Wednesday, December 17, 2003

My father died last November, although in this case it would be much more accurate to say, "I lost him." The feeling of loss seems to grow as time passes, hits me at the strangest moments and knocks all the breath out of me, leaving me for a few moments at least totally and absolutely bereft.

You didn't know my father. I'm not sure I did either. His was a world of actions not words. I only ever heard him tell my mother once that he loved her and he sure as hell never told me! And it's only now, looking back with a child of my own, that I can read his messages to me.

We never talked. Oh, we passed the time of day but we never had those father-son conversations you hear so much about or at which you suppress the urge to upchuck at the movies. But when I look back over my memories of him, I cannot think of one occasion where he failed to demonstrate how to 'do the right thing'.

We had absolutely nothing in common except our love of the Blades. He even christened my first Teddy Bear 'Jimmy Hagan' and never let the fact that I called it 'Fred' create any friction between us. He, with a stubborn streak I seem to have inherited, quite simply refused to acknowledge the fact. He, unlike me, left school at fourteen as his father could not afford the books necessary for him to go to the grammar school and needed the extra wage my father could earn. He started work as an apprentice pattern maker (and passed on to me his love and respect for a good tool and a sharp chisel) and eventually worked his way up to be the Managing Director of the specialist steels company he joined as a boy.

There are so many stories and there is so much to tell that I can't possibly include it all here but I would like to repeat the words I spoke at his funeral. More for my sake than yours...just so I have some record and reminder of what that stubborn old bugger meant to me.

"We never really know our parents, do we? Oh, we know them as Mum and Dad but never as Ivy and Ray, just two people finding their way through life as best they can...pretty much like their children.

I guess if we really want to know them, then we have to look at them through other people's eyes.

I remember when my parents came to visit me in Hungary for the first time and we took them to visit the family of a friend of mine at their small, family vineyard.

My friend's father was the same age as Dad, they were both born in 1920. He couldn't speak English and Dad couldn't speak Hungarian but after a few glasses of wine, it didn't seem to matter that much.

At the end of the evening, my friend's father came up to me and told me what a good man he thought my father was.

And I remember thinking that, despite the fact that they had no common language, despite the fact that my father was in a wheelchair and despite the fact that he had had several strokes and could not communicate very well, that part of my father was still visible...that basic, down to earth, honest goodness.

And I'd just like to repeat now what that old Hungarian said to me about my father that time...'Apa, te fasza gyerek vagy.' Thankyou."

So, what brought all this on? Well, I've just got off the phone to my mother. Up until about two years ago, she was doing everything for my wheelchair bound father. Then she fell and broke her hip while I was over in England for the summer and I had a strange reversal of roles, bathing and dressing my dad for a couple of months, doing everything for him in fact. It became apparent that mum couldn't continue taking care of dad even with health care workers three times a day at home and they had to go into a care home. I had no choice. I live and work in Hungary, I am under a contract I cannot break and I have a family to feed. And I think that was what finally did for my father. He loved his home and had worked so hard for it all his life and not being able to live there was too much. He just gave up. And now, I'm afraid that the same thing is going to happen to my mother. I wanted her to come over here and live with me but she needs care round the clock, cannot walk without assistance and both Zsuzsi and I work and cannot guarantee that at least one of us will be at home all the time.

She has just had a phone put in her room at the home and I was able to phone her today for the first time since I returned to Hungary at the end of August. Maybe it was the fact that she had been asleep for an hour when I phoned, maybe it was the sleeping pills but her already slightly slurred speech has become so bad that I could not understand a single word of what she was trying to tell me. I shall try again tomorrow morning and hopefully, she'll be less fuzzy.

So...back to the question, what is all this? Intimations of mortality? Maybe but not my own, that's for sure. I just do not know whether I'm up to facing this world without either of my parents there behind me. I'm 45 years old and yet I don't think I've ever really in the true sense of the word, grown up. I have always had somewhere to run to, a fixed point, an anchor. The thought of being cast adrift in such a hostile world is one I can well do without, thank you very much. Selfish bugger, aren't I?

Still, I don't remember this being on the curriculum at much information and so little about life.

I miss you, dad.

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