Thursday, January 21, 2010
My Dad is dying.
I've sat here, at my keyboard, for nearly an hour trying to think of some different way of starting to write about my current life, to try to find some way of stating the obvious that doesn't looks so harsh and brutal but I can't find the words. These are the only words that come to me. Like some looming, dark and close storm clouds I know that the storm will break over me in the very near future; and I'm terrified.
I shouldn't be, I know. Hell, I'm in my fifties and I have already lost one parent but the idea of becoming the last stop on the road fills me with dread. Until now I have always had this man to turn to, for advice, for consolation, for support. You never stop being a son, a child, until the moment that you are alone. I know my brother must be having similar thoughts and fears, but siblings have a different love, they aren't obliged to bear responsibility, unlike a loving parent who holds true to that unwritten, unspoken contract that you make with you children. Whispered into their ears at birth and in the quiet moments of bedtime reading "I'll always be there"; and they are.
My father is a Yorkshireman, born and raised in Golcar, near Huddersfield. Like so many of his generation it could be argued that the Second World War was a life saver in the sense that it broke the designed path to his future and opened up worlds to him that would never have happened had the madness not fallen over Europe. He left the small village for the wider world, trained in Canada, saw a young Frank Sinatra singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in Toronto, posed with his mates atop the Empire State Building, their RAF hats bent and forced into the shape of the cooler looking US Air Force style. In Chicago he saw bluesmen in bars where bartenders avoided asking the 19 year old underage drinkers for ID because they never knew how many would live to drink legally, and my Dad laughing as he told me that they all intentionally wore their uniforms for precisely that reason.
All these stories came out of my father as our lives moved around each other; as the shape of our relationship changed, from child parent interaction into the realms of friends. But I always remain the son, regardless of how many beers we've shared or those unspoken moments of complete understanding when neither of us needed to acknowledge what passed between us. As he grew older I learnt more about the follies of his youth and realised that I had so much more in common with this man than just a quirk of fate. All my life he had seemed born into the role of responsible provider; someone who had provided his family with security and a sense of safety, leavened with humour, but in the main a steady dependable man. It was a shock to be told and to realise that we had a difficult adolescence in common, problems at school, early leaving, confusion as to what to do in life. So many things that put my life into context, that made me comprehend that my own life wasn't some kind of aberration. He had grown into his role, it didn't come naturally and that, for me, was the biggest lesson he has taught me.
Now I'm a father and I'm having those hard times with my own teenage son. He is a gem; bright, amusing, good-looking and very, very funny. But I'm his Dad. Because I'm his Dad I worry that he'll screw up at school, I worry that his social skills will fall apart because he plays too much Xbox. Hardly a day goes by when we don't clash heads over something and I can see in his face the blank assumption that I have been put on this earth solely to make his life as unpleasant as possible, that all the future has to hold for the two of us is an unrelenting period of abrasive love. Then it passes.
My father has the invidious position of being the grandparent. From his lofty love he can see this relationship between my son and I within the context of my life with him. All these roles are being played out again, with different haircuts and trousers, but the script is essentially the same. I am eaten up with a middle class desire to see my child achieve some kind of material comfort and emotional security and, if he holds true with the script, my son sees me as some bourgeois prick who has no idea what life is like at 15; but like my father did for me I am only trying to explain how the world turns and why should he believe me? I just hope that as the time passes he too will see the truth I've arrived at.
My Dad is dying and I can't do anything about it. I can't turn back the progress of this disease that is turning him into a shell of the man he was. I try not to show my distress when I stay with him, as I try to make him eat something or have a drink or as we talk together and he drifts in and out of sleep. All I feel is that I don't want his pain to go on, but I don't want him to go. I just want him to know it's OK. He can go now if he wants because I think I've finally worked out how it works.
I love you Dad.