This week I received a message that I knew would arrive in the not too distant future, but that still left me feeling incredibly sad ,that my 99 year old auntie Dorothy had passed away. She was the last surviving sibling of my dads and it feels like my last blood related link to him. It got me thinking about my childhood with him which I always categorise in my mind in two parts, before my dad died up until I was 8 years old and after when life changed quite significantly.
What I remember of my early years and my dads presence are of a hard working, caring, strong viewed man who loved his family dearly. He was strict but fair and always there to help if you had a problem. My mum alongside him was not a rule maker. She Is a big softy with a huge heart and her parenting style was a lot more laid back. She didn’t like to see me upset or sad and would be upstairs, sneaking me biscuits and a drink when dad sent me to my room, if I misbehaved. An ex navy man, my dad worked as a carpenter in my younger years and always wore jeans for his very “hands on” work alongside a shirt with the sleeves rolled up,which I always thought was odd. He smoked roll ups and I can picture him with his green golden Virginia tobacco tin ,sitting cross legged, rolling out his cigarettes and the distinct smell it created. Its an aroma that always takes me back to those early years with my dad.
The first half of my childhood was settled, the balance of my dads authority and mums softness seemed to give me a fantastic childhood experience alongside my older sister who is 12 years my senior. Those years spent growing up on a council estate where everyone knew each other and there was a real community feel to the place, were what childhoods should be of. When I was 7 or 8 my dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer after ignoring worrying symptoms for a long time , like many men I’ve encountered in my life, he thought he was invincible. He then found himself in and out of hospital and lost a vast amount of weight, very quickly. We had a final family holiday and Christmas together and in the January he was admitted to hospital and never came home.
My dads passing happened without my knowledge. I remember visiting him in hospital, oxygen cylinders by his bed and feeling unsure about what was happening. I was often sent to the TV room at the end of the corridor as I was bored and restless or there were conversations happening that the grown ups didn’t want me to hear. Then one day I came home to a house full of family and friends. Having no idea why they were all there, it all felt very confusing but at 8 years old it never dawned on me what the reason maybe. Afterwards I was told it had been my dads funeral that day whilst I was at school. So the second half of my childhood was overshadowed by a recurring disappointment that I never really got to say a final goodbye to my dad and that stayed with me a lot in my teenage years and coloured how I dealt with death in my children’s lives as a parent.
After my dads death things changed. I no longer had that father figure who I wanted to please and who had strong boundaries set out. The things I’d never been allowed to do I was suddenly able to get done, which was exciting for me as a child! I got my ears pierced and cut off my long hair (which I regretted- you were right dad!). We also moved house. Things seemed to change fast and the lack of boundaries and more freedom meant I was able to do pretty much what I wanted and as a teenager I begun to realise that meant I was able to do things that looking back in hindsight were not my best decisions.
My memories of my dad are precious but as I grew they faded and talking to my auntie Dorothy who knew him for his whole life was magical to me. Hearing about his childhood growing up in Chiswick, London, their siblings, parents, his navy days and just what kind of a man he really was before he became my dad. Dorothy and my dad had a real fondess for one another and it showed when she lovingly recounted those family anecdotes and stories that were more precious to me than anything.
I like to think they are both together again now, laughing, reminiscing and recounting the wonderful lives they lived…………….