My father died a touch after 10am on Tuesday, November 14th. Yesterday, we cremated him.
Despite the crushing inevitability of it, when the call came to say that he had gone, the shock was indescribable.
That was just over a fortnight ago - a fortnight which seems more like a month, and a period of time which has been consumed by the horrible consequences of his passing. Like watching my family capitulate. Tending to funeral arrangements. Sorting out his confusing affairs. Attempting to wade through his house and his things. Speaking to all manner of people to inform them, whether they’re friends and associates or the customer service department of a utility company. There are so many people to tell. Either way, they’re all sorry for my loss.
It’s been relentless. And yet in those fleeting moments where my mind has the temerity to find solace in a different territory, or those first beautiful minutes after waking, where sleep washes my mind clean, I suddenly remember that he’s dead and the thought strikes me like a cold slap across the face. As I reel from the blow, I’m flabbergasted how I can be hit so hard and so unexpectedly by something I already know.
In grief, silence suddenly has a sound. I hear it at its loudest in the middle of the night when sleep eludes me and I’m overcome because it’s dawned on me for the hundredth time that I won’t ever speak to, or see, my Dad again. I hear it when I go to pick up the phone to check in with him as I did on a daily basis. But I can’t and the habit is hard to break.
I am heartbroken.
I lost my Mam when I was 23 and now my father at 41. My Mam was 61 when she died. My Dad had just turned 70. I feel thoroughly fucking swizzed. I feel too young not to have any parents left. I’m so angry and I don’t know what to do with it. In fact, I don’t quite know what to do with myself, full stop. I’ve never been one for laying in bed or sitting about aimlessly, but at the moment that’s all I want to do. I can’t concentrate on anything, whether it’s a book or a bit of telly.
Dad’s cavernous absence is like a constant ringing in my ears. The rawness of the grief has manifested itself in the strangest of ways. It's like I’ve developed some kind of mania. One minute I’m fine and then the most tenuous of triggers reduces to me to tears while I’m dithering around the milk in Sainsburys. I pull myself together but the oddness continues at the checkout where I inexplicably greet the checkout operator as though I’m Miranda. This happened today when I minced towards her and said, in an eerily joyous tone, ‘And a hearty good morning to you, kind sir!’ This was at 4.30pm and the woman - her name was June according to her badge - didn’t appear to be that thrilled about being mistaken for a bloke. Then I started laughing which morphed into tears. I paid the bewildered-looking June for the milk and made my way outside to find that I had absolutely no idea where I’d parked my car. No clue whatsoever. My short term memory is in tatters. One minute I’m in the middle of saying something and then - mid sentence - it’s gone, like someone has just yanked the plug from the socket.
I feel like I’ve had to hold it together since that horrible call and now that the funeral is over, I’m unravelling.
The relationship that I had with Dad was complicated to say the least and for the first time in my life, I feel as though I’m having to confront regret. He was a man of towering extremes and we often crossed words. In fact, we always seemed to occupy opposite sides of any spectrum. There were many times when we found great comfort in each other but for the most part, I often felt as though my Dad didn’t like me very much. I know he loved me - I have never, ever doubted that - but he never really liked me.
I don’t think he ever really forgave me for moving to London at 19. Just because you’re born in a place, it doesn’t mean you belong there. And that’s how I felt about home. It was like an ill fitting suit and I needed to escape for a variety of reasons. Dad mistook this as both an act of treason and pretension; as though I thought I was better than home and the people there. That I had ideas above my station. Nothing could be further from the truth. I just felt like the squarest of pegs in the roundest of holes. I was always anchored to the periphery - both socially and at home. I wasn't happy. Both my parents had their favourites. I was neither of theirs and Dad made it quite clear on many occasions. I refused to stand for it, which made it worse as Dad thought that as the father figure, he should be worshipped. The thing is, I did. He was my superhero in so many ways. He was ambivalent towards me; always blowing either boiling hot or freezing cold and this continued up until he died. I often think about the time I put a novel out a couple of years ago and he ignored it. To me, it was a bit of a big deal. He, however, could not have given less of a shit. I didn’t even tell him I was writing it. The first he knew of it was when I sent him the proof copy which had a dedication to him in the front. A week passed and I heard nothing. When I finally called him to see if he had received it, he told me in a rather despondent tone that he had, but that he was in the middle of reading something else and that he would get around to it when he could. Then he put the phone down. We never spoke about it again.
I only wanted to know if he’d seen the dedication. I’m not precious about my writing. Some people might like it and others hate it. It’s like anything. It’s always lovely to get good feedback, but I certainly don’t expect it. Later that night he told my brother that I had called him for an ‘ego massage’ - to this day, I find that response completely devastating. I probably always will. I’m certain that if I had a child and they sent me a novel that they had written, I’d be over the fucking moon. I’d be so proud. No matter how good or bad it was. The fact that my father showed me only disdain makes me profoundly sad. The saddest thing is, that I feel as though my Dad didn’t actually know me. He had a certain view of who he thought I was but I don’t actually think I’m anything like that person. I’ve already said this but it bears repeating: despite his inconsistent approach to me, I never felt unloved. Strangely, he would not tolerate the behaviour he often showed towards me from anyone else. Even in the last few months, he was hugely defensive. He has genuinely offered to kill every single one of my ex boyfriends. Even recently, when I told him about a disagreement I had with someone, he offered to come to London and ‘chin them.’
Every conversation we had would end with telling each other we loved each other. That said, there was a just a tangible disconnect between us at times. I couldn’t please him. One day, when I realised that doing so was as easy as filling a hole-laden bucket using only a knackered sieve, I stopped trying and he didn’t like that either.
At the core of the chasm that existed between us was the gay thing, I’m sure.
My Dad was of a certain generation; a generation which didn’t much like the queers. I came to terms with my sexuality at 23. Dad came to terms with it when I was 36. He’d known for years (in fact, he later claimed he always knew), but when I was 36, he was able to tolerate it. I say tolerate because I feel as though that was what he did. He wasn’t happy about it but he was able to frame it in his own head and there was no longer any need for secrecy and lies. It made him sad that ‘my condition’ (chortle!) meant that I would never have children. I saw that as a bit of a blessing to be perfectly honest, but he often verbalised how sad he was that I wasn’t going to pass on my genes, which, thinking about it, is quite a lovely compliment. During that first open conversation, I told him that he was not to worry about me and that if he had any questions, he should ask. An hour later the phone rang. The display told me that it was Dad. Before I could say hello, he immediately asked, ‘Who’s the train driver and who’s the tunnel?’ Needless to say, I now view Thomas the Tank Engine in an entirely different light.
My Dad was brilliant in so many ways. His best friend has spoken about how he, ‘would light up any room and the lives of those in it.’ I couldn’t put it better myself. In my opinion, his strongest gift - and he had many - was his charisma. As a kid, I would observe as the recipients of his attention became putty in his hands; whether it was someone serving him in a shop or one of my teachers. Yes, it helped that he was good looking, but he had that X factor about him. He was funny too. So very funny. He was clever. He was magnetic. He had both a physical and emotional presence but it was always on his terms and he was able to switch it on and off at will. People either loved him or feared him. Sometimes both.
When he was on form, there was no one kinder. No one more understanding. No one better. No one more protective. Once upon a time, my Dad punched a fucking donkey. He was the biggest animal rights advocate going. He punched it because the donkey kicked me. It every right to: I was standing too close. I was a fat kid and the donkey probably had enough problems without having to cart my considerable rump around a waterlogged car park. But when my proximity became too much, it bucked and I went flying, which wasn’t acceptable as far as my Dad was concerned. The donkey had crossed a line, so he decked it.
Like I’ve said, he was a man of extremes. Black or white with no grey sandwiched in the middle. For me, the pendulum would swing from overwhelming love and generosity to unjustified cruelty. It’s hard trying to reconcile the father and the flawed human. It’s going to take me years to unpick the relationship. For now, I can’t quite believe that he’s gone. The enormity of his presence in this world has lead to a gaping hole in the wake of his death. Despite everything, I’m so proud that he was my father. I love him and I miss him desperately.
I always will.