Today is a very special day for all things fatherhood.
“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.” (Bob Marley)
On the 27th July 2004, I was 5 days into a 6-week holiday in Thailand, when I received a phone-call from my sister-in-law. My father had passed away. I was currently on the idyllic island of Koh Chang, 3 hours east of Bangkok and could never have been further away from paradise. Several hours before this news, I have a photograph of myself sitting on the beach; in this image, I can see anguish etched across my face as I prepared myself for the inevitable. *(I will post this picture soon.)
To psychologists, my depiction of this moment, second-by-second, is what is called a ‘flashbulb memory‘.
(n.b. I will be discussing this soon and how it can translate to the classroom.)
The journey home was epic. I had to endure a long and lonely 12-hour flight home to the UK to be with my family. My flashbulb memory recalls the finer details of the boat journey back to the mainland; the flight delay; the conversations with a security guard at customs; the drive from London to Manchester and so forth. The odd sensation is this; I always feared this would happen. Throughout my thirties, jetting off to more than 40+ countries was my favourite pastime. As my father became increasingly ill, there was always a small chance of calling a halt to a trip overseas. I accepted this risk, but ‘being away’ at this moment, subconsciously aggravates me.
My father certainly died far too young. He was 62 and he spent the last 10 years of his life in and out of hospital for various complications. What took him away so early, wasn’t the heart attack he suffered 10 years earlier; or the broken hip from being increasingly frail; nor the thousands of pills and pokes, or even the second heart operation years later. In fact it was septicaemia, a life-threatening infection he picked up from being ‘in hospital’. This transition from life to death was very quick. It was a matter of 2-3 days from first being admitted to hospital and less than 24 hours from when I first heard he was ‘not going to make it’.
Dealing with my father’s bereavement was difficult, but returning back to the classroom in September was even harder! It proved to be one of the toughest moments in my career and I found it excruciating to remain motivated to do anything for the entire academic year. I recall July 2004 vividly. Within the space of one month, I had experienced a significant career-high, only to be dropped back down to reality within a matter of 3 weeks. I will always recall the elation and immediate shift from exaltation at the Teaching Awards, to depression within a matter of weeks. If I look back on this period, I unknowingly was suffering from depression and really did nothing about it, apart from lock myself away and get on with completing my masters degree! It was even harder knowing my whole family were 200 miles away …
Having my own son in my life, I see my father in me. Living life with Freddie stirs up many wonderful memories of my father, Hugh McGill. The trauma of Freddie’s fight for life, and the past 3 years has put life into perspective again. Enduring redundancy, childcare, as well as the highs and lows of living with a premature baby has certainly proved to be a challenging chapter in life and in education. You can read my fatherhood blog here.
“Did I ever tell you?”
… I cannot express verbally, the great start in life my father gave me, but hope that my words below do it justice. I wrote this for his funeral on 30th July 2004 and I hope it may give you a reflection, ‘on all things fatherhood’. Apologies in advance as the ode may only make sense to me and family.
Did I ever tell you about my four boys and how they came to be?
A story of two boxers, a spectator and a referee.
Or of the ‘McGill band’ live on stage, you know? The concert in Dundee.
Were you there? Did you hear? I don’t know, (short pause) did you see?
Watch me flex my muscles; I’ll stare at you to raise a smile.
Or poke your ribs; change channel, to annoy you once in a while…
I liked to arrange tinned fruit in Tesco’s; quite strange I know you’d agree.
It was all for good reason my son; a moral tale, you wait and see.
Did you see my magic show? With ‘Spot the dog’, and the ‘Blue pom-pom’.
Or hear my famous “piff, paff, poof!”; you’d say “Dad’s cut off my arm!”…
Did you ever watch our puppet plays; miming to songs that would ache your arms?
You would always stand behind the screen and act with childlike charm.
You remember that morning at Dixon’s? I’d just stand there; you embarrassed of me?
Just to make sure I had made my point, we left by half-past three…
Funny haircuts once in a while; baked beans on my plate, “Oh no, not me!”
A glass of Iron-Bru; but why the half cup of tea?
Remember that orange Chrylser-Apline, or when I placed you on my knee?
‘Sound’s like a sport’s car’ I said, as we sped off to see Dundee F.C…
How about when I dressed up like Santa? Just to keep your dreams alive;
Or how we sang to Rudolph and wrote ‘Dear Santa, how we wish for five‘.
Remember when you tied my lace, we’d play and fight at monopoly (ee).
Watch me build my wooden boat, oh, how you’d laugh at me.
A camping trip and a day away, eating fish and chips by the sea;
Or how about a mass brawl we’d have on mum’s new soft settee.
Oh, how I loved my gadgets, but Brian, I could never work that CD-ROM;
And just remember my desk drawer boys, is not for you, but mom…
‘At home with Hugh and Sheila’, we didn’t quite make that gold L.P.
But least you’ll have my tenor voice to sing to, when you have that McGill jamboree.
Did I ever tell you, I’m just a practical joker? A Tommy Cooper for the Sally Army (ee).
Who’d sometimes stare, scream or smile and leave you thinking; he’s scary! (ee)…
Watch me dance, laugh or sing and D.J. like an M.C;
Just to entertain myself, my four boys, I know you’re just like me.
You are always with me father. Such a brave, strong, man with a humour, envious to many. You have given me a beautiful life filled with opportunities that are rarely matched. Your daily values are part of my every walking step. With warmth, a smile and my deepest love. Happy Fathers Day. Ross.