It’s my birthday in a few days and on special occasions like this, Father’s Day, etc, I really miss my dad the most. He hasn’t passed away yet but he is in such poor health that there is no quality of life now and no relationship with him anymore. Three years ago he began to have a series of debilitating strokes that rendered him bed bound, fed through a tube, and robbed him of his personality. The last time I saw him he was unrecognisable: gaunt, unresponsive and only the tattoos on his arms from his army days and the name on the door of the room of the hospital confirmed it was him. Even his eyes looked different. Vacant. Not him. Nothing prepares you for that. I sat next to him, stroked his hair, chatted about anything I could think of, whilst internally saying goodbye. I wrote the poem ‘Silent Goodbye’ after that visit.
We remain in a weird limbo with him but I am sure he will go when he is ready. I miss having him in my life. He was always very proud of me, boasting to his friends about my academic achievements – I’m the only one in my family to complete a degree and a masters. He used to send me drunken texts telling me he loved me and that he couldn’t be prouder of the woman I’d become. Of all of his children, three girls and one boy (I’m number 3), I was the one closest to him, the one who got him and found it easy to spend time with him. In public, he was a cheeky chappie, everyone’s friend, always ready with a daft joke but in private, he was a quiet man who enjoyed reading Dick Francis novels and watching crime shows like Inspector Morse. Like many men, he didn’t always find it easy to express his emotions but we never doubted that he loved us.
My happiest family memories are going swimming with dad and then getting a McDonalds afterwards. He would take my brother and I to the local swimming baths on the weekends to “give mum some peace”. They rowed – a lot. It was like living in an emotional pressure cooker, always on the lookout for the next eruption, and mum could be quite volatile – she was best avoided after 6 pm when the drink could bring out the worst in her. From the age of 12, I was pretty much mum’s shoulder to cry on, an old head on young shoulders. Dad was fairly patient with her, unless she pushed him too far and then he would react. I am very like him in that respect, I will put up with a lot to keep the peace and then something will tip me over the edge and I will explode. I had a running joke with a friend when I was teaching that I had four levels of anger: miffed, fuming, raging and incandescent. It takes a lot to get me to incandescent – I usually react, then think things through, try to understand others’ perspectives and take time to process my emotions – but when it happens it is spectacular. And when I’m done, I’m done. My dad was the same. Funny what behaviours we inherit/acquire from our parents.
We are a family of fighters us Hawkins’ and my dad was always fiercely protective of me. He came out to Dubai to visit me a few times and during one of his visits he met a guy I had been casually seeing. He was unimpressed with him, correctly seeing that the guy had been taking the piss and not being respectful of me, and he quietly took him aside and had a word. It was a real ‘Danny Dyer moment’ – my dad told him that if he continued to mess me around, he was going to come back to Dubai and “break his f**king legs!” I was mortified at the time but grateful afterwards. The relationship came to an abrupt end and I was happier for it. Dad also once punched a guy for hassling me in a bar when I had gone to see him to celebrate New Year with him. You should have seen it! My dad is only a short man but he could handle himself. He was a boxer in the army and taught me some boxing moves after I was nearly abducted aged 6 (see blog post ‘Me Too: My Stories’). As far as he was concerned, no one got to harm his little girl and get away with it. He always encouraged me to stand up for myself and to fight for my beliefs.
Dad also taught me that there is always something to smile about and joke about, no matter what’s going on in your life; that there can be light and humour in the darkest times. Laughter is the best medicine he would say, alway equipped with a silly dad joke to lighten the mood. One of his favourite jokes was this: A doctor visits Mr Smith in his hospital bed. He says he has good and bad news. “The bad news is you have gangrene in both feet and need to have them amputated immediately”. Obviously alarmed, Mr Smith asked what the good news was. The doctor replied, “Mr Jones in bed three wants to buy your slippers!” Bah-dum-cha! Cue groan…
Never take family for granted and give your dads a hug whenever you can as you never know when they may be gone. Love you dad. I will have a birthday drink on your behalf…
Take care, Lisa.