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To Dance with my Father Again

This week, I dug out a blog post that I wrote about my Dad a couple of year's ago. He's been on my mind a lot recently. Memories of him and his struggle with dementia floated in and out of my mind this year, as my novella 'Unravelling' was taking shape. I guess the ones we have lost are always floating around our minds in one way or another, influencing our thoughts, popping into our heads - sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Triggers can come in different forms - a smell, a place once visited together, a saying, a tune. All can be evocative and all quite powerfully so. Along with that comes those moments when you wish you could just tell them one more thing, ask their advice or walk by their side once more to take in the view. This week, I would love to have shown him my work, my writing and to hear what he thought about it. I hope he would have been proud.

I’m not sure I’m ready to write this as I sit this crisp, cold autumn morning, thinking of the subject matter. This week sees the 6th anniversary of my Dad’s death and I have spent this weekend trawling through old photographs which has been a bitter sweet experience. It became obvious that I don’t have many photos of my Dad and I suppose there were several reasons for this. My early childhood pictures were mainly of myself and my brother, or some included my Mum - I suppose that Dad was behind the camera. Later pictures rarely had him feature as he was always more comfortable in the background of events. That all said, it was therefore a treat to find the few snaps that we did and to glimpse the hidden memories from the past.

An unassuming man, Dad worked hard to make our lives better and mostly left us to follow our own interests, just as he was free to follow his own interest in athletics and walking. When you’re a child you don’t think to ask your parents how they are feeling or what they would like to do. You just spend your time demanding things from your parents without any consideration of their wishes. Yet, looking back, we did spend many a Saturday ‘helping’ Dad at his athletics club, so perhaps he did have time for himself.

For many years Dad liked a beer or two, or maybe more, on a regular basis. In the days when he was still teaching it was acceptable for staff to pop out for a pub lunch and a swift pint on a Friday lunchtime, before returning to lead lessons in the afternoon. The educational landscape has changed dramatically since and there wouldn’t be time now to get to the pub and back, let alone consume anything and let’s leave any moral issues about alcohol consumption by those in positions of authority to one side!

Our Sunday habits involved walking and a pub too. Dad would take us out for a walk, time in a park usually, whilst Mum cooked the Sunday lunch. I remember with fondness sitting outside the pub with a bottle of coke and a packet of crisps that we had added salt to, from a little blue bag. After returning home and eating our roast dinner, Dad would doze off on the sofa - sleeping off the beer and roast potatoes!

The few photos that we did find were mostly linked to athletics and walking. Dad with his stop watch in hand, ready to be official timekeeper at a race meeting at Battersea Park or Crystal Palace, or a few with him in his full running outfit at the end of a race - clearly not looking his best. The walking pictures were usually from our family holidays on the Isle of Wight. We used to joke that we could only go somewhere exciting if we could walk there first! Often we would walk 5 miles or more to our destination but that was all part of the experience - climbing styles, avoiding nettles and cows in a farmer’s field, trying to negotiate a cliff path that was perilously close to a sheer drop!

As I grew older I know that I felt closer to Mum, than Dad. Perhaps that’s a girl thing? Girly shopping outings as a teenager replaced by conversations on common ground about married life and then childbirth and raising toddlers. These phases are where I didn’t think to include my Dad more.

All too soon, he had suffered a stroke which brought on dementia and it was too late then to ask him meaningful questions. Adopting the role of carer with him, those were the times when Dad was in the room but spiritually elsewhere. Memories were often discussed with close family or friends at this time, with Dad sat alongside, out of a need to try to include him and in the vague hope that a shared memory would bring him some comfort or respite from his daily anxieties at the time.

There’s a line from the show ‘Blood Brothers’ referring to the character’s mind going dancing. Perhaps by this time, Dad’s mind was dancing, or in his case running a marathon. I wish I could remember a time when we had danced together though and think of the song lyric with pangs of regret. So, make the most of your time: sing, dance, laugh, walk up a hill together and take photos to share - not of stuff, instagrammable meals and landscapes, but of people who matter, all of them.

This photo was one of the treasured memories found in our search - Dad rowing my brother and I on a boating lake in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight during the 1970s. I'm the one in the stripey top. Happy family memories.

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