Father’s day was always an odd one for me. If your dad was anything like mine, he couldn’t be bothered with the fuss. If I forgot Mother’s Day though, well, I’d be in trouble.
Today, there will be many sons and daughters spoiling their dads, having a nice meal or a drink in the local. At the very least sending a card (you’ve at least done that, right?) or giving them a call.
We didn’t see that much of my dad as kids. He was in the RFA and spent most of the year somewhere else in the world. That was what he did for most of his life from the age of 16. He was in all the wars, you know! The medals are proudly mounted and displayed at home with his uniform.
When he was home we’d sometimes go off and do father/son stuff. He tried to teach me how to swim as a kid by throwing me in the sea, seeing how I got on, and then jumping in to rescue me. That put me off swimming. We went fishing twice, caught nothing, and I put the hook through my thumb. That put me off fishing. Not sure why we went actually. He never went fishing on his own.
He turned up for a few of my football games. I’m pretty sure every one he came to we lost, so I banned him. And he didn’t like football.
When he did finally retire, he was the happiest I had ever seen him. He re-trained as a bus driver. He always wanted to do that, and he couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. There were also the two grandkids to go along with the much older one. He loved having them around, even if sometimes he pretended to be the grumpy granddad.
If he wasn’t working, he would be upstairs on his computer. God knows what he was doing. It wasn’t like he was building websites or involved in a tech start-up. He was just playing around with it and keeping stuff organised. I was having a look through one day and he had a spreadsheet for everything.
He got sick quite quickly in 2013. They diagnosed him with advanced oesophageal cancer. And it was terminal. He called me after getting the results. I was at work having a journalist drinks reception and was just finishing up before heading to the pub with a few of them to carry on. He was very matter of fact about it. A little warning that it wasn’t good news and then straight to the point. “Nothing changes”, he said. “You don’t need to come down here every weekend and call every day to see how I’m doing”. I had a moment (well, quite a big moment) and then went across the road to meet everyone. I needed a drink.
My sister brought all her wedding plans forward. That was giving him something to aim for. All the family came, some travelling thousands of miles from America, and all his brothers and sisters got to spend some good time together for a week. That was a great day and he had good fun.
He did OK with the chemo. He wasn’t bothered about losing his hair. He always had it really short anyway, except in the 70s. The sickness wasn’t that bad, but he did need gloves to hold a cup or glass as it felt like his hands were burning.
He came up to our house a couple of times when he felt well enough o travel. The last time was just before we headed off to Italy for a holiday. We all went out for a Sunday lunch and he was doing well. After a few days in Italy, I got a call from my mum saying he had been taken into hospital with a suspected stroke. He told her not to call me as he didn’t want our holiday to be ruined. For once, she ignored him and I booked the first plane back and drove straight home.
I spoke to the doctor who explained he had two tumours in his brain. One had caused the stroke. He asked if I wanted to see the x-rays, which I did. I wanted to know exactly what we were dealing with and, in a strange way, it helped. He couldn’t give a time, only saying it could be days or could be weeks.
He slowly came back round and the first thing he said to me was “how was your holiday?” I told him we had a great time, not hinting we had come back.
He was moved to another hospital after a few weeks. They didn’t know what hit them. He’d rallied again and was taking over the place, joking with the staff and patients. I don’t think they were quite prepared for all of us either.
I got a call to say he was suffering anxiety attacks. It wasn’t. The second tumour had started another stroke. I got to his bed and went in to see him. He was unconscious but still breathing. I sat with the doctor for a bit who said he was not suffering. By the time I got back to his room he was gone. It was almost like he had waited for us to leave the room first. There was a bottle of Bailey’s there. No idea who brought it for him. He liked a glass once in a while at time like Christmas. We all had a drink; it seemed right at the time.
He had a good send off. Considering he had organised it all, right down to the last detail, it was just what he wanted. He had left all the arrangements; designed a running order, had the music ready, a slide show of pictures and written a message that was read by my uncle. That was typical of him. Organised to the last, and he didn’t want anyone else to have the hassle. It explained what he was doing upstairs on the computer. Some RFA members came down and brought a flag. It was a very nice touch.
I finally got round the other week to watching the film about Lisa Lynch, ‘The c-word”, based on her book. A friend knew her well and talked about her often. Seeing her story reminded me of all that happened to our family. I’m sure it did for others as well. At the end I wanted to give all Lisa’s family a big hug. It’s a really great film and shows how this disease affects everyone involved.
If there’s one thing my dad taught me it’s that no matter what crap gets thrown at you, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and carry on.
That’s why this Father’s day, I’ll be doing what he would want. I’ll be thinking about him and then i’ll crack on and do something enjoyable for the day.