MY father died not wanting to make a fuss.
At about three am on 2nd March, 1987, he woke up, got out of bed, put on a pair of trousers and a shirt and then crept downstairs so as not to wake my mum.
He must have sat there for a while, wondering what was going on, in his “Dad’s Chair” by the fire. Looking around the living room for which he’d worked so hard, at the pictures on the sideboard of the family he cared so much for, and maybe the air bubbles in the wallpaper he’d spent so long trying to smooth away.
The sadness of not even knowing if your own father was alive or dead struck me. I wondered what it would be like to not know if there was full stop at the end of your relationship, not knowing if one day a reformed soul would tap you on the shoulder, take you in his arms and tell you he was sorry
Eventually the pain must have become too much and he swallowed his pride and awoke my mum. They went downstairs and he returned to his chair, his condition worsened as my sister joined them.
By the time I was awoken (“Leave him, he’s got work in the morning”) I’d say he was half dead. When he finally agreed to an ambulance he was three-quarters gone, and by the time they arrived... well I suppose you’ve got the picture.
I can remember sitting in the ambulance staring at my mother as she clutched a lonely slipper she had picked up on the drive, while she, in turn, stared at his bare foot sticking out from under the blanket.
The ambulance crew worked like the heroes they were, shouting at him, pounding on him and listening for sound. But in truth they were like bailiffs banging on the door of an empty house, it doesn’t matter how loud you knock. If there is nobody home... nobody will answer.
Later, as we sat in a curtained cubicle, silent, like mice cowering under a bed, listening to footsteps and watching shadows pass by, I wondered who would be the hand on the family tiller. Who would be the rock, the oracle, the joker, the handyman, the provider, and the person who was always behind you, no matter what.
Last night, over 23 years later I was thinking about him again, not because it was Father's Day, he hated that (“wasting money on cards! You shouldn’t have bothered”) but because of a chat I had with a guy while working.
Normally on Sundays, the car ends up smelling of one of two things: roast dinner or clean washing. Visits to mothers by errant sons who have fended questions along the lines of “Are you losing weight? “Is that girl not feeding you?” or “Will you bring your washing? I’m doing mine and I need it to fill the drum.”
Balanced plates covered in foil and bin bags of Summer Fresh Lenor socks and shirts normally fill the back seat as the passenger faces a gentle ribbing from his jealous cab driver (me).
Father’s Day normally adds sheen to this; glasses of scotch shared with the “old fella” soften the edges more than Lenor. And nostalgic chats about football in the garden and learning to ride bikes can usually be coached with ease and filed in my notebook.
But the roast dinner balancing bloke who got in last night had a different tale...
“Been to the folks for Father’s Day?”
“No mate, just been to me ma’s for me dinner.”
“She does a boss roast; she always made sure we had a boss roast, no matter what.”
“My mum always burnt the beef!”
“Beef? We couldn’t afford beef! Me ma was on ‘er own, we mostly just had spuds and cabbage swimming in ‘gipo!”
We laughed and chatted about who’s mum did the best/worst roast. Then he told me that he wasn’t seeing his kids that day due to them being with their mum and “her fella”.
“He’s a sound lad, taking them to Southport for the day; he’s got a car... I wouldn’t have minded seeing them, but they put a card through last week.”
We sat in silence as he fingered the foil and looked out of the window. After a while he returned and said: “You got kids?”
“No mate, it’s a long story and you only live in Bootle.”
“I love my kids me, but I do a bit of drinking, like.”
Now, in my experience, a “bit” normally means a “lot” and a “lot” normally means a melancholy meander through memories of being hard-done-to with injustice and loss.
But not this time, this time it meant a long hard stare out of the window and more silence, until he turned and said: “My dad was an alkey, he got off when we were kids, I think me ma chased him, but she tells us he did one.”
“Is he local? Do you see him?”
“I think he’s dead.”
The sadness of not even knowing if your own father was alive or dead struck me. I wondered what it would be like to not know if there was full stop at the end of your relationship, not knowing if one day a reformed soul would tap you on the shoulder, take you in his arms and tell you he was sorry.
Would that be worse than the certainty of knowing that the man you knew and loved, the man who let go of the saddle as you rode your bike for the first time, wouldn’t be there when you glanced back proudly?
I think it would.
Father's Day is good for business, not just for me, but for the pubs, restaurants, sweet shops and liquorice manufacturers. A day of hugs, back slaps, aftershave and ale. Cards with footballers, speed boats and vintage cars racing down lanes.
A chance to show you care, without awkwardness and mumbles.
But, I’m glad my roast-dinner-nursing passenger got in the car late on Father's Day and not the day before. Had he got in the day before we may not have chatted like we did: the World Cup would have held centre stage and manly banter about “Those useless overpaid lazy...” would have taken up our time.
But the main reason I am glad is because it meant I didn’t have time to sit here and write this until the day after, because I think it’s the days after Father's Day, the ones that take up the rest of the year, that are the really important ones.
The ones where maybe you should take the time to give him a hug or shout “hang on” when he says “I’ll get your mother” on the phone. Those are the days that you should treasure, because you respect and love him, not because you’ve bought him a card.
I should maybe stop there, but in honour of my dad (who had a mischievous and somewhat eccentric sense of humour) I’d like to take you back to that curtained cubicle 23 years ago.
My older brother had arrived and we four sat shell shocked, cold tea was all we had to deaden the pain until a young, nervous looking doctor entered the cubicle after fumbling with the curtains like Eric Morecambe on a Christmas special. He shook my mother’s hand and, using a clipboard as a shield, took a seat.
“This is always very difficult, especially when your loss has come so suddenly.”
My mother nodded and sniffed respectfully in the way that her generation did when confronted by a man in a white coat.
“But in this situation, time is of the essence Mrs Schumacher, I’m sorry but I have a difficult question for you.”
“Of course Doctor, please, just ask.”
“Is there anything your husband would have wished to donate?”
“He had those slippers. They were hardly worn.”
My dad would have laughed like a drain.
10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.
I've always loved this building. Crazy it's been empty for so long when it's next to a major…Read more
Offering £12 tickets to people from Manchester earning below £14k doesn't make the MIF less…Read more
The issue is not that there is differential scale. But that last year there was full price band and…Read more
"Some scrubber on the dole"? Get a grip.Read more