Sunday, 12 August 2018
(Note: I had planned on posting this last year, but somehow couldn't bring myself to click on "Publish").
My dad passed in August, due to complications of a brain tumour.
Not words I ever thought I'd write, let alone publish, but the intervening time has been, shall we say, difficult, so I felt it might help a little to put some of my thoughts down, even if it is on e-paper.
My dad was more than just a father to me; as I'm the eldest of my siblings, he and I had things in common that he mightn't have had with my brothers and sister (just as he would have shared interests with them that I didn't).
We enjoyed watching rugby and football together, and he did his best to teach me to play golf, patiently if not wholly successfully.
He loved classical music, having developed a taste for it from one of his older brothers. he'd play his records at home on a Sunday, and we all grew in familiarity with the works of Beethoven, Mozart and Handel, among others. From him, I learned to appreciate music, and developed my own tastes, which, while eclectic in nature, lean towards jazz and cinematic soundtrack music. And ELO.
He introduced me to comic books and science fiction. I was a Trekkie before the term was coined, and a Batmaniac, and an U.N.C.L.E. agent, and a wannabe member of International Rescue, all because of him.
In later years I got him interested in crime fiction, a current passion of mine, and we swapped books back and forth as our favourite authors (Connelly, Kerr, Parker, Estleman, etc.) produced them. On one memorable occasion at Christmas, we exchanged gifts only to find that we'd bought each other the same book (a Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly). We laughed for weeks about that...
Anyway, for some time since early 2016, he became aware that he was forgetting things, something that worried him. But with no symptoms of note, such as pain of any kind, I guess we all put it down to his age and figured it would level off.
In early May, however, he had an episode that could only be described as a seizure, during which he lost the ability to use words or otherwise communicate. My mother took him immediately to our family doctor, who sent him to A&E for treatment. He was admitted that day, and put through a battery of tests that eventually revealed a brain tumour (Type IV Glioblastoma) that required immediate surgery.
That took place in another hospital, the acknowledged centre of excellence for head trauma and brain surgery in the country, and he had the procedure shortly afterwards. His surgeon reported that he was pleased with how things had gone, and Dad was released within days to recuperate at home.
As part of his follow-up treatment we were advised that, while his prognosis was terminal, we could perhaps expect about three to five years with him, depending upon how the underlying blastoma responded.
It was clear to us, however, that he wasn't the same. His memory started to get worse, his temper short, possibly because we didn't want him doing things that to him seemed perfectly normal but to an observer might have appeared ill-advised. He lost his ability to use remote controls and mobile phones; his hearing, already failing, began to further disimprove, and all this while undergoing radio- and chemotherapy.
After a couple of months, he decided he wanted to do something about his garden, in which he had always taken great pride. So he asked my two brothers and I to come over and help out with cutting back trees and bushes, etc.
August 12th, 2017 was a good day. My brother Erich brought an electric hedge trimmer, and (after admonishing us on how to use it safely) managed to cut through its power cord not once, but twice! Dad came over and offered to fix it for him on both occasions, saying "I am an electrician, you know."
We finished out the afternoon and had a bit of food, after which Dad went indoors and fell asleep in fromt of the TV (a Glenn Ford Western was playing on TCM).
The man who woke up wasn't my dad.
He emerged from sleep in the middle of one of his seizures - Mum noticed it and knew what to do.
My sister called an ambulance (he wouldn't get in the car) and when it arrived, the paramedics managed to persuade him to walk to the vehicle. They took him to St. James's Hospital, Kilmainham, the neighbourhood in which he had grown up, and he was admitted shortly afterwards following a second, more severe seizure.
We were advised that he was 'very ill', which I took as shorthand for 'not expected to recover', and sent home with the admonishment to return early the following day.
The next few days were spent in what could only be described as a vigil. Dad was in a single room in a high-dependency ward, directly opposite the nurses' station. He emerged briefly from unconsciousness only once while I was there, and seemed to know me, but but fell back asleep almost immediately and remained that way, maintained by a mixture of drugs to keep him comfortable and pain-free.
No words of mine can do justice to the care given my dad by the ward staff, and nothing was too much trouble for them. The lady who ran the ward kitchen kept us fed, and a lounge was put at our disposal for rest and sleep, as needed.
Not expected to last through Sunday, it was a tribute to the man's fitness and inner strength that he held on for another three days before his brave heart could no longer sustain him, and with my mother and sister by his side, he gave a single, final exhalation, and slipped quietly away.
And that was it.
My dad was the fifth of eight children born to a Railway worker and his wife, whose family ran a shop in Bow Lane, Kilmainham. He had a twin sister, but she died a month after they were born and he wasn't told about her for many years. Another sister, born subsequently, died of Spina Bifida in her early teens.
His early years were hard. Forced to close the shop during the Emergency (how WWII was referred to in Ireland) due to lack of supplies, the family were forced to rely solely on my grandfather's wages and, as the older children grew up and went out to work, their contributions.
Despite this, he seemed to have had happy times during his childhood - while he had no siblings close to him in age, he had friends and was, I imagine, a typical kid, getting into mischief on occasion.
His mother died when he was in his mid-teens, and his father remarried not long afterwards, something that caused friction within the family for a time. But his stepmother was a lovely woman, very maternal, and we used to visit her when I was a child. I always knew her as "Auntie Connie"; I never knew she was, in a way, my grandmother, something that troubled me when I found out only after she passed away.
The young Peter went to the local school, run by the Christian Brothers, whose many crimes against their young charges came to light over the past two decades, but claimed to have emerged relatively unscathed. He left school at 16 to go out and get a job, and spent two weeks in the Post Office (where I work in my day job) apprenticing as an electrician before leaving to join the Electricity Supply Board in a similar capacity (after having been measured for P&T uniforms, much to his supervisor's displeasure).
Following his apprenticeship, he worked as a cable jointer, connecting live electrical cables (!) one to another down manholes around the city. It was on one such job, a year after he and my mum married, that his sister and brother-in-law came looking for him to tell him he was a father. Three more such arrivals would occur over the following fourteen years.
He went to night school to learn maths and electrical engineering, and spent much of his 50+ year career as a surveyor for the Transmissions Dept's (later ESB Networks) high-tension power lines, finding sites upon which would be built the support pylons for the overhead cables.
His work took him all over the country, and anytime we'd pass under one of the many lines on our way somewhere, I'd ask him if that was one of his. And while he was by no means single-handedly responsible for the network's existence, it was always odds-on that he and his crew had passed this way or that at some point.
He'd be gone for a week at a time, the road network not being as good then as today, and if he couldn't get home midweek he'd phone and we'd all be able to talk to him. I learned to hate Athlone (a town in the centre of Ireland) even though I'd never been there, because that's where he'd be a lot of the time.
I remember one time, during school holidays when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, he brought me with him for a week, to Limerick, where he was working at the time. I got to go with him and his crew on a couple of occasions, and got to see what exactly a surveyor did in those days. It was interesting enough, if not very exciting, and I enjoyed the time with him.
He brought me to my first international football match when I was about fifteen. The Republic of Ireland hosted Bulgaria at Dalymount Park in Phibsborough, Dublin. It was a 0-0 draw. And it rained all the time. Over the years, we went to a number of other such matches once in a while, but I don't think we ever got a better result. The last game we attended, several years ago, turned out to be against Bulgaria, of all countries. It was a 1-1 draw, but the rain held off. It seemed the only time our team won was when we'd be watching on TV, and Dad took it into his head that we were perhaps something of a jinx (but not seriously). I think he preferred watching from the comfort of his living room - so did I, come to that (most of the time).
I liked that there were things about him I never knew - not secrets as such, but just things in his life that were never discussed with his kids. I had the opportunity to speak with some of his friends at his funeral, and found out that he'd been active in his trade union, and had been a volunteer at the Dublin City Marathon (handing out water and foil blankets along the route or at the finish line).
He taught me many things, but we used to joke about his inability to transfer to me the skills he'd developed over the years at Maths and Golf. I recall to this day his struggles to get me to understand long division; how frustrated he got that I just "couldn't see it", as he put it.
As for the golf, we tried a different approach. After he told me "It's just Physics and Geometry - easy," I reminded him that I had no talent in either, so we took a few clubs and practiced with a bucket of balls at the local range, during which time I actually learned a thing or two - enough to be confident enough to go out to the club where he played twice a week and have a go myself.
I was, it must be admitted, no threat to the players in contention for the Dubai Classic, but I enjoyed the time with him. When we got to the 14th tee, I drew his attention to the high-tension electrical pylon standing to one side of the fairway.
"Is that one of yours?" I couldn't resist asking.
"Actually," he said, with a grin, "it is. But don't tell the members - they'll throw me out of the club."
He explained that when he had surveyed the land, the place had been a farm of some sort, long before it was redeveloped for golf. Special rules are in place in case anyone hits it or lands their ball under it, so the members just act as though it's not there.
So that was okay.
I told the story to a taxi driver who, it turned out in conversation, was a member of the same golf club. He was incredulous:
"The number of times I've hit that (expletive deleted) thing! What's his name?" he asked, laughing.
But I wouldn't be drawn on the culprit's identity.
I never told my dad either.
Thanks for everything, Dad - life won't be the same without you...
(Note: I had planned on posting this last year, but somehow couldn't bring myself to click on "Publish"). My dad passed in...