Always a bit strange, the 8th of July
Since this day in 2017, when my father died, I have struggled to make something of July 8. It’s not that I set any great store by memorial dates or things like that, it’s just that the day seems tinged with sadness and, worse, regret. It’s not that we were particularly close. He was not very good at sharing his feelings, at least not with me, and I spent a ridiculously large part of my early life craving approval and doing anything I thought would win it for me.
We got on well enough and we had a common love of football. I made the annual trek back to Liverpool to see him and the rest of the family from wherever I was residing. From 1988 when I left England for good until my most recent visit in December, I travelled back more than 30 times: from France and Germany and Canada and the USA and New Zealand and Canada again, year in, year out. Over the years, the visits were rarely reciprocated, and it seemed that if I wanted to see the family, I would get on a plane – or in the early years, four trains and a boat – and go to see them.
We always got on well when we saw each other, there was no awkwardness or discomfort, but I’d go away again and we’d go back to a phone call every week to ten days to two weeks, always me calling. Every now and again, I’d metaphorically stamp my feet and vow to wait it out till he called; I’d go a couple of weeks and then pick up the phone and call. “I was wondering where you were,” he’d say, with the television or the radio on in the background, loudly announcing its prior claim to his time, and we’d chat about this or that.
Occasionally, there would be breakthroughs, or so I thought. We’d end up having a real conversation about our feelings and the past. This would usually be after too many whiskies, sat in the armchairs, often on the night before I flew out. I’d think how much I liked that intimacy, that honesty. The admission of faults and mistakes. The stories from his childhood that every other family seemed to have passed down from generation to generation, like ripples spreading out over a giant pond. But after the breakthroughs, things would revert to their previous state; it was as if the waters had never been disturbed.
I lost my mother when I was 16 and have very few memories of her. Of my father, I have many more – and the fact that I do not have many more than that is down to my moving away as much as his unwillingness to reach out more. I eventually learned to just accept his partial presence in my life and accept him as he was. It made life easier, it meant that I expected less and was, therefore, less disappointed.
Now, I rarely think about the flaws in our relationship. Yet, as I sit here in the Ontario heat, three years to the day since he died with me by his side, watching the fireflies dance against the shadow of the lilac tree, it jumps to mind, unbidden, unnecessary.
He was my father, I loved him and still do. There are still times – when I tell my son of one of his foibles and am laughing – that I have the urge to pick up the phone and call. I don’t know why it was the way it was, but it bothered me a lot over the years and it was a mistake on his part. It is a mistake I will not make with my son.