Originally posted 21st December 2017
Yesterday, I was driving back to Kent to pick up Mum (she's staying with us for Christmas) listening to You and Yours, where they were talking about the 'gift of time'. Inevitably, this made me think of those occasions when time really has been a gift, and of course, the first memory to awaken was when, after 18 years, I got to spend Christmas Day with my Dad. The 25th December 2014 was bitter-sweet, for whilst it was my first time spending the festival with my Dad and his family, we all knew that this Christmas would be my Dad's last.
By coincidence, I happened to pull over at a rest stop on the M3 just as Winifred, the presenter of You and Yours was asking for listeners' experiences of the gift of time. I thought about Dad, and that Christmas, and decided 'why not?' so texted in a brief summary of the story. To my delight, right at the end of the program, Winifred read out my text! I was awash with emotion, all those feelings of 2014 came rushing back, and a mixture of tears and smiles adorned my face as I remembered that happy day. It seemed a fitting tribute to my Dad, especially given the time of year.
Needless to say, my Mum was very proud, and did the very mum-thing of informing all the contacts in her address book about my monumental life achievement of having a text read out on Radio 4.
Later in the day, to my utter surprise, I received a message from the producer at You and Yours informing me that they had found my text so moving, that they'd like to interview me to find out more about the story.
Within 30 minutes of arriving at my Mum's, I found myself sitting on the stairs, chatting to Winifred Robinson about my Dad, his alcoholism, the divorce, and our last Christmas. Talk about surreal, going from stop-start traffic on the M25 to speaking to a national treasure, within the space of an hour! There was no time to feel nervous, I just spoke, truthfully and openly.
My relationship with my Dad was a tricky one, and I guess it is only now, with the passage of time, that I'm able to reflect back. My Dad certainly had his demons, which in part shaped the person I am today, but with the benefit of time, I've come to realise that no parent in the superhero their child believes them to be, alcohol wasn't my Dad's cryptonite. Rather my Dad, like us all, was a fallible human being, with his weaknesses, but also with his unique gifts.
As the child of an alcoholic , I never thought I'd have a meaningful relationship with my Dad, something which hurt every time I saw my friends with their fathers. So when, aged 18, I found my Dad, now sober, making tentative steps to re-enter my life, I was confronted with a mixture of suspicion, confusion, and hope. Over the following years, I was able to get to know my Dad, live experiences with him, and discovered a shared passion for Doctor Who.
Christmas Eve 2014: receiving the news that my Dad was going to die very soon, was absolutely devastating. It felt like some warped soap-opera story line: after years of longing, I was finally able to enjoy having a Dad, and now he was being snatched away from me by the unfeeling, uncaring disease of cancer.
I didn't feel anger, just shear, raw devastation. My Dad had battled his alcoholic demons, and had won. He'd built a new life for himself and his new family, and finally, for the first time, he had pride in himself; I had pride in him. He didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve to die when he'd just started to live.
I remember standing at the sink doing the washing up, my tears mixing with the bubbles of the water. Radio 4 was on and the news program was talking about the aftermath of the devastating bin lorry crash which had killed a number of people, including a teacher, in Glasgow. As I was watching the swirling soap suds, it occurred to me that those poor families never got to say goodbye to their loved ones before their lives were taken, gone within a blink of an eye. My Dad was dying, but at least I knew. We had time to talk, time to listen, and most importantly, time to say goodbye.
On Christmas Eve 2014, my Dad and I received a treasured gift, one that still touches my life and enriches my thoughts. Whilst the rest of the country was preparing to exchange presents under the tree, Dad and I received perhaps the greatest gift of all, the gift of time.
My interview for You and Yours was broadcast today on BBC Radio 4. A recording of the programme is available online:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09jbsjk with my interview beginning at 34.13.
Last year I set up this fundraising page in support of the charity Macmillan Cancer Support, who took such great care of my Dad. If you'd like to donate, then please follow this link (the donation page was set up prior to me getting married, so is under my maiden name).