Wednesday, 30 January 2008

And When Did You Last See Your Father?

When? Twelve days ago, just three days before he died. I'm so glad I did. And I told him that I loved him. How lucky I am: so many people are not able to and regret it. And many say that they wished, too late, that they had spoken to their parents more about their lives: probed into their pasts.

But, researching A Little Blue Jacket, I spent many hours recording my parent's memories, winkling out buried facts. And it's often surprising what rises to the surface. Blake Morrison's book, And When Did You last See Your Father? examined his – and probably everybody's - inability to stand back from events or see our parents as individuals. And it really highlighted how there are so many inconsistencies in 'memory'(see my blog archive 'Memories', 3 Feb, 2007).

My father reached a grand old age and was only seriously ill for weeks but knew that his time was finally up, that his body was just about worn out. But his will was so strong that he held on until he was ready. He was so proud of his family: he could still introduce us to the nurses - this is my younger daughter, this is my eldest son – he would apologise for 'messing up your plans' (as if), and he could still flash an illuminating smile when something amusing was said.

I knew he was proud of me: not for my achievements which, let's face it, are pretty thin on the ground, but simply because I was his daughter and he loved me. And I'm very proud of him: not just for his achievements, which were many, but for his ambition, his dogged determination to succeed against all the odds, for his will, his application and his talent.

I've inherited none of his scientific talent – my eldest brother has that – but I have inherited some of his other abilities: I'm able to 'visualize' spaces, can think creatively and solve problems. And I have his ability to stick at something until I get as far as I can, as well as I can, with it. And like him I can be equally happy alone or in company: have a love of gardens and landscape, an appreciation of food and wine. And, yes, (whisper this) I have inherited quite a few of his less attractive characteristics that I'm not so quick to admit to and definitely don't intend to broadcast.

He was no saint, my father, definitely not, but as an adult I can understand the reasons behind many things that happened in the past: can understand how complex relationships are. As a spouse and parent I know how easy it is to get things wrong, how difficult it is to get them right. And how one can only hope to do one's best hampered as we all are to some extent with emotional baggage, economic constraints or conflicting characters. It may be obvious why there are many mixed up people in this world but, equally, it's quite amazing there are so many well rounded, happy and successful ones!

And I loved – love - him because he was my Dad: for tickling me when I was a tot till I begged him to stop, for his interest in my interests when I was a teen, for - when the chips were down as a young adult - saying the right thing at the right time which made me feel that I had his respect and support. And I admire his love of life, his humour and his charm. I'm having trouble putting this into the past tense, aren't I: I still feel he's here, or there, at 'home', sitting beside Mum watching the television.

A parent's love for their child is unconditional – it should be, it usually is – and a child's love for their parent is often the same. I know mine is. I knew my Dad's faults but I loved him in spite of them; sometimes because of them. And I shall miss him forever.


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