Becoming Friends with Dad

I can hardly believe it’s been nearly eleven years since Dad died.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see his grey Volvo car driving off on the last day he came to my home to help me in the garden.

Later that day, Mum called to ask if Dad mentioned he couldn’t remember how to write his signature.

He hadn’t.

And so I began a walk on a dark road I never want to walk again. But that’s not the story I want to tell today.

My only solace is the knowledge we had become friends. Not that we had a bad relationship, but it was a hierarchical one; father tells son what to do, and how to behave etc.

Usual stuff really, but I got annoyed at being bossed so often.

In later years I remember Mum recalling that Dad said, “You know, I think Alan likes my company”.

Of course, I liked his company. Why did I find such a remark surprising?

I have waxed lyrical about love and marriage but there’s one thing I forgot to mention. Marriage, and leaving the parental home, helped me create a new relationship with my parents, and particularly with Dad.

Childhood was replete with orders. Do this, do that.

A typical order was “don’t make the fire smoke”! We had coal fires, and if you closed the door too hard, up came a cloud of smoke into the room.

Another old favourite was “Don’t forget to put the electric blankets on!” In ancient times (the 1980s), electric blankets took hours to heat the bed. Unless they caught fire, then it only took a few minutes.

But overnight, once I left home and set up with my wife, the relationship changed.

We became friends.

No longer hierarchical, but two guys working together and having a laugh.

Dad would visit on Saturdays, not every weekend, but often. We would do odd jobs around the home. Wallpaper a room or fix something in the garden.

But when Rita and I moved to a larger property in the countryside, Dad and I had lots more to do.

We tidied the garden, painted the fence and other jobs.

Some Saturday’s Dad would arrive and ask about my plan for the day.

Sometimes my only plan was lunch.

We’d head off to the town for something to eat. Other times we chatted over tea and some of my mother-in-law’s homemade pancakes and jam.

Perhaps if I had helped out around the childhood home, our relationship would have been different. But back then, teenage Alan was more interested in music and TV. Cutting the grass didn’t interest me.

Now, cutting the grass is a meditation. Funny, how we change over time.

The last Saturday was no different than usual except after tea Dad rose abruptly from the kitchen table and headed home.

I didn’t think about it much until Mum telephoned about his forgetfulness.

My wife had noticed Dad staring into nowhere with an unusual expression. I hadn’t seen that either.

After 12 years of the newfound friendship, a brain tumour came and took Dad away.

Occasionally, when I close the gates and gaze along the road, I can still see his Volvo car driving off.