I wrote this poem fairly recently and although the circumstances have changed for the better since then, the sentiment behind it remains very much the same.
It’s a poem about my dad, who at the time of writing, I hadn’t seen for 18 months. I hadn’t seen my mam either, come to think about it. Because they live together, which is usually the way when you’ve been married for 50 odd years. But it was speaking to my dad that prompted me to write.
Speaking to him shocked me a little bit, despite the fact that I was aware of probably a lot of things about him from the 18 months when I’d not been around him. I was also very much aware of his age and this should have been an indicator of the fact that he was getting old. And yet, speaking to him and hearing what sounded like a very old man on the other end of the phone, gave me a bit of a jolt. He sounded not only old, but frail, perhaps even ill.
It led me to sit, worrying, before then spending time reminiscing for most of the rest of the day. So having thought about my dad a lot afterwards, I sat down and wrote the following.
Dad The drudgery of another working week done and I'm preparing for the next one as my phone alerts me to the terror of a voicemail. You sound urgent, but noticeably frail, more my grandad than my dad. "When you get this, call. Straight away." I sit down nervously, to return the call, pre-empt the bad news, aware of hospital appointments, complaints, tests. I needn't have bothered as the 'news' is nothing at all, just a parent checking in. But still you sound different. I'm reminded that, despite middle age, I'm still 'the bairn' and continue to be wrapped in cotton wool, drip-fed information on a 'he doesn't need to know' basis. I can't trust your reassurance, but can't question it either. You sound different; where once there was the toughness of teak, now in its place squats a weakness as the ravages of age take hold and remind me that you won't be here forever. You're failing, ever so slightly, when I never thought you would. That night, I can't escape you as you take root in my head. The sound of you; segs on concrete, returning home with the paper. Clearing your throat at 6am, tapping a razor on the sink, oblivious to those of us trying to sleep. Later you'd leave the car running on the drive to warm up, just in case anyone hadn't yet been woken. I see you emerging from the car after the Cup Final, crestfallen, unwittingly signalling my own life of sporting misery. Drunk on New Year's Eve, incongruously dressed in a kilt, jiving with our neighbour on another package holiday; mesmerising. Coming through the front door, hands black after another day running the yard. Later, I feel you chasing me up the stairs, when my smart mouth ran away, smell the sharp tinge of metal on your work clothes, the fug of flatulence as I open our living room door and the smell seems to slap me in the face. I smile at the pints we shared, the fish and chips, taste the cheese on toast you volunteered me for at the lull in Sportsnight, hear your laugh, bellowing, a crude comment, a ruffle of my hair, remember how you reduced me to tears telling your friends of your pride in me, your son, the clever bugger. I see the picture of you with your grandson and those tears burn my face again. We haven't awkwardly hugged in far too long. I'm not ready for what inevitably comes next, even if no one will tell me until the very last minute anyway.
The poem’s about just sitting thinking about my dad and the way I remember him. These are memories from along time ago and it seems obvious that he’d be very different now. So I suppose, it’s a poem about a number of other things too. Growing old, change, personality, perception. Certainly my perception of my dad has been that he’s invincible. While he wasn’t a hero figure growing up, he still just seemed to have a solidity about him. Speaking to him that a few weeks ago, he seemed to have lost that solidity.
I’ve since been able to visit my parents and although it wasn’t an upsetting visit – in fact it was truly lovely just to be able to be in the same room as them again – it was was a bit of a shock. The reality that my dad is now an octogenarian was unavoidable. And while that sounds silly, it was something that I hadn’t given too much thought beforehand. My dad was just my dad.
When I was younger my dad always seemed old. Anyone who’s been your typical teenager will recognise that feeling! So seeing him hit 60, retire and being the age he is now, didn’t feel like a big deal. He was old, just like he’d always been. It’s funny how just the sound of someone’s voice on the phone can shake you to your boots. Writing the poem helped me deal with how it all made me feel.
One last thing; the line about the sound of his ‘segs’ on concrete. That’s one that will mean something or absolutely nothing to readers. To explain, ‘segs’ are/were the little strips of metal that would often be on the soles of shoes and boots, I guess to protect said soles. They made a very satisfying noise when a person walked, a kind of scraping click. I don’t even know if ‘segs’ is the right word for them, but my dad’s shoes and boots always had them on throughout the 70s and 80s.
I hope you enjoyed the poem. Maybe it made you think about your own parents. Hopefully it provoked happy memories. I’d love to hear what you thought.