Today I outlive my father

Self: M.C. Escher

This blog was actually written for a podcast that I did for an Internet radio station. I am somewhat surprised that I wrote it back in July 2010, some five years ago. As I read it again now, and edit it to be read here rather than heard on the podcast, it has resonances for me and especially as new events bring these thoughts into sharper focus.

You can hear the original podcast here.

Today is April 13th.

Today is an anniversary. Well, in all honesty - it was when I began to think and write this piece. And so it isn’t as I re-read it - and in fact it’s way beyond April 13th as you are reading it. However, an anniversary.

Not one of a great event in history. But in 2010 today April 13th there is one that is special to me. It’s not a birthday or the day someone died and neither is it something I have done. No.

And then the world intrudes. As one Prime Minister replied when asked about the things that he worried about “Events, dear boy, events.” Events at work, at home and all over the world; a general election, a cloud of volcanic ash, some airline strike action, the continuing doom and gloom over the country’s deficit, the need to make a living.

All go to distract me from the anniversary.

And another piece of news, my husband’s father is very ill. He is taken into hospital and then into a hospice. He has lung cancer and heart problems. Suddenly the grand, the immense, the broad issues of the day become eclipsed by the small, the intense, the personal. I am brought back to my anniversary – now somewhat receding behind me, I realise.

Other issues intrude, more immediate concerns.

I am asked to pen some thoughts about our election result – we were not at all certain when we talked about the final result how to respond to the new hung, balanced some would say, Parliament.

On May 6th, election day, news comes that my husband’s (Xander) father is fading fast and we need to fly to Glasgow that night if we are to see him at all. After further updates and consultation we actually fly a day later on the Saturday. He is stable, conscious and actually quite bright. We relax. One father, although not fully well and not likely to be so again, still lives.

I am reminded that weekend that I missed my anniversary. Maybe it wasn’t so important after all. I’ve called this blog post “Who do I think I am?” after the TV series of a similar name. It provides a focus for what was my anniversary.

What was my anniversary?

On the 11th of March 1926 my father was born – well that happens to us all. Then on 3rd of October 1975, just 11 days after my 15th birthday, he died. This means that on the day he died he reached the age of 49 years 6 months and 23 days. I began to think about this and write this blog post on April 13th – 49 years, 6 months and 23 days since I was born.

On April 13th 2010 I outlived my father.

My first realisation was the difference between my father’s life and my own.

In 1926:

Television was first demonstrated by Baird

Puccini's opera "Turandot," premiered in Milan

In British general strike three million workers supported the miners

Russian Politburo threw out Leo Trotsky & his followers

Agatha Christie went missing

And of course a decade or so later my father and millions of others lived through the Second World War.

More scarily for me at this age, my age now, he had five children and had taken a job abroad in The Netherlands. He had, to use a phrase that was a favourite of one of the last Conservative Party Ministers, got on his bike and found a job – in another country.

He was the sole breadwinner, to use a very old expression, for 6 people other than himself.

In my life there is only my husband and me and we have direct responsibility for each other. We both work and we have connections that my father could only dream of. Actually, in this case that is not quite true. Given that my father designed orbiting satellites for the European Space Agency, that you can actually read this bog post around the world is a direct result of his work – or at the very least his profession.

I feel sadness that he isn’t here and that we haven’t been able to talk, to share our experiences and learn from one another. I don’t know what his views would be of my sexuality and the life I have created. My mother – still very much alive at 80 years 5 months and a day – has told me that the issue was never discussed that she can remember.

I passed a marker that day although the exact nature of it still eludes me. The sensation is one of difference where perhaps I want there to be similarity. Certainly the world is very different. Perhaps the marker is one of simply the need to take stock. My father died 35 years ago and I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye or indeed anything. Not that we parted on bad or upset terms. Just that his death was unexpected, unforeseen, sudden.

Xander has had the good fortune to make peace with both his parents.

And events intervene.

We are in a shop in Kingston, the hospice calls. We need to get there quickly as Xander’s father is close to death. Well, he is in Glasgow and we are in deepest Surrey. We hurry home, thrown some things into a bag and jump in the car and Xander drives. Just south of Birmingham I take a phone call that tells me Xander’s father has died.

I have to tell my husband that his father is dead.

We continue to Glasgow, to support his mother and spend the rest of the week planning the funeral – which happens seven days later. So thoughts and comments about travellers delayed by a cloud of volcanic ash, our new coalition Government, that summer seems finally to have arrived – are on pause.

This is an interlude for me, a time for reflection, reappraisal perhaps. Certainly time to let the world go on its own way for a while without me.

Now I am older than my father reached and Xander’s father has died. Xander has 41 years to live before he outlives his father whereas I am at an age my father never reached.

Its time for me to consider:-

Just who do I think I was intended to be, who might I have become, who do I think I am?

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