23 October 1937

Yesterday – had life worked out the way we’d planned – my dad would have celebrated his 70th birthday. But life doesn’t always work out the way you’d like it to: Dad died in a car accident when he was 47.

I thought about him all day. I thought about the fact he has been gone from my life for longer now that I knew him. And yet I close my eyes and the image of his face is as clear as the photograph of him that sits on my desk. He is laughing. He laughed alot.

His name was James Tennyson Stephen. Tennyson not for the Scottish poet my Scottish grandmother may or may not have read but for the fact that if Dad was born in the morning the doctors could get out onto the courts. In the afternoon, and tennis would – alas – be off. My dad – always obliging – arrived before lunch. Tennis was On.

You don’t miss somebody any less with the passage of time. You just learn to get used to their not being around.

Ted Bowman, an American grief counsellor, suggests that though we are able to come to terms with the vacuum that the loss of a loved one creates in our lives, it takes a lifetime to come to terms with the loss of a dream.

My lost dream meant Dad and I never shared that combined 50th/21st birthday we’d talked about, Dad never walked me down the aisle, Dad never knew any of his grandchildren nor will Dad ever enjoy a beer with his son-in-law, who is the age now that Dad was when he died. He won’t know I write. He won’t know I came back to Africa (despite all his protestations that I absolutely mustn’t) and encouraged my little sister to do the same so that this year she and I can quietly raise a glass to the 100th anniversary of our family’s arrival in this part of the world.

If I could have had him back for just the day, just one day, I’d have poured him a cold beer and assured him that we – my siblings and I and especially mum – are OK. I’d have introduced him to Hat (he’d have loved her), I’d have shown him photos of my big kids (he’d have been astonished at their height, Dad wasn’t tall); I’d have apologised for coming back to Africa and even more for encouraging baby sis to do the same. But I’d have reminded him it was all his fault: you can take the girl out of Africa, I’d have said, but you can’t take Africa out of the girl. Dad – after all – only left Africa once in his life: to visit inlaws in Ireland for a brief three weeks. I’d have put the telly on for him and whilst he watched live sport, I’d have watched his face. No more waiting weeks to enjoy international rugby, I’d have teased, and we’d have debated the disallowed England try. I’d have taught him how to send a text message, I’d have laughed at his astonishment that communication could have been fine tuned to a thumb and a tiny screen (when he died we were still using a wind up phone on the farm). I’d have poured him another beer and told him all the jokes I know (more risque now that I’m a grown up), even the bad ones, just to hear him laugh.  I’d have lit him a cigarette and giggled at his outrage at the creeping smoking ban.

I’d have said Happy Birthday, Dad; I still really miss you.

15 Responses to “23 October 1937”

  1. guineapigmum Says:

    I wasn’t sure whether to smile or cry when I read this beautiful piece. It reminds me so much of my dad, who also never knew his son-in-law or grandchildren, although he lived a lot longer than yours. And I was talking with mother-in-law the other day about f-i-l, who died earlier this year. She feels a great empty space beside her and huge loneliness, which I think she feels will never go. But, as you say, you get used to it eventually rather than it disappearing.

  2. R. Sherman Says:

    Lovely post. Thanks.

  3. selfemployedmum Says:

    What a lovely post, very close to my heart right at this moment. x

  4. iota Says:

    That is so beautifully written. Lost dreams.

  5. Potty Mummy Says:

    What a great post. I wish I could say something more profound but – what a great post.

  6. Carolyn Says:

    Wonderfully written dear. Your father, I’m sure, would be immensely proud of you.

  7. carol Says:

    Well said Big Sis! Except you’ve made me cry and I’ve got to go and teach now! But I thought about him all day on 23rd too. Glad you back home okay and will be in touch….

  8. jen Says:

    i just found you via the japing ape and am so glad i did – what a lovely blog about a lovely life.

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    GPM – thanks for your story. I know – whether to laugh or cry? I think if you can remember those you’ve loved and lost with both sentiments, that’s a great testimony to their life. That’s got to be a good thing?

    Thanks Mr Sherman.

    selfemployedmum – thanks. But I’m sorry this is close to your heart now.

    thank you iota. I know … lost dreams. But better than never having had them?

    PM – thank you. And for reading.

    Carolyn – he was an easy dad to please: he always made me feel immensely clever which I wasn’t at all. But it taught me a lesson regards my own kids: praise goes a long way. And makes kids believe they can do stuff they mighn’t tackle otherwise.

    Sorry Carol. It just seemed so important to commerate the day somehow.

    thanks for dropping by Jen. And for being so kind.

  10. Pig in the kitchen Says:

    So true about learning to live without them. A lovely tribute to your Dad, and very brave of you to ponder on the people he hasn’t met and the things he hasn’t seen…I find those thoughts the hardest ones to deal with.

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks Pig. Perhaps the years have made it easier to ponder – over twenty now. Or perhaps the gap is still so big I have to stuff it with imaginings? I don’t know. But yes, it’s about learning to live with loss. It’s why I have always had a problem with ”closure”.

  12. kizzie Says:

    you can take the girl out of Africa but you can’t take Africa out of the girl. I like it:) Lovely post
    Happy B-day to him. You really reminded me of my grandfather, if he was alive we would’ve celebrated his 80th bday on the 30th of September:)

  13. Ju' Says:

    Oh heck – you’ve said pretty much all of it for me…but you’re version made me smile. Thank you.

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Hello Ju’, and thank you for reading …

  15. Pasts « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] she said.  It always tugs at heartstrings. My dad’s friends. They’re still here. Some of them. But he’s not. Not Dad. Not Jimmy. He hasn’t been for a long time. But there’s still this big achey hole. […]

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