Which side of me will win?

Dad – Part 2: By the way


My mum and dad separated when I was six. I can’t remember them ever really getting along. They were already sleeping in separate rooms when my dad left. I can just about remember a time when they still shared a bed, but only because I remember the rows about my dad’s snoring.

The first time I went to see my dad in hospital he had a sort of presentation prepared. He’d clearly been thinking a lot about things he needed to tell me and ask me now that he knew he was going to die some time soon. One of those things was not that he loved my mum. Or was it?

He certainly wanted to make a point of telling me to be good to her while he was sick. I remember exactly how he brought it up. He said, “Mother… I love her dearly, by the way… is traveling all the way from Cambridge to Oxford and back every day…”

I love her dearly, by the way.

Some of the pointless, pedantic crap he tried to tell us was of the utmost importance – lists of phone numbers on his ancient, impenetrable PC, for example – but his love for our mother, still his wife, was a ‘by the way’. That was my dad. He made a big deal out of trivial things so that he could relegate the big things to mere side-notes. Big things like love, and like death. He didn’t know how else to deal with them.

He never once complained about death, but everything else was disastrous – the bed, the food, the staff, the room, the this, the that, the other. I wasn’t fooled as to what was really bothering him, but I guess I was distracted. I guess that was what it was all about, really.

Sat in the car on the way home after that first visit, those words were echoing around my head. “I love her dearly, by the way.” And those words were joined by more words, the words of a song:


Do you realize that everyone you know, some day, will die?
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes,
Let them know you realize
That life goes fast.
It’s hard to make the good things last.
You realize the sun dudn’t go down.
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.

And I cried. I cried the first of many tears for my dad, for my mum, for the love that created me… I cried because that love couldn’t bring happiness to the two people I love the most… I cried for their pain. And I cried for mine.


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