One of the cruelties of losing a parent at a young age is the opportunity to discover their individuality is gone. They are forever fixed in the parent persona.
Today is the fortieth anniversary of my father’s sudden death. I’ve never been able to ignore this anniversary, not least because it marks the day my childhood ended. Despite now being in my fifties, at times of extreme difficulty, I speak to the black and white photo I have of my parents taken on their wedding day and ask them: “If you have any influence, wherever you are now, help me, please.”
That embarrassing admission shows how, when life is challenging, no matter how old we are, there’s often still a yearning for Mum and Dad to sort it all out.
As children, we suppose our parents know the answers to everything – I certainly didn’t realise Dad was still learning himself until he returned from a business trip to Moscow when I was about six and I asked him to speak to me in Russian. When he told me he couldn’t do that, I simply asked him to speak to me in Chinese instead. Sensing my disappointment in his linguistic abilities, Dad saved the day by offering to show me how to write the Russian alphabet, although he likely made up most of the letters on the spot.
For the past five years, I’ve been older than Dad ever lived to be.
I’m older than my dad! Is it strange how his influence still informs the way I think and behave in a world he wouldn’t recognise? Probably not. While I’ve had to stick the memories others have of my dad to my own memories in order to find his true character, his essence is with me in his moral code and values. I look up to him and often ask myself what he would think. I imagine he would be intrigued by the Mac I’m typing at now when the computer he grappled with in the ’70s filled a room. I expect he would marvel at the mobile phones we carry, having begun his career as a telephone engineer.
On reaching the age of sixty, my elder brother told me how he still follows Dad’s guidance by striving to be the son he would have been proud of. Perhaps it’s easier for Marcus to imagine Dad’s responses to all those achievements and milestones because of the brief friendship they shared as Marcus began maturing into a young man – before it suddenly stopped.
But no matter how hard my brother tries, and no matter how good we are, we’ll never get Dad back.
He’s still my senior, above me in the family hierarchy which may seem odd now that I’m a nana and at the generational top of my own family. We are still connected and there are many times connections are made. Today I had a look online at the Russian alphabet. The word ‘Nana’ translates as ‘Dad’ and I’m happy to have learned that today.