On the 8th January, thousands of people were celebrating what would have been Elvis Presley’s 80th Birthday. A special day for many and one that has a special relevance for my family because it would also have been my Dad’s 60th Birthday. He too was a King of sorts, to us, anyway. Only his crown was a floppy canvas hat, or a pair of pants tied around his head when he needed to protect his bald spot down the beach.
To my shame, I’d forgotten that Dad shared his Birthday with Elvis. He’d always been very proud of that fact, because Elvis was his favourite singer. When I saw it in the news I was completely mortified that I’d forgotten that little fact about him. But then I realised: it’s been a long time without him reminding us.
2015 marks the 15th year that he’s been gone, which means he’s been out of my life for as long as I ever knew him – and to be honest, that’s a thought that I struggle with. Sometimes, I worry that I never really knew him. I was still a kid when he passed, and so the role he played in my life was largely that of authoritarian. That’s not to say we weren’t close. We were very close, perhaps a little too alike in so many ways. But I don’t think you ever truly appreciate your parents as ‘people’, with lives and loves and experiences beyond you being the centre of their universe, until you’re much older. Until you can appreciate all the struggles and beauty of life. The sacrifices they made, and the joy that simple pleasures such as long walks and listening to music with loved ones can bring.
Every Sunday, we would be at home and dad would play his favourite LPs. He loved 60s music, and so many of the songs from the era hold a special place in my heart. I guess it’s fitting in a way that I would go on to work on a specialist 60s music radio show. The same part of me that used to dread being asked to change dad’s records, for fear of scratching his precious collection with my fat clumsy fingers, now longs to be able to sit with him and go back through the countless sleeves and introduce him to the new songs I’ve heard. Every day, I’m sad that I don’t get to talk to him about the music we’re playing, the things I’ve learned and talk to him about his memories of that time. Not just as Father and Daughter, but adult to adult; friend to friend. Every day, I wonder if he would be proud of me. I think about what an amazing grandfather he would have been to my niece and nephews. I wonder if my life would have turned out differently – and sometimes, I still worry if there’s a slim chance I’ll go bald like he did. (I’ve done a lot of research, and it’s more likely that straighteners will be the ones to steal my hairline from me, not genetics.)
Every time I’m at a wedding, I feel a pang of guilt when it comes to the speeches. This little flicker of jealousy and sadness rises up inside me when I realise that I’ll never have that. I’ll never know what it feels like to have your father walk you down the aisle and embarrass you with stories about what you were like as a baby. I’ll never know how it feels to see his eyes swell with pride when it dawns on him that his scratty haired little girl has grown up to be a scratty haired woman.
I carry a tremendous amount of guilt around with me, and it manifests itself in the strangest ways. I feel guilty that at one stage, I used to be happy if he had to work overnight on a driving job and would call to say he wasn’t going to make it home that evening. If he’d been in one of his moods, I’d be relieved that he wouldn’t be in the house for at least another day. It physically hurts me to think that there was ever a time when I looked forward to the days that he wasn’t around.
I feel guilty that we didn’t force him to go to the doctors sooner, that we didn’t realise something more sinister than IBS was fueling his noticeable weight loss and lethargy. I feel guilty that I didn’t spend that last New Year’s Eve with him, the Millennium, just watching TV like we did every year, but instead went out to a house party and drank in the street with my friends, while he was sat at home, dying of cancer, fighting with every breath just to make it to a new day; let alone a New Year. I feel guilty that I didn’t realise that the only reason he let me stay out that night – way beyond my usual curfew – was because he knew he didn’t have long left and he wanted me to go out, forget for a while, be a kid and have some fun.
Most of all, I feel guilty that I never realised he was going to die. Not for one second did I ever think that cancer would steal my Dad away from me. Even when that fateful day arrived and I was told to go upstairs and say my goodbyes at his bedside – I still didn’t believe it. Perhaps if I had, I would have held him for a little longer, said something a little more profound. Perhaps…
As I’m sure many of you who have been through such loss know, the pain never really goes away, you just become numb to it and learn to muddle on through life with this empty little pocket in the corner of your heart. You cope.
But it’s ok, because, despite my mixed emotions, I’m lucky that I know he loved me and would have done anything for me. I’m lucky that I had him for the time I did, and that he and my mom gave us the best start in life that they could. I’m lucky that I can see so many wonderful traits of his in myself and my relatives. So I know that although there may be the odd little memory of him I forget, he will never truly be far from my mind.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
Karen is a Radio producer based in London, a woman of few hidden talents, but quite obvious vices.