Saturday, 23 January 2016

Unfinished business

First grandchild - a very proud Papa!

On this day of my birth, I pay tribute to a man who became a first time father as a result of my entry into the world. A complex personality that never failed to generate strong feelings in his family and those in his intimate circles.

My father was a troubled soul; his emotional baggage was heavy and, sadly, was lost to us too many times. He never found a worthy mentor and suffered from a lack of a strong, male role model (following the early demise of his own father). The seventh child raised in a large family (of 14) who felt smothered and overlooked. As his widowed mother sank deeper into poverty,  my father acquired “a chip on his shoulder” from being disadvantaged and impoverished.

Poverty hurts when you know you are destined for more. My father had nobility in his blood being the descendant of a knight of Queen Victoria’s realm;  a leading barrister of the day. My father tried to live up to his honourable ancestry and often failed. The odds were set against him and minus a rigorous work ethic, things fell apart.

Underprivileged, penniless and without a sound education, his thoughts were mostly of escape to  prosperous pastures. However progress never comes easy. Along with opportunity and freedom comes responsibility in tow (a wife and two children). In a Western country, though a foreigner, he felt at home. My father was a man of many mood swings – the not so sweet chariot of an early pioneer was to be his lot. He’d chop and change careers like the wind trying to find the elusive niche but nothing quite fit.  

Today, he’d be judged differently for his penchant for change and the unremitting search for a passion project. Restless and free spirited, he had the will to try everything…..and even fail….. successes were far and few.

My father was a paradox – rarely happy but at the same time a “bon viveur”. Socially, he was a raconteur and the life and soul of a party. Other times at home, he was withdrawn, short tempered, a loner and depressive.

In the last century, no one seemed interested in your mental health. Your mind was your own business and, if you didn’t mind it, you’d be locked up for your trouble! My father’s mind was in turbulence. He was suffering from the mental trauma of being different – a new arrival, olive skinned who didn’t have much on paper to be proud of.

Youth was hard on my father and life even more so. To us it appeared that fatherhood was a burden and matrimony an onerous undertaking.  The irony of arriving in a land of new possibility and yet to be strangled by duty and obligation;  anathema to his free and restless spirit.

He was a rebel with and without a cause. The butterfly of happiness never settled on his shoulder and misery seemed to grip his mind;  the cloak of anger was hard to remove.

How did these behaviours affect his family? His wife bore the brunt of the many dark nights of his soul and clutched on to religion - an escape from the bleakness. His sons were perhaps affected most of all and there was no closeness or sharing for them to learn important life lessons. A dearth of emotional intelligence in an era where that concept was relatively unknown.

As for me, the only daughter, I fared  better. My father would say that he preferred daughters to sons perhaps  not fully understanding that each one would not have been like me!

I was not a Daddy’s girl by any means and hugs and kisses were few. My father could not show positive emotions easily and reverted to type each time. However, there was a bond – almost psychic. Without speaking, I knew my father’s moods – good or bad. He said I reminded him of his mother who’s middle name he gave me.

As his health failed, my father and I had many shared moments but there was an invisble barrier that neither of us could penetrate. He had built a wall around himself and it didn’t come down enough to reveal his full vulnerability. Age and illness brought a sense of defencelessness but my father remained proud and knowing.

In his last weeks in hospital, he had little idea that his final days were near. It was difficult to see a the decline of a man’s health and independence (which he’d fought to preserve all his life). Dependence he abhorred and being treated as an invalid was against his nature.

Fifty years before, he was a man with a grand plan whose courage was often thwarted by the inner demons. He was weak……and strong; jovial…..but sad; argumentative……and misunderstood; cantankerous……and yet not unloving.
His grandchildren he adored and showered them with time, attention and gifts.  With them, he shared his heart and bits of his soul, showering them with time, attention and gifts. Having been careful with money all his life he was generous and lavish with them. He was fighter to the end and I will remember the last 48 hours of life with poignancy and tenderness.

So what did my father teach his daughter? Resilience to the slings and arrows of fate, boldness and an iron will. His insecurities I have conquered, his ambition I have inherited, his passion inherent in my character, his witty sarcasm brought smiles and his fight for survival…. is my fight too (albeit in better circumstances).

I thank my father for all that I am and for what yet I can be. I am grateful for it all – the good, the bad and the ugly!  I thank him for my life and the new world he brought me to. He was not the best shepherd and his “flock” often “got his goat”…. but who he was…. I am still.

Death leaves an eternal void. There’s a father shaped hole in my life. It is eight weeks to the day of your departure and the word “Dad” is redundant.  Until that meeting in the great beyond, Dad, there’s unfinished business that lies between you, me and eternity.