On the weekend of your 59th birthday, I just wanted to say how grateful I am for you.
We haven’t had an easy time in this world, especially during the past few years, but right from the start you have been the most wonderful father. It has always been about having fun, being silly, laughing. I remember you setting up a treasure hunt for Greg and I to wake up to one Saturday morning, the thrill of searching the house for clues which lead to one of many ‘happy days presents’; when you brought home dry ice from the theatre where you worked and we watched in amazement as smoke cascaded down the stairs; making a nativity together out of toilet rolls and ping pong balls; the countless Christmas presents that you lovingly handmade for me: a circus, a shop, a dolls house.
It was a perfect childhood and Greg and I were so carefully surrounded by the love of you and Mum. I’ll be forever grateful for the holidays on the Isle of Wight, days out at the Severn Valley Railway, evenings at home playing Pass the Bomb, Rummikub or whatever new game we had chosen from Toys R Us that day – so much fun and laughter; an amazing family relationship that never really wavered, even as we grew into adults.
When you went into hospital for routine heart surgery in 2008, I first experienced the feeling of complete and utter heart-strangling terror that arises when you sense that you might lose someone close to you. The anaesthetist punctured an artery whilst inserting the IV into your arm and you nearly died. I can vividly remember that phone call, hearing Mum on the phone and knowing something was wrong; sitting in a family room with a box of tissues and the surgeon telling us: ‘it’s like a plane – sometimes you can do everything right and it still crashes’, shell shocked. We were allowed to see you, but you were in an enforced coma whilst your body tried to recover. The worst of it was knowing that when you woke up, you’d be told that the operation hadn’t happened, that you’d have to recover from this and then come back. In fact, you ended up back there sooner than that: a collapsed lung on my birthday, even though you somehow managed to walk an entire lap of the lake before we had to take you to A&E. That’s you to a tee Dad, always carrying on like nothing’s wrong, never one to make a fuss.
Just out of university, I was unemployed during your recovery and living at home again, so we spent our days walking around the block together, watching Homes Under the Hammer, shopping for a Christmas hamper for Mum. When I moved to London a few months later, you both supported me unquestioningly, despite (I think) always knowing that the guy wasn’t at all right for me. When we broke up, you were there in a flash, helping me move house, move on.
The way you cared for Mum when she became ill was amazing. You did absolutely everything you possibly could, from making a hundred trips to Sainsbury’s every day to try and locate a food that wasn’t completely nausea-inducing, buying presents, arranging trips and days out, to leaving your brand new car in a dodgy looking car park so we wouldn’t miss our appointment at the Royal Marsden (I can’t bear to think of that horrendous day, so full of hope that there would be an appropriate oncology trial that could help Mum, casually told by the trendy young doctor in leopard print pumps that there was nothing they could do). I remember when Mum was first in hospital, walking in and seeing her so upset in her chair; you threw yourself to the floor, sat at her feet telling her everything would be okay. It epitomises your total selflessness; of course, you would have done absolutely anything.
When Mum died, you told us we had to carry on; we were going to carry on. We walked around the lake in the sun. We planned the best funeral we possibly could, making beautiful photo boards covered with Mum’s smiling face and stunning blue eyes, so many happy memories surrounded by glittering flowers and hearts. When I get angry and unreasonable, you always see the good in people, make me see that there’s no point in being so cross – how the person who put Mum’s gravestone in the wrong place didn’t do it on purpose, how the nurse who asked Mum if she felt like she was dying only meant well. You are always so grateful and appreciative of the people who have helped us.
I can’t think about how you have done since Mum died without wanting to burst into tears of pride. I can’t believe how you’ve coped in the face of this imaginable horror that fell upon us. Even when you don’t think you’re doing well, you’re doing amazingly – believe me. I know it’s hard rattling around in the house sometimes, but you always get yourself up and out, keep yourself occupied. Sometimes I wish you had a job that meant you weren’t self-employed, that you didn’t have so many days on your own. But you now volunteer at the hospice that once cared for Mum, bringing your sense of humour, your empathy and your understanding to the aid of others. Always going above and beyond. I’m so hugely grateful for the network of friends that keep in touch with you, pop in for a coffee, invite you for dinner and on holidays. But why wouldn’t they?! Everyone loves you so much Dad.
When you had your stroke just under a year after we lost Mum, the bottom fell out of my world again. I can’t even begin to imagine how terrifying that experience was for you – how you felt unwell in a house you were working in, collapsed and then – half-paralysed – managed to drag yourself onto the front drive. I daren’t think about what would have happened if you hadn’t had the strength to do that, and if the owner’s dog hadn’t stayed by your side, barking until she drew the attention of some nearby builders. The name on your heart monitor later that day: Janette. Mum was there watching out for you. After a dippy few days you were back home pretending nothing had happened, driving myself and Auntie Rosie absolutely crazy, trying to go straight back to work and drive before you were supposed to. That’s you Dad, carrying on regardless, never one to sit around without a project; something to build or decorate or take apart.
Even though you annoy the hell out of me sometimes (no, two lamb chops, a packet of sliced pork and some chips is not a balanced meal), I am bursting with love for you my wonderful Dad. I won’t stop telling you that your hair looks silly or that your T shirt needs ironing (someone’s got to make sure you look presentable, right Mum?!) or that the hall decorating still hasn’t been finished, but I don’t want you to stop telling me I work too hard or I’ve got black under my eyes or my dress looks weird either.
Happy birthday Dad, and thank you for everything you do for me; for our daily phone calls, for the theatre trips, the presents, the ‘I’ll come down and get you’s. Thank you for being you.
All my love,