Laying Joseph in his cot I was struck once more by his resemblance to my father, his grandfather. There, in miniature, were the lively almost mischievous eyes, lit with laughter from some private joke he could never share. The smile Joseph beamed at me as I zipped up his sleep bag and tickled his feet through its quilting was totally Dad, warm and embracing. I kissed my little boy on the forehead and turned to go, my head filled with thoughts of my father.
Thoughts of how his hand felt to hold when I was a boy, the skin rough with hard work, the fingers strong and inescapable. His deep voice would carry through the house, the one sound that would rouse me from my daydreaming and play, sending me scurrying downstairs for tea. The smell of his cigarettes were reassuring back then, a warm woody smell that always made me feel safe as I cuddled into his tall wide frame.
I remembered the jobs he had, so many of them, none of them anything close to what you could describe as career progression; shop keeper, TV technician, taxi driver, ice cream man to name but a handful. As a boy I marvelled at the changing nature of my Dad’s jobs, always half anticipating he would come home as something new and exciting. While other boys’ fathers worked the same boring job year in year out, it seemed as if, with Dad, that anything was possible.
He was taller than most of my friend’s dads and even when I finally grew past his height, an achievement that made him proud where lesser men might have been envious, he still seemed a giant to me. Even in middle age my father managed to maintain the illusion of being bigger than life, like a mythic figure both all powerful and immortal. Which might explain why he kept his diagnosis from me for so long, a last show of strength to protect me from the inevitable.
It took a long time to forgive him for that, for my missing the first years of his illness, yet he dealt with that in much the same way as anything in life that caused him heartache, with wisdom and with music. It was a quiet night, Mum was at work late and I was on Dad duty, by now he was too ill to be left alone. He put a CD on and shuffled off upstairs to bed.
At the door he turned and simply said, ‘This is for you.’
He had chosen the song carefully knowing it would fill me with a real understanding of his imminent death making all my petty anguishes irrelevant. I ran upstairs, taking them two at a time, and caught him on the landing as he came out of the toilet. He smiled as he saw me, told me he was sorry too as I held him hard enough to keep him with me forever.