Most girls see their Dads as their lifelong knight in shining armour, the indestructible trainer in your corner ready and waiting to step in and bare fist box his way through your troubles. Well, mine was anyway. Stranded in the city, call Dad. Car breaks down, call Dad. Boyfriend dumps you, rely on Dad to tell you that you deserved better and secretly wish he’d go beat him up to make you feel better.
My Dad stayed awake to make sure our dummies didn’t break as we slept in our cribs. The ever protective presence throughout child hood, but into my twenties my fathers protective shield around us began to crumble and fall down. He’s not there to change my punctured tyre anymore, or rescue me when I’m stranded in the snow, instead he got stranded in a place where we couldn’t get to him.
A few years ago, a container at his workplace arrived at the factory with an uneven load. The doors opened and before anyone knew what was happening, the blood from his head injury was staining the floor, air ambulance called, morphine administered. He had fallen six foot from the top of the ladder which was holding back the rest of the load of hundreds of one ton in weight palette trucks, the first of which knocked him over. He crushed his shoulder as he fell, suffered a concussion, hip and other wounds. He lay there until they lifted him into the air, listening half conscious to his co-workers debate on whether he was dead or not.
Long story short, he had to leave his job because of his injuries, has constantly been attending hospital appointments and having key hole surgeries since that day, has emphysema, diabetes and two walking sticks. My child hood hero is an old man, battered and broken, who I truly saw for the first time last night.
I was driving to pick him up from the hospital, feeling anxious about being able to find a parking space, as usual, not knowing what to expect, I walked in to find a man sitting hunched on a bed, red stained gown, covered in dressings, arm supported with a sling. My heart sunk but I covered it well with jokes and smiles. I had to dress him to get him ready to go home, he couldn’t do it himself with one numb arm and the other hand covered in cannulas.
I thought nothing at the time, just adopted the nurses way “come on then, hold your arm while I detach the sling, one foot first, now the next”, I could tell he hated it but I just got on with it as if I were the parent and he the child. Only after I had got him home and sat talking to him for an hour or so did I feel the sadness from having to dress my own father. I thought of my old uncles and my grandfather having to endure being taken care of by their children, my mother and cousins, before they passed away and I saw the future briefly as he said to me on the threshold “you shouldn’t have to do that but thank you”.
I walked to my car all smiles and waves and in the dark I empathised his shame, turned the keys and drove home in a silent car.
I think that each birthday that I resent getting older is not because I feel sorry for myself ageing, it’s that the older I get, the older he does and my mother the same. I don’t want to imagine the inevitable future without my parents and as time moves seemingly faster in that direction, I become more and more reluctant to see each year through.