Wednesday, 18 July 2012
Thoughts of a Fatherless Son
It's been a little over three months since my father died. It still feels inexplicable, surprising, and wrong. We had, not unreasonably, expected another twenty or thirty years from him. When he fell ill, at 68, he was in outrageously good health and full of energy. If he'd been slowing down, he might not even have noticed he was seriously ill. His mother lived to 95; his grandmother to 91; there was long-life on all lines in his family tree, and he had lived a life without vice or indulgence (except, perhaps, almost always being right, which could be bloody annoying). He was 23 years older than me; I had seriously thought I would be collecting my pension before attending his funeral. But facts is facts, and face them we must. Dad was not perhaps an easy person to be close to, and only blood relatives and very old and trusted friends got anywhere near. In retrospect it is a feeling of having been firmly grafted into his life, rather than being intimately intertwined. In my dreams, which are frequent, and always of his being well again, he is being quietly and unceremoniously helpful, as when the washing machine here broke, and he simply loaded up my old one from his barn, drove the 102 miles with Mum, plumbed it in, and, after tea (not quite two sugars by then!) quietly asked if I'd thought where we would have lunch. If he thought it would do any good, he'd have driven to Timbuktoo. And never made a fuss about it. Formalities have had to be observed, and it has meant frequent journeys back down to Sussex, to help, or just to be with my mother as she comes to terms with this emotional earthquake in her life. I suppose it is one of the respects in which I am blokeish that I have preferred to be busy, to have things to do, the funeral to arrange, the inquest to make a submission to, paperwork to file and order, letters and e-mails to write, telephone calls to make, probate to sort now, anything but look the reality in the face. The curious thing is that when I have stayed there, I have not felt his loss so keenly. Of course, there is Mum to worry about, which is a distraction, despite her astonishing and loving fortitude, but it is more than that. They are so unthinkable as not-a-couple that he is still there when she is. Every inch of the house, every square foot of the nursery, was his work and his care, usually by his own strong, clever, hands, and always under his watchful, dangerously intelligent, eyes. To have a ringside seat on others' grief is unhappily instructive, but my own sets in when I come home. His presence can be felt in his own house and amongst the people and things he treasured most, but when I travel those 102 miles home he slips from my grasp, from reality to memory, and dreams. When I am there, so is he. When I am home, he isn't. It is not the going back there that is upsetting, but the returning to a changed world.