When did I last see my father? More than half a century ago, actually, around four years after he’d walked out on us. I was almost twelve.
He turned up at my grandparents’ house, with the mail. He wasn’t their regular postman, but a stand-in for Mr Toon, the always laughing, always smoking postman who habitually displayed his gift for second sight with accurate predictions regarding the contents of envelopes and parcels. “I see Ernie’s come good again. Don’t spend it all at once. Ha! Ha! Ha!”
It’s odd to think that my recollections of Mr Toon are more colourful than those I have of my father. But on that day, in 1966, I felt a shyness, almost an embarrassment when he spoke to me. His words brought about a level of awkwardness in me that I usually only experienced when meeting complete strangers. This is, evidently, what he had become. A stranger.
After that encounter, we never met again. Any emotional bond, if it had ever been truly established, was broken by his leaving. Forgive and forget, so many people say. It’s never too late. Except in some cases it is. In order to forgive, one must be able to forget. For me, forgetting was and still is impossible.
When he fell ill with cancer, five years ago, I was sad, but in a detached way. I sympathised, as anyone might, should the illness have befallen an unfamiliar member of another household.
On Monday, he died, on the same day as Ennio Morricone who was three years his senior. My mother telephoned the news. The two of them had been reunited for a decade following the death of my stepdad, and I’m sorry for her loss. But I’m glad she found a new happiness with the man she never stopped loving. The man who was there and, after a forty five year absence, was there again.
So, this is a blogpost about a man I didn’t know. A man I couldn’t know without painfully unpicking a life I’ve stitched and woven together with varying qualities of thread and patchy dexterity. It has no easily definable shape but I’m comfortable in it.
We know that actions, particularly actions within families, have consequences. His actions were no different. But they went unchallenged and eventually collapsed into the form of a well drawn line. His death, like all deaths, leaves some questions dangling. But they are those that remain unanswerable, rather than the nagging kind that are left unanswered.