It’s five years since I lost you.
They say time is a healer; I’m not so sure that you ever get over losing your dad. Five years on, it still hurts like a headache that’s constantly there in the background, reminding you it hurts. I still find myself wanting to talk to you, tell you things that are going on, or ask you about something. I sometimes forget you’re not here any more and every time it happens and I remember that, I feel the raw pain again like it was 11th August 2015.
I wonder what you would have made of the shit show that’s going on in 2020. You would have had an opinion, of that I’m 100% sure — you were an Emergency Planning Officer for many years and I can almost hear you, shouting at the news, telling anyone who’d listen about how the government should have responded, and what they should have done better. I remember you taking me into the secret bunker in Ipswich to ‘help’ you with training for what would happen if there was a nuclear war when I was at school.
All I did was make the tea and take telexes to people. But spending Saturday mornings in a secret underground bunker, with all its weird, musty smells, the constant trill of phone calls and eighties beige decor was a real treat at 14. I could pretty much guarantee that not many people knew about, let alone ever went into ‘The Hole’ as you called it, and it made me feel special. I didn’t mind the endless ‘Mine’s milk and two sugars’ because I knew you’d trusted me enough to be your junior sidekick on an official local government nuclear disaster exercise and that meant a lot.
I think it’s safe to say I was a Daddy’s girl. Yes, I know we fought when I was growing up — hell, you were strict. But one thing I always remember about our fights was the way that you would always come upstairs and find me, open the slammed bedroom door carefully, peer round it and take your chances with another tantrum. You’d approach with caution, after finding me all streaky-eyed and full of teenage angst, then say ‘Come here’ and give me a massive hug. You’d tell me you loved me and usually give me another lecture about whatever it was I’d done wrong, but it was usually worth the lecture just to get the make-up hugs.
You told me that you knew I’d been born before you had the call from the hospital. You were at work; the hospital in Rustington where I made a slightly forced entrance to the world wasn’t exactly modern or forward-thinking, and you had been banned while poor Mum went through a long labour. You were supposed to be calling the hospital for a progress report on your lunch break, but at 11.55 am you had the urge to call and see how things were going. The nurse said, ‘Can you hear that crying? That’s your daughter.’
I also remember you telling me, many years ago, that you made a promise that day to always protect me and be there for me. I think you know how much that meant to me.
Even from a very young age you were the first person to defend me if I’d been wrongly treated. When I got shouted at by a friend’s dad and made to leave her garden (after we’d fallen out over who splashed who in her paddling pool) you strode over to his house and gave him an earful because he’d upset your daughter and made her cry.
A few years later, when I was16, you went into JJB Sports on a Monday morning, all guns blazing, to ask them why exactly they had sacked me with no notice after a long Saturday working on the shop floor. It hadn’t been a great day; I’d been dumped by my boyfriend that lunchtime too. But I’d sold more Hi-Tec and Nike trainers than anyone else that morning and I didn’t understand. I was so thrilled when I found out you were fighting my corner, even though I didn’t get the job back.
When I was 22, and on the way to my first wedding, you took my hand in the back of the car, noticing how I was shaking and very, very quiet. You told me that there would always be a place for me in the family home if I needed it. I think you might have seen what I couldn’t; that my husband-to-be and I weren’t really suited, although he was a good man, and we were far too young. I took you up on that offer a few years later and you never, ever judged me for it.
You said sorry when you meant it, too. When I met the next man in my life, at 25, it’s fair to say you weren’t happy about it, and things didn’t go well between you. He held a grudge against you for the entire 12 years we were together. You, on the other hand, took the time to write him a letter apologising for being wrong, and welcoming him to the family. He might not have appreciated that, but I did. When it all went wrong with us, you didn’t even say ‘I told you so.’
I cherish the memories of our last few years together. The time you came to my house warming party in 2010 and made an impression on my friends that they couldn’t forget; you spent the evening flirting with them and they thought you were wonderful.
I didn’t realise how ill you were until December 2012 when you were rushed into A&E. I thought I’d lost you; I barely spoke, barely even breathed all the way down on the train and the taxi to the hospital was just unbearable. It seemed to take weeks. It was then that I decided to bring my wedding to Andy forward. We hadn’t even told you that we were getting married. The grin that spread across your face when I told you, told ME that you were happy.
There were times that we didn’t think you’d be there for the wedding. I walked out of the queue in Costa Coffee one afternoon, just as I was paying for my drink, rushing on autopilot to the railway station because I’d had a phone call telling me you might not make it. Those were emotional, frightening times. I wasn’t ready to lose you, and you weren’t ready to go, either. They gave you three weeks and you stuck your fingers up at that estimate in true Dad style and defied their expectations.
Within weeks you were planning a holiday.
2013 to 2015 was one of the most gut wrenchingly emotional times of my life. Watching my Dad fade away, one day planning a future with yourself in it, another day so weak you couldn’t get out of bed, was an emotional rollercoaster that I wasn’t ready for.
The pride in your voice when you said you’d heard what I said in my local radio interview, when you walked me down the aisle in 2014, when you saw a copy of my first novel, they will stay with me for ever.
The week we spent together in 2014 when Mum was having a break is a memory I’ll treasure. I was frightened that you would be really ill, or I’d get the drugs wrong when you came out of the hospice.I was scared that I might not be able to do you justice or look after you properly. Yet again, you confounded my expectations, after two weeks hospice care you perked up massively and decided that you wanted to go to the barber’s, order a Christmas tree from the garden centre for when Mum got home, and get a bus into town with me to find her a present. We talked a lot that week, I found out a lot of things and we left nothing unsaid between us. You were already writing your ‘book of memories’ for me. I knew that was the only thing I wanted you to leave me.
I think you knew there was something wrong in my life just before you died, and out came the protective father again. You were too poorly to come downstairs for your birthday party and that was when I knew you didn’t have long left. You always loved a ‘knees up.’ I sat on your bed and held your hand. You said to me, among other things, ‘You could have a lovely life if you would just stop letting other people tell you what to do.’
Five years later, I wish I could have one of your Dad hugs. A lecture. I’d gladly listen to one of the anecdotes you used to tell, the ones we knew so well that we could finish them off for you. I can’t remember them all now. I’d even listen to Lonnie Donnegan, Fairport Convention or even Jive Bunny if I could have one more day with you. I want to be able to tell you I’m OK, that it all worked out in the end. I really wish you could see that I finally got to university and I’m doing really well. You told me your biggest regret was not letting me carry on with my education, well, look at me, I’m doing it anyway. There’s so much I wish you knew, things that have happened, things I wish hadn’t happened. I’d love to see one of your daft magic shows, or listen as you talked over the TV when I was trying to watch it.
I’d tell you that you were right about a lot of things, that I haven’t quite got the hang of not doing things for people yet, and that I’m working on some of the other things we talked about. But mostly, I’d tell you you were the best Dad I could have had, and that you were loved.