Life after Bobby: Proud Dads

I’ve been grinning to myself all day today, for two reasons. Firstly because Social Care Curry Club was featured in the Guardian; ok so it wasn’t in print it was online on their Social Care Network pages but I’m delighted that it’s got some recognition and yet more support. We’ve been brilliantly lucky that people have done so much to promote, share and attend the curry club and make something of it. So that accounts for half my demonic grinning.

The rest of the grinning, is related a little and followed on from a conversation I had with my Mum. First some context, once the article had hit my twitterstream I sent Mum a link, it was one of those bitter-sweet moments where I just wished I could tell Dad about it too. I’m not one for believing in life after death, I find it hard to attribute a narrative of Dad being somewhere, well anywhere except in the spare room at our family home where his ashes currently sit waiting to be scattered!! I understand why people talk to dead relatives, I understand why my sister has a narrative of Grandad being a star for her three year old, but I try to avoid getting caught in it.

All of that said I haven’t stopped thinking about Dad since he died, I play over his responses to questions in my head and I curse him out loud occasionally, but I have tended to keep things mostly silent. Except today. Today I kept chuckling to myself, actually laughing out loud (Mogs was beginning to look seriously worried), at the conversation I had with my Mum. She said how much she’d enjoyed reading the Guardian article and that she was proud of the efforts I had put into it. Quite nice to hear, but she then added on, ‘and your Dad would have been proud of you too, very proud’.

At which point my brain went into overdrive reminiscing of the many, many times that my Dad had been proud of me. Or my brother, sister, Mum, friends, family, one of his cadets, the dog – you name it, my Dad found it easy for his heart to swell with pride. Bobby was severely dyslexic and left school with only rudimentary basics of literacy and numeracy and not too much self confidence when it came to things to do with books. As a child many a summers day turned into an almighty sulk from me as he chastised me for ‘having my nose in a book’ and forced me outside into the fresh air to play; he was proud as punch when I passed my 11+ but so was I, only two of us from my primary school went to the local grammar school so I thought that was deserving pride. My teenage years passed by, I left school after average to good GCSEs, Dad was exceedingly proud, I felt like I could have done better, a pattern to repeat itself two years later with A-Level results. By now of course I was full speed ahead on adolescent angst and the desire to leave home and ‘become independent’, so my Dad’s pride was just another mild irritation.

Fast forward three years and I was the first person in my family to receive a degree. This called for almighty levels of embarrassing pride, unseen and unknown to me before. As I look back now it made perfect sense, this was a man who left school unable to read and write properly, under a childhood mantle of being called stupid. Here I was, his daughter, 50% his genetic stock, graduating. I realise now that his pride at my graduation was partly about me, but also a large part of it was about him. I don’t have many regrets but if I could turn the clock back I would have been more gracious on my graduation day. Instead I spent the whole day being embarrassed by my Dad who walked around Cardiff like I was the only person graduating. He failed to notice the students getting PhDs, Masters level qualifications, 1st class degrees, it was all about my 2:1. He was desperate for a photo but I have always hated having my photo taken and just wasn’t in the mood; the last thing I wanted to do was pose for graduation photos outside St David’s Hall!! So there are one or two tense photos from that day but still somehow my Dad’s chest was swollen for a month or two more than usual that year. I know he was stupidly proud because Mark B, a postman colleague of Dad’s congratulated me on my degree as I walked past him on the way to town a few weeks later. Mortified I returned home and lambasted Dad for being so embarrasing, a familiar lament from my adolescent and young adulthood.

Fast forward four more years and I was back at Cardiff but this time with spectacular robes, a great big burgundy affair. After years of genuine hard work and toil I was to become Dr Julian. I’m sure you don’t need me to explain, whatever you imagine times it by a hundred, this was full scale nuclear alert levels of pride radiating from my Dad. While at times my Mum appeared to be more enamoured by the fact that Huw Edwards was to be awarded an honorary doctorate (he’s the lovely Welsh news reader on BBC), my Dad was almost fit to burst that I was getting my PhD. That day was full of photos, I felt almost as proud as Dad, I’d worked bloody hard and it was a long old slog and I felt like I deserved it. I’d also become somewhat more self aware since then, and far more aware of my Dad, so we took photos every other step of the way. I can’t find one right now but I will at a later date and I’ll add it on later. For that day at least I wasn’t embarrassed by Dad being proud, I shared in it with him.

This aint no fairy story though and a few weeks later he was still telling everyone we met ‘of course Georgina is now a doctor’ – factually correct if somewhat a little misleading; and bloody irritating that when he was most proud he’d use my full name. So we had words, I acknowledged his pride but tried to explain he didn’t need to tell every one. I was wasting my breath.

Fast forward another five years and Dad had just received his cancer diagnosis. At this point, on occasion, we colluded. Dad became aware very quickly that if he dropped into conversation that his daughter was a doctor (again, factually correct if somewhat a little misleading), people would take a little longer to explain things, they were a tiny bit more aware. I was also always fascinated by his obs. and would walk in, pick up the clipboard chart at the end of his bed and have a good old nose (even if you don’t know what the numbers mean you can spot unusual patterns quickly enough), I was never once challenged even though I saw others being told off that it wasn’t for looking at – I only assume that was because the minute my back was turned Dad would be telling everyone, the consultant, doctors, nurses, cleaners and tea ladies that his daughter was a doctor.

So why am I recalling all of this today, and why the laughter. I guess because I know Dad would be proud about Social Care Curry Club. I know he’d be proud that I left work (he knew I was working my last week when he died). I was invited to be a Visiting Fellow at LSE the last week that Dad was conscious, even as his health was failing him you could see his chest swell, it seemed that pride increased his lung capacity whatever else was going on.

I keep laughing as I imagine who he’d be telling, and how much his pride would distort the truth. I’m completely confident that if my Dad was alive he’d be giving the impression that I was having curry at Downing Street, sharing a peshwari naan with Norman Lamb and David Cameron, advising them on what they should do with the social care system. I’m also confident he’d be making bad jokes about curry for months to come. The laughter is a release in a way, I know I’d be as mortified now as I was on every previous occasion, having a parent who is embarrassingly proud is, without putting too fine a point on it, embarrassing!!

It is also deeply satisfying to know through my core that my Dad would be proud, to still feel that, to laugh about it and to enjoy it without him. If you have an embarrassing parent, enjoy them while you can, none of us know how many times more they’ll be around to mortify us in front of our friends and family, so as uncomfortable as it feels allow yourself a tiny break from the disdain to acknowledge their pride and belief in you. If you’re an embarrassing Dad, keep at it, do your worst, make your offspring recoil with embarrassment at your unreserved pride; one day they’ll thank you for it.

Me and DadThe photo is a very proud Daddy with a very little me!!

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6 thoughts on “Life after Bobby: Proud Dads

  1. Lovely post, George. Lovely? Because it’s not just a post about you but about my own mum and dad and me as a dad too.

    My Mum died of cancer nine years ago. Six weeks before my first child died. Part of the solid oak frame of my whole world that I’d thought would always be in place slowly disappeared out of view. I’d have been less shocked if the hill I see outside our window every day when I walk up stairs had not decided to get up and walk off.

    When I was a student in Newcastle-upon-Tyne mum used to send me letters every week. Sometimes there was a parcel too with a pair of gloves in if she’d seen a particularly cold weather forecast.

    I used to keep those letters safe knowing intuitively that these snippets would be irreplacable when she was dead and gone.

    She threw them out when I was a few years older and I’ve never been more angry about anything in my entire life.

    Thing is, now she isn’t here I don’t really need them. I just think of what she’d be thinking or be saying and I can feel it in my bones much clearer than a letter or a telephone call.

    I’ve got a black moleskine at home where I try and write down something that the children do and say so I can look back and jog my memory. But most of all it’s so they both of them know how proud I was to be their dad,.But maybe if I do a good job they’ll know how proud of them I am of them. Same as you know your dad was of you too.

  2. I’m struggling here to find the words to do justice to my admiration for you. Probably because I remember that brash girl who hated to be complimented and praised and lived in the “real world” whereas I always felt like pink candytuft around you – even though I was older than you. You always said it “how it was”a nd you are still doing it now, but with a humility and insight into your dad that is admirable. We can never go back and change our actions and reactions, but trust me – a parent knows it’s child better than they know themselves and I’m sure your Dad did with you. Bless him, I’M so happy that he had that opportunity to be proud and bless you for giving him that opportunity.

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