on my mind, I want to ride on that barrow again, I want to play a game of canasta with him, to have a drink and a giggle with him, to see him crawl around the floor with my children, to talk with him not about anything in particular, but just sit and talk. I miss him like never before. love him as much as ever and dedicate this post to him.