Today would have been my dad's 93rd birthday.
He isn't here to celebrate it with us, but we remember him with love through the years.
Dad died at 65, 20 years after suffering a series of massive strokes at 45 (or as the doctor airily insisted to my mum, who knew only too well what had happened, "It's just a touch of bad bronchitis, Mrs Barrass!"). The doctor walked out of my parents' bedroom that day, leaving my mum bereft and alone with the obvious lie that my dad had merely a bit of a chest infection, even though his speech was slurred and he was weakly doing the opposite of every action, pushing away when he should be pulling towards, spilling when he should be holding steady.
Only a second opinion brought diagnosis, but soon the ambulances were on strike and he was forgotten for much of the time he should have been fetched to physiotherapy. Such were the times at the dawn of the 1970s. The strokes left him permanently disabled and unable to do anything without support. For many things he most loved, that meant not enjoying them at all, ever again.
At 8, I saw the happy, strong, capable, funny dad who used to stand on his head to make me laugh and gave me fireman's lifts till I was hysterical with giggles, turn overnight into a stranger who struggled to make himself understood by slowly spelling out words on my old toy chalkboard with magnetic letters, choked at almost every meal and lived in a huge hospital-issue iron bed in our tiny front room with calipers, pulleys, feeding cups, commodes, canes and humiliating helplessness.
No more running down the path, past the freight weighing shed, across the yard, along the platform to meet him at the little station at the bottom of our garden where he worked as head porter and shunter. No more that thrill of hearing the purring crescendo of the engine of his motorbike as he arrived at the school gates to whisk me off home or on some impromptu adventure in the Yorkshire countryside.
But that happy, strong, capable, funny dad was still inside that often child-like, stubborn stranger as I learned to understand, growing up in the shadow of his loss of freedom and dignity. So many things remind me of him with thankfulness: maps, bikes, unplanned picnics, cherry genoa cake, corned beef sandwiches with brown sauce, trifle, playing patience, silly black-and-white movies, radio comedy, pit ponies, mystery outings in the motorbike-and-sidecar, steam trains, railways, picking the second favourite in horse races on TV, the spiral staircase up Hooton Pagnell church tower, watching the wrestling and scrambling and snooker, tinkering with things, laughter with crinkled-up eyes.
|Me & Dad near Filey, c1965|
My next book, Cloudhover Solstice, is dedicated to him, set in the places on the beautiful Yorkshire Coast my dad loved and which, without him, I might never have discovered or laid down such treasured memories that keep him alive in my heart. I could go on, but I'll just say:
"Happy Birthday, Dad! We love you and we'll never forget!"
|Dad & his only child - yours truly, 1961|