Well, this is Pritch’s latest offering, and if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye as you read it, well, I’ll be damned! As he says, seize the day…
I have been a very lucky guy over my life. My Dad was old (compared to most) when I was born, he was 42 and he came from a bygone era so different to my own.
For most of my childhood life that I can remember we lived in the same house in Chelmsford in Essex and Mum, Dad, my two elder brothers and I lived a very comfortable, safe, contented life. That in itself, I have since learned, makes me a very lucky guy.
My Mum and Dad had to put up with three very boisterous boys who were all born within five years of each other. I fully hold my hands up and admit I couldn’t have done it and kept my cool like my poor Mum and Dad.
Dad admittedly had it easier as he worked in London and got out the way for 12 hours a day working as an insurance executive in the city, and regularly travelling around the world for weeks at a time, assessing fires on insurance claims.
Whilst I was a teenager, my relationship with my Dad, however, was fraught.
I liked doing as little work as possible at school and lived to “play”, whereas my Dad was raised by “Victorian” strict parents whose sole intent was to make their only son successful and be as “qualified” as possible to succeed in life. That resulted in my Dad taking and passing more exams than you could wave a stick at.
He was strict, and very vocal; yes, I did get belted, but every time I did I deserved it, and it was either a smack or a body-shivering telling off, but I always deserved it. I loved rebelling against my strict Dad, doing stuff that if he was to find out, he would go mad and punish me for.
So from an early age to circa twenty, I hated how strict my Dad was with all of us:
“Don’t talk with your mouth full!”
“Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls”
“Eat all your vegetables”
“Get your elbows off the table”
“Do your homework or you can’t go out to play!”
“You must be home by 10:30 if you’re going out this evening”
Dinner times were incredibly fraught with rules, regulations, punishments, and consequences if you didn’t do it right.
So, sadly, with regret, I didn’t like my father as a child that much, as he was always , in my opinion, trying to spoil my fun. I remember one occasion when I had scored a hat trick at school playing football; I came home buzzing and all I got from him was:
“Ok but have you done your homework ?”
I was fuming. All I wanted was for him to say ‘well done’, but sadly, in his world at that time, my schooling and qualifications were the only thing that mattered to him.
He wasn’t wrong, it was just that, as an only child born in 1922, he came from an era where there were strict guidelines re parent and child and what he said went. No ‘if’s’ no ‘buts’, and God forbid us when we occasionally tried to answer him back.
Anyway, I was a silly child, and he was doing what he thought best for me, trying to safeguard my future.
As the years went on and he retired, and I matured (honest I did!) I gradually saw him for what he was. He was my father, he was the head of a family of happy people and we lived in his house he had worked his doo dahs off to pay for and give us a safe, warm, home in which to grow in. Everything he ever did was for us.
I now look back and realise that I was not a nice person to my Dad during those years. I challenged him on everything, I let him down badly with my results and my behaviour at school. I did all the things he didn’t want me to do, yet still he was always there for me, come what may.
What you realise as the years go on is that family are the most important thing we should have in our life. I accept that, sadly, not everyone is as fortunate as me and it pains me when I hear some people’s stories about how home was awful, violent, and unhappy.
I thought everyone had the same as me, but sadly this world isn’t like that for everyone. So, that kind of makes me ashamed for my early years of fighting with him so much and making his life as much hell as I could in an effort, so I thought, to get my own back at him.
However, for the last 30 years I have put all that behind me; we shared a love of music, we shared a love of gadgets. We gradually stopped fighting and became best of friends.One of the funniest things I saw was Dad, aged 87, loading all his CD collection onto his shiny new iPod! Can you believe that when he was a child, there weren’t even record players?
Anyway, back to my point. A lad I worked with came in all sorry faced about 15 years ago to work and we found out that his father had died the week before. Suddenly, and without warning, my friend was wracked with guilt as he didn’t have a chance to say goodbye and even more so, he had never had a chance to tell his dad that he loved him.
He asked me if I had ever told my Dad I loved him. My response was an emphatic “NO!”, but we knew we did anyway.
What he said to me was one of the best things anyone has ever done for me. He asked me how we greeted each other when I went to see my Dad. I told him that when I drove down to his, I would get out the car, give mum a big hug and a kiss, and then shake my Dad’s hand.
He asked me, in fact he got me to promise him, that the next visit I did, I should grab my Dad, give him a cuddle, kiss him on the cheek and tell him that I loved him.
Oh my God! If you knew how straight, old fashioned and business – like my Dad was, that was one hell of an ask. This was going to be very awkward and uncomfortable We never showed emotions; he never shared emotions with me, he was my father, that was that. But my friend’s request kept ringing in my ears as he had huge regrets that he had never, nor would ever, be able to share confirmation of love with the man who brought him into this world.
So, the day came. I cannot tell you how nervous I was driving to his house in the New Forest, but, I had to do this, I had to break the “office-like” greeting we had done to each other all my adult life.I pulled up in the car, heart pounding, and proceeded to get out as I saw mum and dad familiarly coming to the front door.
BOOM BOOM BOOM went my heart… right, here goes, I said to myself.
As my Dad approached me he put out his hand as usual, I swiftly knocked his hand out the way, put my arms around him, gave him a kiss and told him I loved him! Instantly he stiffened , taken aback by the unusual greeting and was probably as equally shocked as I was, he quickly said:
“Right ok, let me get the bags out of the boot and get the kettle on!”
From that day forward and for the last 10-12 years of his life he had no choice but to get used to and accept my greeting. Hell, he is my father! The man who gave me life, the man who fed me, clothed me, brought me up and tried (in his own way) to do what was right for me.
Why shouldn’t I tell him I loved him? Why shouldn’t I kiss him and thank him? I would not be who I am were it not for him, bless him.
I know that not everyone gets on with their family, I know that some people may think their dads are not worthy of being told they are or should be loved, but ask yourself one question. When we are on our own death beds, do we want to be complete, and have as few regrets as possible? Or do we want to die with regrets or have the people who are closest to us die without us having the chance of telling them how we feel ?
I realise now that a lot of people’s grief at funerals is about regret, about not saying things to the people they love, wishing they had said this, wishing they had done that. It’s worth thinking about, trust me.
So, I write this on the third anniversary of his death. He died aged 89 of cancer of the bowel and later cancer of the spine, having hidden his cancer from us all for 5 out of the 7 years he had it and having refused any kind of treatment for it, he had battled it, never moaned about it and had accepted his ultimate fate.
I was immensely fortunate to spend the last 6 weeks of his life by his side. Yes, it was incredibly sad and completely soul destroying to watch the man who made me then wither away in front of me. By the time he died, the cancer had consumed him and he was nothing more than skin and bone. He had a yoghurt for breakfast followed by his customary 5 cigarettes, cups of coffee and then an ice cream from the ice cream van that used to religiously turn up, music blaring, in the street every day.
I remember taking him for a scan about a week before he died and helped him get undressed. I was overwhelmed with sadness when I saw the bag he had had fitted to his leg completely red, filled with blood where there should have been urine. I could have cried there and then. He just said it had been like that for months. I think it was only then that I realised the immense strength of my father; he just simply got on with it and never bothered us with the fact that his body was breaking down.
In the latter stages, his brain was still completely compos mentis and he knew exactly what was going on.
On one such occasion, having been told by his doctors that the end was very near, I watched him consume his ice cream; bless him, it was pretty much all his stomach could take, and he ate it like an excited child would eat it. He had cream on his chin, on his nose , everywhere. I have to reiterate at this point that my Dad wasn’t an openly funny man. He liked Tommy Cooper and Morecombe and Wise on TV, but he didn’t do humour in his day to day life. He was always serious about everything.
I grabbed my camera, told him to not move and snapped a picture as he sat there with ice cream all over his face whilst both me and Mum cracked up laughing
Such was the incredible picture I got of him that I had to go back for more the following day. I asked my Dad, almost awkwardly, if I could get him to do something he would probably not be comfortable with. He looked at me inquisitively and listened. I said to him that the picture I took yesterday of him eating/ wearing that ice cream was so good, I asked him if I could get him to pull some funny faces (something I had never ever seen him do ever in my life) so that his grandchildren (and me, being honest) would have some amazing pictures forever to remember him by.
Let’s face it, when you look back at pictures, particularly of the older generation, they are normally so serious.
For me (as most of you will already know) I have spent my life pulling faces, but bless him, he said yes and proceeded almost embarrassedly to do something he probably had not done in over 80 years.
The end result I want to share with you here. I know it was hard for him, as he was wracked with pain and was very weak, so I almost felt a bit bad asking him, but something inside me told me to do it and I am damn glad I did.
I didn’t know that day that my father would die some 72 hours later. He died with dignity, with his family and the wonderful Macmillan nurses around him, holding his hand, with us telling him we all loved him. It was his time to go. No one ever wants to lose their father but he had wasted away enough and the cancer had got the best of him and he had, sadly, lost the battle.
We all of us, are parts of our father, love or hate him. We carry the genes of him, his father, his grandfather right the way back through time. Some traits we love, some we may hate, but we are of the same make up.
My boy, Jamie, is 23 years old now. I love him dearly, I tell him most times we speak that I do (ok some times rum is involved!) I’m not embarrassed to say that we hug each other and I kiss him when I meet him. I didn’t want him waiting years like I did to be able to express my love for him and his for me.
Do me one favour, please, readers, I know that your father probably knows you love him but never be afraid to tell him. Sometimes it’s very hard for the older generation to open their feelings towards you or for you to open to them, but that should never stop you from letting him know. Never assume that they know.
Don’t be one of those people crying at his funeral with regrets and, obviously, the same could go for your Mum – but they are easier to cuddle.