“You sound just like your father,” my wife Mary exclaimed as we trudged along an icy canal towpath yesterday. It isn’t the first time she’s said that and it most certainly won’t be the last. I take it as a compliment, for the most part, and if my previous utterance hadn’t quite solved the economic woes of Western Europe, then it was at least delivered with a measure of conviction. It’s true, I can hear Dad in my voice from time to time, especially when commenting on a particularly knotty political issue. I think he’d smile if he could hear me.
My father has been a bit-part player in this story so far. He died a week weeks before Mum’s diagnosis, though I’m sure he knew or at least feared the outcome of her much-delayed visit to the specialist. He’d done his best to keep the full extent of Mum’s declining mental health from his family although once diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma himself, he opened up a little. I miss him hugely – and it hasn’t got any easier – but in a way, I’m relieved he was spared the last four years. The impact of my sister and I, and our loved ones, has been savage but it could only have been more painful for the man who’d shared her life for more than 45 years.
So why is Dad the main character of today’s post? Mary’s rolling of her eyes as she listened to me sum up this country’s economic woes in a far more pithy way than most politicians made me wonder what Dad would be like now, had he lived. Would he still be dismissing politicians of left and right (and centre) as being out of touch with the real world? What would he make of last week’s budget and its impact on those in need? No doubt, we’d have shared a whiskey and he’d have come up with an alternative or two.
And so, when I went to see Mum this morning, he was on my mind. According to one of the carers at the home, Mum isn’t quite herself at the moment, snapping at people which is quite out of character, even her post-Alzheimer’s character. This was borne by the experience of one of my nieces who hadn’t been afforded a warm welcome when she visited recently. Mum seemed pleased to see me though and we made for her room. Once there, Mum was barely more than monosyllabic. As usual, my”news” meant nothing to her and the only time we managed anything approaching a conversation was when I picked up a tiny polar bear bean bag which sits proudly on her windowsill. It’s quite unremarkable but it clearly gives her some pleasure.
I picked up the photos from around her room and we looked at them together. We came to one of her and Dad together – on her 70th birthday to be precise. It’s a beautiful photograph and sits above my desk as I write this. It’s hard to believe that it was taken only six years ago. It’s another, comparatively-carefree world. We stared at the photo for some time. I felt almost cruel, not moving on until Mum made some comment. I needed to know whether she still thought of Dad, or whether she even recognised him. In the end I asked her outright:
“Do you think much about Dad?”
“Yes,” came the distracted reply. I might as well have asked her if she’d had breakfast earlier.
We moved on to a full family group andshe identified some faces but not Dad initially. Then she pointed towards him and said:
“Oh, and Duncan of course.”
My chest tightened slightly but I laughed and picked up a photograph taken on my wedding day.
“There are you and I when Mary and I got married. Can you believe she’s put up with me for more than twelve years?” I laughed.
“Thank you very much.” Mum sounded insulted.
“Not you, Mum, Mary. You’ve had to put up with me for more than 48 years!”.
“Oh.” My attempt at a witty aside – poor though it was – had clearly confused her and the subject was dropped. The feeling that somehow Mum confuses me with my father lingered and I mused on it as I drove home. Perhaps it isn’t surprising. From the moment Dad died, I took over one or two of his roles, most notably the household finances. She looked to me, as she’d looked to Dad for all those years.
And so, perhaps Mary is right. Maybe, in some ways, I am turning into my father.