International Man’s Day

For the sake of balance, yesterday I wrote about he role that my mother played in my life, so I want to write about my father today. Growing up in the 1970’s, fathers were less of a hands on parent back then as Dad was mostly at work when we were small, so we saw him mainly at weekends and during holidays. We always ate our meals together, around the kitchen table, when we would each discuss our days. My Dad was always very keen for us to succeed at school, so he took a  big interest in what we were studying and, like Mum, encouraged us to work hard enough to go to University. I can remember him testing our mental arithmetic over meals or engaging in French conversations! Both my sister and I wanted to make him proud of us.

My Dad always adored his garden and he was a very talented gardener, in our last family home he fitted flood lights, so that he could work in the garden in the evenings! I went through a phase in my early teens when I rejected Sunday School and I used to go to Garden Centres with Dad and while he bought plants, I would look at the fish and other pets. I wanted a garden gnome, and rather than spend money on a plastic model, he spent hours carving then varnishing a unique wooden gnome for me. Later, once we had our own house, he would love to work in our wild garden whenever they came to visit us, he was itching to get to work on our wild hedge or untamed flowerbeds, so the garden always looked better once they had come to stay! He must have been disappointed that I did not inherit his green fingers.

Dad was a willing taxi driver – he took on a number of University visits when I was studying my A Levels – and he taught me to drive when I was 17. We used to go out in his car early in the morning, before he went to work, and he was never cross when I hit several gate posts, but was endlessly patient and calm.

Dad was not very demonstrative, he did not really discuss emotions, but it was never in doubt that he loved us, he showed that through his actions. Like Mum, he was supportive throughout his life and family was very important to him. It was Dad who stepped up when his mother had a stroke, when his father and brother in law became dependent and needed carers at home and he was a frequent executor for several family members’ wills. He was methodical, thorough and had very high standards. Dad was rather a shy man and at family parties at home, he was always to be found in the kitchen washing up or being barman, rather than being the centre of attention, so he was an excellent host.

Joshua was born on Dad’s 64th birthday and he and Mum came to the hospital as soon as they heard the news that their grandson had arrived and that he was in Special Care. They both put their own lives on hold and came to us, where they were needed for their calm support.If they were disappointed that their grandson had been born with brain damage, they never once showed it to me, but instead they were endlessly interested and supportive of his progress and shared our pleasure as he attained his various milestones.

At today’s family meal to mark Joshua’s 18th birthday – the last of his celebrations during his birthday week – Dad’s quiet, solid presence will be greatly missed and we will raise a glass of thanks to him. He died when Joshua was 13, but due to his dementia, he did not really know him during the final years of his life. However, I have no doubt that were he here today, he would share our pride in all that Joshua has achieved and he would be quietly ensuring that all of our guests were being well looked after. Thank you for everything Dad xx

In Memory

Last week it was the fourth anniversary of when my fabulous father died and we all miss his calm, kind presence in our lives. Time plays tricks on us as it is hard to believe that it was really four years ago that my Mum, sister and I camped out in his hospital room, surrounding his bed, all wanting to be there when the end came. It was a very special time for our family as we each supported each other and oddly enough, we laughed together there as much as we cried. It was the longest time in his life that I have been apart from Joshua but there was nowhere else that I wanted to be at that time.

Joshua was born on my Dad’s 64th birthday and so they always shared a special link and we enjoyed many shared  brilliant birthday parties together. On the day that Joshua was born, my parents appeared to support us and stayed at home with my husband, while I stayed in Special Care with baby Joshua. Once we were discharged, My Dad went back home, leaving Mum to help out with our new arrival for a few more days. They both put thier own lives on hold to care for our new family. Dad was always in the background, often lending practical help and his love for his only grandson was never in doubt and there was nothing that he would not have done for Joshua.

Sadly, when Joshua was just five years old, Dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia and gradually we began to lose the man that we knew and loved. The disease began slowly at first and at one stage, Joshua and Dad were similar in their care needs. Throughout his illness Dad was fortunate enough to live at home and to be well cared for by my Mum, even when he was no longer mobile and so the front room downstairs was converted into his bedroom and she got equipment to make him comfortable and to make caring for him more manageable. Caring is a demanding and relentless role and Mum was incredible with how well she managed , for as long as she did. They developed a  rigid regular routine to daily life that worked for them both.

I enjoyed the few rare occasions when we persuaded Mum to go away for a break and between us we covered Mum’s role as I wanted to repay the care and support that Dad had given me for so many years. Early on in his disease he came and stayed at our house, while Mum went to the Lake District with her sisters. I tried to engage him in gardening tasks as that is what the old Dad would have enjoyed, but that interest and skill left him early on and he would dig up plants, rather than planting. In the end, I resorted to feeding him as eating made him happiest. Once he was housebound, I remember staying with him,  alternating with my sister and my Aunts, and we covered a few days between us, for Mum to enjoy a rare break and it was a special time when I talked to my father a lot, I read to him and shared family photo albums with him. Dad ate a bowl of oats every morning for breakfast and I decided that he might be bored of the same breakfast every day and so I thought that I would mix it up a bit, so I converted the same ingredients into porridge, but he was clearly not impressed.

There is a dad-shaped hole in our family although, of course, we are all carrying on without him in our lives. I am sad to think that he did not get to see how his two gorgeous grandchildren are turning out , but they were both very lucky to have him around when  they were younger and to spend quality time with them, so I am grateful for that.