Yesterday marked 20 years since my dad died. Hard to believe it’s been that long, or that he’s now been gone for well over half my life (and my entire adult life). One of the first pieces I wrote on this blog was about him, just before I became a father myself. Now that I am, I wonder what it was like for him, with four children by his first marriage, two (including me) by his second, and a stepdaughter by his first. Is it possible to have a close relationship with all of your children in those circumstances, to really know them? How did he feel about his kids?
I wonder too, when my daughter will start asking about him. We have a couple of pictures up in the house, and have told her that the man in the photograph is daddy’s daddy. She’s aware that she has one grandad who is around (even if distance prevents us from seeing him too often), but is too young to understand that her other grandad is not. At some point we will have to explain, and that conversation may be the first time we have to broach the subject of death with her.
The question I am most dreading from my daughter though is “What was we he like?”. Because the truth is, I don’t know the answer. My parents separated when I was five years old, and after that I saw him at most one weekend every fortnight. When I grew into a selfish teenager it was not even as often as that. And how well can you ever really get to know someone as a person when you’re a child?
From what I do remember he was a quiet man, fond of routine. We had the same lunch (tinned hot dogs, chip shop chips, tinned peas) every time we visited. As far as I recall he was not ill-tempered, with us at least, and did his best to find ways to keep us entertained. He was a typical northern working-class man in many respects, fond of darts, dominoes, rugby league and traditional seaside holidays. I remember sitting with him helping him check off the results of the football pools on a Saturday afternoon, and placing pretend bets on the horse racing. No doubt though, there was far more to his character than these scant memories suggest.
As the years go by, my already patchy memories fade. I feel I know him less and less. I’m barely in touch with his side of the family. My mum and I have talked of him, but infrequently. My sister and I rarely talk of him at all. There is no-one I talk to about him who also knew him and can help keep his memory alive.
The thing is, I don’t even know whether this makes me sad or not. My mum has never liked to speak ill of him in front of me, but I know enough to be sure he did not treat her well. He and I were never close, and I’m not sure we would be now, were he still around. I also have enough people close to me whose relationship with their fathers is at best a mixed blessing to know it most likely would have been the same for me.
Then, I have other friends who have lost fathers they loved without question, and my own sadness at the loss of my father sometimes feels fraudulent compared to theirs. At other times I feel guilty for not feeling sad enough. Truth be told, I don’t think I have ever grieved properly. Each year, at this time of year, I remember him, and think I should do something to mark his passing. I never do though, and the chance to truly grieve is missed again. No matter how complicated my feelings are towards him, he’s the only dad I ever had, and I can’t keep letting these years slip by.