As a child I feared my father. Not that he beat me, other than a smack around the backside from time to time, but because of his quick temper and aggressiveness when he got angry.
I remember my early childhood as being a mix of happiness when I was following what Dad thought I ought to; and of being absolutely terrified when he shouted and demanded that I did better at school or when I didn’t understand something as quickly as he did.
You see, my Dad was a very clever man in his younger days, and at a time in my home town when very few kids from the working class got much beyond a basic education. He won a scholarship to the most prestigious Grammar School in the city.
I guess because of that, when I or my mother couldn’t quite grasp things they way Dad did, it wasn’t long before the, “Don’t be stupid Graham”, or Don’ be stupid Betty” comments started flying around.
Being the oldest of two brothers – of course I was expected to show an example to my younger brother and when I didn’t, or couldn’t meet Dad’s expectations of brilliance, the shouting and arguing would start with my wonderful Mum trying to intervene.
When I was a teenager and was preparing for the exam that would determine what type of secondary schooling I would do – the pressure from Dad got worse. Every Sunday afternoon, out would come the examples of previous exams and Dad would make me do them until I got them right. By this time whenever Dad got angry because I didn’t understand some point – I knew that no matter what I said – it wouldn’t be right. So I just sat there with my head down and said nothing. Naturally, this used to infuriate Dad even more so the cycle went on and on.
As an adult now, my Dad no longer terrifies me, but he does have a similar effect on my oldest daughter Rachel, who finds it very difficult to talk to him when he gets angry and my wife Sue also finds it very difficult to talk to Dad from time to time because he is always right.
Now my Dad is lying in the palliative care ward of my local hospital in the terminal stages of cancer of the lungs, liver, bladder and he had a kidney removed for cancer last year and I don’t know how I really feel.
There have been times in my life when I have hated him for the way that he bullied Mum verbally and even when she was dying of throat cancer herself, how he tried to force her to eat when it physically made her sick. How at times in the last couple of years when he has been ill that I have thought that it would be good if he had died in surgery.
And yet, watching him now as he nears the end of his life, and listening to him trying to talk in between the drug induced sleepiness. I have come to realise a little about what motivated him.
Dad was a true Yorkshireman in that the family was what counted first and foremost. As I listened to his apologies to me for making me do all that extra school work and getting mad at me – I started to understand that he was just scared of me not having more than he had. He wanted me to have a better education so that my choices would be better than his generations were. I have come to realise that he did love me but his upbringing made it difficult to show his emotions during those years.
As he got older Dad did mellow a little compared to his younger days, especially after Mum died and he realised what a wonderful gem she had been.
So the tug of emotions continues. I see him there, as helpless as a child; with almost everything having to be done for him and feel love for him. Then I remember how I felt about him in the past and feel angry at his actions, and then guilty for feeling that way about some one soon to die.
In the end I feel numb – alternating between breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably and then feeling almost as if it was all just one of my vivid dreams. All normal reactions? Probably, I am just thankful for ‘Doctor Medication’ who evens out a lot of what I am feeling.
Is this article one about bipolar? Probably not in the strictest sense. Just a story about some one who has it, trying to make sense of something that we all will have to face at some point in our lives.
Writing this has helped me come to terms a little with my Dad, perhaps it may help in similar situations for someone else. I realised that If I did not try to come to some understanding and reconcilation with Dad – I would be the greatest loser and miss a chance to help heal myself.
Thank you for reading this on my behalf – please don’t miss a chance yourself if it comes your way.
8 June 2003
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