Celebrating Dad's 70th with my sisters
He hobbled his bulk towards my kitchen, at which point I suggested he might like to sit on a chair while I made his lunch, nonchalence carefully contrived to disguise my concern. Age is taking its toll on my Dad's stoutly gouty knees and after years of ignoring their pleas, they are fighting back, demanding their right to a peaceful retirement.
As he eased himself onto a chair, I busied myself about the kitchen. The twinkle in his eye was still very much in evidence, but I sensed age impinging on his mobility, frustrating his attempts to live life as he would choose. If the choice were still his own, I knew he would elect to live a life full to overflowing with the great outdoors he loved so much and when the need for company called to him, would relish the opportunity to flirt with the ladies, oil his joints with a decent bottle of red and dance the twist all night long.
As the cheese bubbled and browned on his toast, he told me indignantly that after his recent arthroscopy examination, the nursing staff attempted to encourage him to use a zimmer frame. He's an irascible old devil at the best of times, so sent them packing, leaving them in no uncertainty regarding his feelings on the matter. I smiled as, full of his usual bluff and bluster, he recounted his exploits, knowing without any doubt, he'd rather those pretty young nurses paid more attention to the twinkle in his eye, than to his recalitrant knees.
My father is a man who loves to talk and is at his most animated with an audience. With very little encouragement, he will capture his listener with flambuoyant tales and with every yarn he shares, zest for life bursts from him, painting pictures of his exploits in the brightest imaginable hues. In both stature and character Dad is an imposing man, commanding respect from all who meet him. He can be a hard man, a determined man, but always a fair man. Not one to fight shy of life, Dad has never hesitated to come out fighting whenever the world has dared to take him on.
As a father, he was a strict disciplinarian, but he was also the man who gathered all the local kids together, stacking them into his estate car to drive to the woods to find sand dunes, so we could all run, roll and rejoice in the fresh air. He would show us how to gather willow to weave baskets, how to bang nails into wood to create boats to float and how to find squirrels in those wonderful woodlands. He would take us blackberry collecting, bringing us home with buckets brimful of juicy fruit, purple faced and deliciously sticky. Heaven help us though when we misbehaved, then his roar would terrify us, sending us scattering for cover.
These days he visits when he can. It is always with the greatest of pleasure and pride that he enjoys the company of his grandchildren and in turn, they are intrigued by him and love his humour, greatly respecting the mischievous twinkle in his eye.
As he tucked into his lunch with gusto, I heard him ask his grandson, my nineteen year old son, how he was getting on at University. I waited with interest for the answer. It came openly and honestly as he shared his frustrations with his Grandad. With almost half a century between them, Dad gave him the sense of direction which I, as his so very responsible mother could not. "Don't waste a single day on anything in life that you hate," Dad advised, "...live a life you love and don't waste a single day."
I watched as the tension which had been tormenting my son for the past few weeks, left his face and later, as he waved goodby to his Grandfather, it was with the warmth of genuine respect and affection.
Written 25th August 2004
My Dearest Dad, I will miss you more than you'll ever know.