You may not know my dad personally but, like, you KNOW my dad. Everyone knows my dad: red of head, big of belly, huge of heart. Yeah, you know him? My dad is every dad; every British dad, anyway. A GARLIC BREAD, talks-very-loudly-in-foreign-countries, asks for the bill by miming the act of writing on his hand. You’d like my dad. I like my dad. For the most part, however, I take my dad for granted. I assume that this astonishing human – an unparalleled grandad, who would wrap the moon in gold-leaf and present it to whichever of his grandchildren requested such a thing – will always be around, ready to take Ben to football, Frankie for a haircut, and Alice to the land of make-believe without a moment’s hesitation. He’s the king of all the grandads, my dad.
Did I mention that he’s invincible? Cos he is. My dad is sturdy and unbreakable, even when the universe tries to knock him from his feet, as it did in the early 1980s, when I was about six and he – god – he can’t have been much more than 30. He was a zookeeper, my dad, in charge of the birds, at a time when OH&S policies were scant, to the point that I was allowed to spend my school holidays in the aviaries at Perth Zoo. As dad jobs go, this was the coolest; there were always baby birds being hand-reared around our house, even – in my most popular week to date – a fairy penguin in the playroom.
And then, one afternoon, after he’d stayed late at work to catch a wombat, he was knocked off his motorbike. If you have to pinpoint the moment in my childhood when stability crumbled, this was it. He was in hospital for weeks – possibly months – and my only truly vivid memory is of the pliers he carried with him to cut the wire frame drilled into his face, on the occasion of a sneeze. (Come to think about it, he might have been taking the piss with regards to the pliers, just like when he used to tell my friends that “when he was a little girl, he was the skipping champion of all of England”, or the time he told me in a café that he’d forgotten his wallet, and we’d have to make a run for it, on the count of three …)
In the face of all that – his jaw being rebuilt, the nerves in his arm being reattached, his skipping career in tatters – he came back strong, sturdy and unshakeable, standing at my classroom door one afternoon after weeks away from home. That feeling – the disbelief, the profound relief – I can almost taste, now.
My dad was – as he is now – rock solid.
Last week, my dad (and my mum, for that matter) took us to Bali. Like, they actually TOOK us. I mean, they didn’t physically carry us, but they bought the tickets, booked the hotel, sorted all the insurance and even allocated the seats on the plane. As the perks of being an only child go, this was a doozy.
While we were there, my dad had a “funny turn”.
“Your dad had a bit of a funny turn,” mum muttered to me, when I asked why they hadn’t gone for dinner.
“Define funny turn,” I demanded.
“It was nothing,” dad chipped in.
“It was something,” mum added.
“DEFINE SOMETHING,” I said, Dr Google at the ready (thank you free hotel wi-fi).
“I just felt breathless and got a piercing headache,” dad said, in a curious and uncharacteristically honest admission.
“Has this happened before?”
“Oh,” he said, waving dismissively. “A couple of times.”
“Define a couple of times. HOW MANY TIMES HAS THIS HAPPENED? EXPLAIN THE SYMPTOMS TO ME.”
My dad – outnumbered by me and my mum – gave in, and explained that he’d been having one “funny turn” every couple of days, but that they were getting progressively worse.
“It’s just a virus,” he said, like a dickhead.
“Don’t be a dickhead,” I said.
I did, of course, google the shit out of dad’s symptoms, diagnosing angina and prescribing aspirin. The next morning, I scoured the hotel looking for a defibrillator, and lay on the sunbed (hard life) mentally going through the steps of CPR. I was ready.
I was also fucking relieved to get back on Perth soil.
We landed on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday afternoon, dad had another funny turn. On Wednesday evening, mum took him to hospital. By Thursday morning, he’d had one stent fitted in an artery that was as clogged as an artery could be. There remains a second, clogged artery that the incredible surgeon was reluctant to operate on, given that the first had nearly given up the ghost during the surgery. This artery will be treated with drugs and diet – the upside of this being that mum has donated all her sugary cereal to me. The kids – high on crunchy nut cornflakes and Alpen – think it’s fucking Christmas.
My dad is at home now – telling stories to Alice, taking the piss out of Frankie, adoring Ben – but I feel like he’s made of glass. My unbreakable dad is slightly chipped, and suddenly as precious as my nan’s commemorative Lady Di mug. This, I think, is good. It means that I’m not taking him for granted. I look at him, and see the four decades of love he’s bestowed on me, unconditionally and unsparingly. He has always – ALWAYS – been there, on the periphery, ready to catch me when I fall, which I do, often, and gracelessly. He’s selfless and solid, and we’re so lucky to have him and his skipping accolades. Love you, dad x