It is fourteen years since my Dad died.
Fourteen years. I can’t believe I have spent all that time on this earth without him, as it just doesn’t seem possible. I still haven’t really got used to the idea that he isn’t around. I often find myself thinking that I must tell him of a funny event that I know he would appreciate and then suddenly remember that he just isn’t here to tell, and each time it’s like the wind has been knocked out of me. He was so wise and I used to ask him for advice all the time. Even now, I feel lost when I realise he isn’t around to double check something with.
One of my favourite photos is one of him with me when I was a baby. It was taken in the park and I am on a blanket on the grass with him looking at me as he is lying next to me on his side with his protective arm over me. The love, amusement concern and wonder in his face is all evident and after he died, I couldn’t stop looking at it. And it still moves me now.
As an only child, I was always going to be his princess. There is something special about growing up knowing that you are so adored. It’s probably what has given me a certain level of confidence.
He cultivated that even further by putting me on the stage. Such an unusual thing for an Indian father to do but he loved the theatre and knew it would be right for me so he signed me up to our local amateur group when I was just eight or nine. As I was the only youngster in the company, there was often a part for me and he would watch the productions proudly from the audience, and then collect the newspaper clippings and photos into his special file.
He was so laid back and rarely got angry. Even when Mum was kicking off or I was having a temper tantrum, he always just stayed calm and refused to rise to either of us.
He was well-respected, incredibly popular and generous to the extreme. Our house was always full of people. Mum made fantastic food and he always had a full drinks cabinet which was very popular with his guests. He was a great storyteller and I have great memories of watching on, as the people around him fell about with laughter.
We did a lot of things together when I was young. There were frequent visits to the swings at the park where we’d also feed the ducks, and on a Saturday afternoon, we always watched the wrestling together and he used to laugh as I’d scream for Big Daddy or Giant Haystacks to win.
But most of all we talked. Through the years, I used to love telling him things and I would make a big dramatic story of everything, complete with different voices and accents. I could always make him laugh even while he was rolling his eyes and begging me to please, just get to the point. And if I told a story in company, he would listen rapt, as if he’d never heard the tale before!
I only ever wanted his approval and so tried never to behave in a way that could let him down. As a result, my teenage rebellion never really happened, even though I longed to be out at parties or off with unsuitable boys!
He suffered from asthma and bronchitis from birth but when he came to London (from south India) in the early sixties, the climate here seemed to cure it completely. For a few years he was fine, and then he got caught in a thick pea-soup fog which were so common back then. He was wandering the streets for hours, trying to find his way, and was eventually found by a policeman collapsed, literally yards from home. That brought his illness back with a vengeance then, but he managed it pretty well for a couple of decades.
When I was in my early twenties, he had a major attack which left him in intensive care. It was touch and go for a while but he pulled through. After that, he was a different man – very careful and much more spiritual and still wonderful. He was never really well again though and would often succumb to terrible attacks which would put him in hospital for weeks at a time. The doctors told him that his lung capacity was dangerously low and he knew, though he never told us, that there was every chance that his next attack could be his last.
My mother always said she was lucky to have married such a “handsome” man which made me laugh, especially while I watched him style his Reg Varney hair!! But then, I married a man pretty similar to him. Kind, quiet and totally encouraging – but minus the Brylcreem! In fact, they got on very well together and I would often hear my dad warn him not to let me get my own way – much to my frustration!
I think it was my children that kept him going for so long. He absolutely adored them and was the perfect grand-dad. I still spend a lot of time watching home videos of them climbing all over him, even though he could barely breathe, and him making them laugh. They both still remember him and how he always had sweets for them. I know for a fact that he would be unspeakably proud of them now.
Fourteen years ago, he had a major attack which was so bad that the doctors decided to sedate and ventilate him so that his lungs could get a rest as the machine breathed for him. He was in that state for over three weeks and it soon became clear that his lungs just weren’t strong enough to support him any more. On the 9th June 1999 at 4pm, his body finally gave up and he slipped away. We were all there with him. My mum was so strong and prayed for him as he went, while I held tightly on to his hand, making sure my tears were silent and dignified, just as he would have wanted.
God, I miss him. I really miss him. He shaped me as a person and loved me for who I was and I was so privileged to have him as a father. I feel overwhelmed with grief all over again now just from writing this because I realise, that whatever anyone promised me, it really hasn’t got any easier over the years.
I still wish that he was right here with me, making everything better.