Dad, I Love You
Dad, I Love You
By Rachel Flowers
THE EARTH-SHATTERING NEWS
Tuesday, 16th August 2005
Life is weird. My twin-sister Beth called me one morning out of the blue. It was about 8.30 and I was off work for a week just lying in bed pondering what to do with the day ahead.
“Hi Rachel,” she said gravely, “I’ve got something to tell you.”
My heart lurched. She didn’t usually have time to call me at this hour of the day. Had one of her children had an accident? Had our elderly mother had a fall? All these horrible thoughts accompanied a tightening feeling in my stomach and I felt the hand of morbidity squeezing my heart. She went on.
“It’s about Dad.”
I could feel my stomach constrict. Dad? I hadn’t spoken to ‘Dad’ for nearly twenty-one years, and had buried all thoughts of him somewhere so deep, he didn’t exist anymore, but now reality was rearing its ugly head as is its wont, and I felt myself starting to feel emotional.
Bif-pow-kazam. How that comment just penetrated me to the core. I tried to control my voice.
“He’s dying?” I croaked back.
“Yes. Mum just got the call from Marcus. He’s in a nursing home. He’s had an operation to remove part of his brain. Apparently, he had a clot and now he’s lying immobile, he can’t move or speak. He’s been in this state for a couple of months now. As you know, he’s still friends with Mickey Marchmont and it was him that just called Marcus as he thought we should know,” she said almost nonchalantly.
“He’s had an operation?” Again, I was vacuously repeating what she was saying but I was trying to take everything in as best I could. I felt myself lose control over my emotions and so I let them take me over. I started to sob uncontrollably. Why had Mickey Marchmont left it so late to call my brother, Marcus?
“Where is he?” I asked through the tears.
“Somewhere in Kelford,” she said, “Laura’s got the telephone number.”
I started laughing hysterically at this point. My feelings were totally out of control and my poor sister, who is very pragmatic and never shows her vulnerable side, sounded confused.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m going up there.”
“But what about his new family?”
“I’ve got to see him, I’ll call Laura and will call you back later.”
“Okay, speak soon,” she said.
I quickly called Laura. I tried to control my feelings with my older sister as, although I know she has a sensitive side, she tends to cover it up with a tough exterior and I was in no mood to listen to a potential tirade of abuse about Dad while I was in this vulnerable state.
“Beth told me you have the number of the nursing home where Dad is. Can I have the number as I’m going up there,” I said as casually as I could. Don’t give her a reason to mock your sentimentality.
“Of course,” and she read out the number.
“But what about his new family?”
What is it with everyone? WHO GIVES A STUFF ABOUT HIS NEW FAMILY? I have this urgent need to see Dad. I need to see the laughing, joking, handsome man of my formative years. I need to see the man who made such a fuss of me, who told me I was so good-looking with ‘legs up to my armpits’. I need to go now before it is too late. I need to make peace with my Dad, my father, my one and only Dad who I haven’t seen for so long. I need to forgive him, I need, I need, I NEED TO DO THIS. Don’t you get it? I’ve only got one father and I need to see him before it’s too late.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” I heard myself say calmly. “I’ll call the home and find out how to get there.”
“Okay, good luck, I’m here if you need me,” was her reply.
I called the nursing home immediately and got Brenda the head nurse on the line.
“Hello, I’m Robert Flowers’ daughter.” I struggled through hysterical sobs. “I’m his long-lost daughter who would like to see him. How do I get to you?” I blubbered. Brenda kindly gave me directions on how to get to Parkways Nursing Home in Kelford. She had a very broad accent but I could just make out what she was saying. I scribbled everything down on a Post-It note and placed it in my handbag.
Next thing - get ready QUICKLY! I had to travel from north London to Kelford; I had no idea how long it would take to get there. Who knows? By the time I got to see him, he could have passed away and all these feelings that have suddenly come from nowhere, and have thrust themselves firmly into the forefront of my psyche, would have nowhere to go. Would they hover forever sending me into insanity and beyond?
I was panicking like a crazy woman. What if I arrived only to find out that he had gone? No last goodbyes, no forgiveness, no saying sorry, no nothing. I would be left with a big void that would leave me feeling so frustrated and disappointed for the rest of my life, it didn’t bear thinking about. ‘No,’ I told myself. He just had to make it so that I could extinguish once and for all the hurt that he perpetrated by making such a fuss of me as a young girl and then disappearing without a backward glance. Well actually, he did give a fleeting glance to the house as he hopped into his car way back when. And I do remember him wiping away a tear, but he had probably just noticed what an appalling job he had done of painting our weather-boarded council house and was crying because he wouldn’t be back to give it another coat. Still, the thought of him going without me saying my last goodbyes was unbearable, and probably the cause of my uncontrollable sobs.
I jumped out of bed and frantically brushed my teeth. I said out loud: “Don’t worry Dad, hang on in there, I’m coming to see you.” I kept saying that mantra whilst tears were streaming down my face. “Don’t die Dad, please don’t die today.” I kept saying this over and over again. I felt so overwhelmed with the news that I just couldn’t stop crying. I kept berating myself for this, as Dad had always had a low tolerance for the women in his life (unfortunately he had three daughters) and I didn’t want to give him another reason to criticise me. I had to look as though I was in control. My mind was racing. What was I going to wear? I had to wear my best ever clothes. Even though he was unconscious? What if he gained consciousness and over the years he had developed a personal intolerance of women who wore denim? Such were these irrational, petty thoughts that were going through my head.
So I still wanted him to be proud of me and I still sought his approval after twenty- one years. He was still reducing me to an insecure wreck from his bedside so far away in deepest darkest Kelford. After all those healing sessions that I had attended, after all the soul-searching and forgiveness workshops, I was reduced to feeling like a teenager again. I was still trying to prove myself to a father who didn’t give a damn or wasn’t ever likely to with his current prognosis.
I kept thinking how amazing it is how parents have such an impact on us however much we try to ignore it or deny it, or think we have moved on in our lives. The very fabric of our being, they have woven with their actions and words. There I was at thirty-seven years of age, still seeking his approval even though I knew intellectually that he had baggage that overwhelmed him and caused him to act appallingly towards us. However, programming is more powerful than intellect as it is such an automatic response, and I still really wanted him to see what an attractive woman I had become; I still greatly craved his approval. That ruddy man still has a hold over me! I wanted him to see what a sophisticate I had become, what a “dish” (his words) but I didn’t feel dishy at all. I watched myself sobbing in the mirror while I brushed my teeth; my tear-stained cheeks and red, puffy eyes were going to be impossible to camouflage, even with expertly-applied make-up.
The more I tried to subdue my tears, the more they came so I finally gave in and decided not to wear any eye make-up; the first time in at least ten years that I had made such a radical decision. However, I did manage to wear a rather swish outfit so I felt confident that if he did open his eyes, he would have to agree that his daughter was pretty well turned out. Even if you still think I am worthless, Dad.
So there I was, trying my best to blend in on the morning train to Euston. I hid myself in a corner seat and the people behind me were probably wondering why this immaculately dressed woman was firstly travelling by public transport and secondly; crying her heart out and crying my heart out I was. Why did this man still have such a hold on me? He blatantly didn’t care about my mother or us, his children. He hadn’t shown any sensitivity towards us since I was about eleven. He just turned his back on us when I was nearly sixteen and went on with his life. He didn’t send any birthday cards, Christmas cards or show any other signs that he was thinking about us. It was as if we just didn’t exist. He did turn up unannounced once, a year after he left and I remember the heart-wrenching moment when I unexpectedly saw my father in the doorway. We had a quick embrace and of course I started to cry, but after an hour or so of chatting with Mum, she gave him his marching orders and he was gone again, this time for good.
Apparently, it transpired that the woman he had left Mum for, and the woman he had followed to America, turned out to be a lush (Mum’s words) who evaded her taxes. Her beautiful Greenwich Village restaurant was about to be seized by the tax inspectors and suddenly Dad decided that she “wasn’t for him.” So, Dad had come back because his bubble had burst and he needed somewhere to stay. Mum was having none of it, however, and sent him on his way. Her self-respect had come back with a vengeance and she wasn’t going to accommodate this ne’er-do-well a minute longer. Her twenty- five-year incarceration with him as her gaoler was over, thank you very much!
Looking back, at the time it was a relief for all of us that he went when he did, as he had become such a hostile presence in the house. We spent most of our early teenage years desperately avoiding him, hiding in our bedrooms if he was in the house. We would only venture downstairs when we heard the car engine start up outside or when one of us gathered the courage to see whether he had fallen asleep in a drunken heap. We were always on tenterhooks as he invariably came home from work in a foul temper and if he felt like picking on you, there wasn’t much you could do about it.
So that was that. Dad was out of our lives and I hadn’t spoken to him since. Mum said that he called her every eight months or so but this was usually to ask her for a favour, for example - his car insurance was very high because he lived in a rough part of town and could he register it under her address? Or: what was the answer to 9a in the Times crossword? Never did he ask about us; the calls were either asking for a favour or a bizarre request to finish his crossword for him. The ruddy crossword! What about his ruddy kids that needed a father?! I wax and I wane so much with the anger; the philosopher or psychologist in me tells me that he may just have wanted an excuse to call Mum and see how we were all doing but he never asked after having solved his crossword puzzle. He was a truly heartless, or should I say thoughtless man when it came to us, his family. It was as though his children had done him an injustice and his reaction was to neglect us. What a ghastly, ghastly man - and here I was travelling all this way to see him!
Unfortunately for my sisters and me, Dad was always damning when he spoke to us. He invariably said to us when we came home with A’s and A+’s on our school reports: “You’ll end up working in Woolworths” and then would rather brusquely sling our reports to one side before settling down into his favourite armchair with his beloved bottle of whiskey. He was such a misogynist and held women in such contempt. God in his infinite wisdom had fortunately given Dad two sons in his second marriage, so I was very relieved to hear that he wouldn’t be able to inflict his chauvinistic views on any more undeserving daughters. Praise the Lord!
So why was I going to see this thoughtless old man that had caused me such grief? I certainly didn’t owe him anything. I don’t really know is the answer. On an intellectual level, I was totally aware of how badly he had treated us, but from a spiritual perspective, he was my dying father and I was just acting on instinct. Also, after twenty-one years, I had changed a lot and had done a lot of thinking and as Fagin would have put it ‘reviewing of the situation’. I had read a lot on psychology and endeavoured to understand why people do what they do. I also realise that holding a grudge is only damaging to the person holding the grudge. Resentment is akin to swallowing poison and foolishly expecting your enemy to get sick. The person who inflicts the pain doesn’t usually know what havoc they have wrought. I believe that if my father had any inkling as to how much pain and suffering he caused us and how much emotional baggage his children still carry around, even to this day, he would have hated himself even more. Unfortunately my father was a victim of self-hatred and so he wasn’t able to show his children any love. This understanding of him keeps me sane, for if I did not philosophise about my father, I would eat myself up with anger, hatred and sorrow within one week.
I managed to get to Manchester Piccadilly without too much hassle. There were moments of self-control where I could communicate with the ticket-desk and shop owners. However, when left on my own, I couldn’t stop crying horrendous, shoulder-racking sobs. I was desperately trying not to bring attention to myself on the platform as I am a reserved person, but I was not succeeding, which made me even more uncomfortable. It was all a bit dreamlike and hazy, that journey to Manchester. I do recall that not one person on the train acknowledged me or offered a tissue or a kind word. They just carried on reading their magazines and drinking their coffee while my whole world came crashing down. They were totally oblivious to my dilemma. Why didn’t anyone care? After fifteen years of living in London, I still didn’t understand or accept that no-one cares for strangers, and that is the harsh reality. I remember watching an attractive young woman sitting nearby nonchalantly flicking through her magazine and thinking how insensitive she was to my plight. I mused that years of working in a hospital environment and training in counselling and the healing arts led me to believe that everybody is kind and eager to comfort people in need. Sometimes the real world is a shock, a cold electric shock.
I called my best friend on my mobile to tell her the news and was hoping that she would cheer me up. “My father’s dying, Kath,” I said. “I’m on the train to Manchester to see him.”
“You are very brave, Rachel,” is all I remember her saying. That was enough for me. Reassurance at this time was good. I needed my friends more than ever as a very old wound was gushing open and I was now going to rub salt in it by confronting Dad. I had never felt so vulnerable in my entire life.
I spent the journey talking and sending messages to my friends who all responded so wonderfully to my news. Beth did not show any emotion about the news but she was obviously curious and concerned about my welfare. She showed her loyalty to me by texting and calling me regularly throughout the day. I used the remaining time to write a long letter to Dad, telling him how much I missed him and that I understood his reasons for leaving. I wanted to forgive him for rejecting us and I wanted us to bury the hatchet once and for all. Buried memories came flooding out onto the paper and I managed to write down a lot. I made sure that it was a kind letter with no bitterness. At times it was difficult, but I managed it. Part of me wanted to say: “Why didn’t you love us like a proper father? Why did you leave us? Why did you not bother calling us or finding out about us?” Why were you a total shit? However, I wanted to forgive him as he was on his deathbed and I realised that it’s too late to change the past. I also had this very romantic notion of me being the angel that would send him on his way. In my imagination, he would open his eyes to me, and miraculously he would talk. He would say “Hello Suzie-Q¹, Thank you for coming and I am sorry. I love you.” Then I would say, “It’s okay Dad, you can go now. We all forgive you. Rest in peace,” and then he would die peacefully in my arms and we would all be able to get on with our lives. I hate the fact that I am a pure romantic and that nothing ever happens as I plan it; absolutely nothing. Reality as usual sucks at me with blistered lip. It is always the fly in my rose-tinted ointment.
It was as if my feet had suddenly developed wings as I flew to the Information Desk at Manchester Piccadilly train station. Please hang on in there Dad, I’m within walking distance now. My appearance didn’t seem to faze the staff but I must have looked a fright. Not only was I still crying after two and a half hours, but now I was shaking as I held out the scrap of paper that gave details of the nursing home’s address. When I took directions down from the nursing home, I was told to walk along the Manchester Road from the train station. I thought Brenda was giving me directions from Piccadilly train station. What I didn’t realise (probably due to the hysterical fog that was my mind at the time) was that she was giving me directions from the local train station which was Kelford Pumps. Even though I was very emotional, when the ticket lady said “Kelford Pumps,” I laughed at the name. Why would you call a train station “Pumps”? Oh God, it’s weird here. Everyone talks funny. I want my Dad. Oh, where’s my Dad? I didn’t comment on it
though. She pointed me in the direction of the Metrolink but I noticed a black-taxi rank and jumped inside the first empty cab I came across.
Immediately I was transported back to my childhood. The driver was gruff, scruffy and smelled of tobacco. He was smoking roll-ups and the engine in the cab was diesel. He had a permanent scowl. If I closed my eyes, I could have been eleven and this man could have been my roll-up smoking father driving our old car with the diesel engine. It all felt oddly familiar. The taxi was filthy and it rolled along at fifteen miles an hour. I realised that he was stiffing me but I wasn’t about to quibble with him - I was going to see my Dad and nothing was going to interfere with that.
The cab drove slowly along the streets of Kelford before I got to Dad. Smashed up telephone boxes, herds of teenage mothers pushing prams, sprawling old industrial buildings; all these images just rolled by and I took everything in as if I was in a dream. It was almost as if I wasn’t there. I had no emotional reaction to the place; my emotional reactions were totally used up. I realised that I didn’t like what I was seeing but it was a new place to explore with a very important person in its midst: my father.
Want to know what happened next? Do you want a copy of the book? If so, e-mail Rachel at RachelFlowers38 at aol.com.
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