Today is Father’s Day in the UK – the one day every year that I reminded by constant updates on social media that I am not from an average family, with two parents and 2.4 children.
It’s just my mum and I. I say “just” but my mum has raised me, as a single parent for the majority of my life. Not by choice, she took on the role of mother, father, advocate, rule-maker, disciplinarian, teacher, doctor…I could continue. My dad passed away two days before my first birthday, after a short but ultimately fierce battle with bowel cancer.
I don’t really have any memories of my dad, but I have been lucky to have been brought up in a family whereby death isn’t a secret and the memories of the deceased are shared, amongst much joy and laughter. So whilst I didn’t know my dad in person for long enough to make memories, I do know that I am just as, if not more, sarcastic than him. I am witty and blunt like my dad was. I am loyal and will do anything to protect my friends and family: heaven help anyone who upsets my mum or closest friends. My dad would go out of his way to help people and it didn’t matter if they were life long friends or had only passed each other in the street. When he was ill, he saw a woman stood by her broken down car. Despite his own problems (and I’m pretty sure dying is classed as a problem) he stopped, pushed her car out of danger and waited with her until help arrived.
I don’t proclaim to be a saint, but like my dad, I have put myself in situations with could put my own safety at risk. Helping a young woman who was a drug addict, who collapsed and had a seizure comes to mind. My mum was livid when she found out that I had spent my Saturday sat in an ambulance, accompanying her to hospital because I didn’t want her to face it alone. She was also livid when she found out that my dad had been pushing cars around and standing outside during winter.
My dad was determined, hardworking and always wanted to better himself. He was born and raised on a council estate and with very little encouragement, got a place at what was the local grammar school; the only child out of seven siblings to manage that. He didn’t go to university, purely because it didn’t interest him. Instead, fresh out of school, he went about setting up his own carpentry business. I didn’t inherit his carpentry or design skills…I struggle to draw a stickman, but there is a nerdy part of me that finds machinery and engineering fascinating. I just don’t have the mathematical or scientific ability to make a career out of it. He carried that determination through his battle with cancer. He was a father and husband first, a cancer patient second and a terminal cancer patient last. For as long as possible, he remained an active dad and I know it pained him when he had to step back and let my mum take control.
Apparently, I look like my dad. Without sounding all “boo-hoo, woe is me, my dad died”, losing a parent, isn’t easy. My dad’s side of the family hold a lot of resentment over his illness and death, most of which is dirtied towards me, which has led to me cutting all contact (if that’s what you class the occasional card on a birthday) for my own well-being. That makes me sad, I don’t need to have firm memories of my dad to know that he would be deeply unhappy with the family separation and the fact that I have now chosen to use my mum’s maiden name. He would be horrified knowing that my mum was abandoned by his family and received next to no support in the early days after his death. And he would also be horrified knowing that his siblings have refused to have contact with me because I look too much like my dad. I realise that people grieve in their own ways and everyone’s feelings are valid, but at almost 23 years after his death, I still pine for a paternal family which I have never had. I am eternally grateful for the family I do have and the friends who have become family.
The bond that my mum and I have is pretty unique. We are very close, in some respects maybe too close; one of my biggest fears is letting my mum or dad down. My mum hasn’t been a perfect parent, we both acknowledge that, but she has instilled a sense of justice and fairness in me, that I know she learnt from my dad. She has loved me unconditionally and has always put me first. I can only imagine the inner sadness she must feel and I truly admire her for not giving up and still getting out of bed and facing the world, even on the worst days. I know that she feels a level of guilt because she wasn’t able to give me a “proper” first birthday, but to me, that doesn’t matter. She’s given me a lifetime of love, care and safety…I can forgive her for one birthday which I wouldn’t remember anyway! She has stood by me during [most of] the bad times and forgiven my mistakes – piercings not included.
If you’re celebrating Father’s Day, spare a thought for those who aren’t able to, for whatever reason. Don’t leave it to one day a year to tell your parents that you love them. They need to know that every single day, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
To all dads, step-dads, grandfathers, guardians and mums-who-are-also-dads, alive or dead, big love and thank you for all that you do.