1145 words – approx 6 minutes
The World changed in an instant – Shock. Panic. It’s too late. Time’s up!
Life is fleeting and fragile – it can end at any time.
My dad passed away last month. He’d suffered a fall while walking his dogs and suffered complicated internal injuries that proved too damaging for his body.
I hadn’t spoken to dad for nigh on 3 years. Our last words were not spoken in anger but instead with a loving resignation. We had reached a point of principle that neither of us could get past for the sake of our relationship. As the months and years rolled on it became our pride and perhaps habit that prevented either of us from simply picking up the phone and saying hi – Now all I want is do is speak to him again.
I understand that our relationship would have panned out the same way no matter how many times I care to play it out in my mind. ‘What if’s’ really are pointless.
I think my dad was a teacher at heart. He taught me to be curious, to observe, to think. That’s how I know there’s some learning here for me, no matter how painful.
In the days since his passing, I have thought a lot about relationships and the opportunities they hold for all of us. I have also thought how rigid values and narratives can tragically block our path to these plentiful opportunities – foolish pride!
Relationships are complicated. We clash and embrace, we fight and make up. We love and hate. We want to be heard and respected for who we are and what we stand for. While we play out these stories, time continues to move us closer to these inevitably tragic moments in life.
The parent child relationship is perhaps the most complex. A demanding and often entitled dynamic carries on through childhood into adulthood. It is hard to remind ourselves that this entitlement ended when we became adults and that our parent were once children themselves who carry all the complex stories we have. Yet, to varying degrees, we carry entitlement with us. I have no doubt that in part, it was my sense of entitlement regarding my relationship with my dad that was an unconscious driving force behind my choices.
Too often in our relationships, we live in the past, judging the present and future based on old perceptions and beliefs created many years ago. I refused to give my dad the same kindness I gave myself. I was allowed to grow, learn and evolve yet I was blind to the fact that he had done the same. In my unconscious mind he’d been frozen in time as the same man I knew when I was a child, even though I could see and had experienced a soft, kind and truly warm man. Now he is gone, I understand that wherever my dad was, felt like home. He was home.
Now I wonder what was the point of the choices we made? What opportunities had we both forsaken in the name of stubbornness or taking a principled and valued stance. Each of us waiting for the other. The ticking clock, invisible and out of mind. Two men who clearly loved each other and who had so much in common yet could not get past their own ego’s to just pick up a phone and say the truth – ‘I’m thinking of you, I miss you – I love you.’
We make sense of our world through our stories. We all do it, all the time. Me and my dad both created stories about our relationship that led to inertia and a loving distance. If we’d wanted to, we would have made more effort. Of course, I’m grieving but the guilt I feel allows me to ‘own’ my adult role in the relationship. It’s certainly allowing me to learn and to closely embrace my loved ones, perhaps like never before. Right now, our human fragility has never been so stark.
So what happens if we open ourselves up to the human story of others, including our own parents with curiosity, love and empathy?
For my part, I am choosing to change the narrative of my relationship with my dad. Despite testing times, our story is a loving one between father and son. Our story is about the survival of love.
Yes, I yearn to give him one last hug, but we must all live & die by the choices we make in life.
I hope we can all try just a bit harder to make the right ones.
Dad, this is the story I choose to remember.
I remember you taking me to rugby in your luxurious Renault 25 – seats like armchairs. I remember your booming voice enthusiastically cheering me on from the side-lines and the endless trips to A&E to get patched up again. I remember Saturday afternoons, watching final score on BBC and anticipating the magical result – East Fife 5, Forfar 4. I remember you patiently teaching me to make origami birds that I still make to this day. I remember us playing snooker together – from Butlins to the smoky hall in Mill Road. I remember Old Spice, tweed jackets and blood stained hankies where you’d cut yourself shaving. I remember the smell coming from the kitchen as you cooked Shepherd’s Pie and the clink of the teaspoon on china signalling that you’d made yet another cuppa. I remember completing cryptic crosswords with you and finding the 9-letter word. I remember digging away at your beloved allotment with Lottie and the pride I felt watching you harvest your vegetables with her. Those moments with you are perfectly preserved in time. I remember you inspiring me to read more and to find joy in the arts and nature. I remember James Last, Klaus Wunderlich, Billie Jo Spears and of course, Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Bach. I remember the kindness in your eyes and your stubborn refusal to speak ill of anyone despite how much pain you suffered. I remember how sad I was when you left but how safe I felt when I visited – Wherever you were, always felt like home. I remember your commitment to your wife and the joy on your face during the precious moments you shared with your grandchildren. I remember you being there for me when I had nowhere else to turn. Most of all, I remember the warmth of your embrace eyes and your welcoming smile. I know now how peaceful and contented you were in later life.
I am grateful for all these memories and so many more. Thank you for teaching me to never give up and for loving us all. I am proud that you are my dad. I have and will always miss you.
Nourish what you have, be present and hold it close. The clock is always ticking!
Thanks for reading. Keep it UP!