Changing ones mind can be difficult. In this instance it took more than thirty years to even review my position. A change quickly followed and the relief was immense. Over a few weeks I overturned an opinion that I had held about the qualities of my father as a parent which I had been propagating for years and which was both inaccurate and unjust.
My father, Harry died in 1983 aged 71; my mother, Patience in 1987 at 77. In the years before their deaths, so right up to my forties, I would say that it was Harry who had imbued me with the characteristics that made me who I am and to whom I felt indebted. In contrast, I saw Patience as a manipulative, dominating and often remote mother who made my childhood difficult and whose qualities I mainly rejected.
After their deaths, these opinions changed. Suddenly, and for no obvious reason, if asked to comment, I focussed on the image I had of their behaviour in their later years. My description would not now be from the perspective of my childhood but as I saw them as professional adults. I found myself expressing nothing but admiration for Patience who, as an actress I saw as forthright, fearless, spontaneous and entertaining. While Harry, who was a research scientist, I would describe as weak, frightened, timid and un-adventurous. Thus his stock fell very low.
The change back to seeing Harry again as a caring, nurturing and admirable ‘Dad’ who looked after, even protected me as I was growing up, came during the recent Easter break.
My French teacher was away on holiday leaving me with several, homework-free weeks so enough time to sort through the clutter in my study that had been accumulating for years! The contents of cupboards, cabinets, draws and shelves all needed sifting and, with luck, perhaps I might even find my missing will!
In my search I found countless out-of-date guarantees, bank statements, receipts, demands and bills. I also unearthed once-treasured toys and trinkets together with electrical, computer and desktop gizmos whose time had now passed.
Sorting out the clutter was, by and large, a mechanical affair; handling dusty envelopes full of personal memorabilia was altogether more challenging. There were photographs, letters, school reports, newspaper cuttings, childhood drawings and my ‘baby’ book – all stored in files labelled ‘Joe 1’ and ‘Joe 2’. Together they covered events up to my early twenties. Many of the contents were new to me, others were familiar but forgotten. Whatever their histories, my time looking and reading was emotional. They brought back very powerful memories – even feelings – of me as a child, and as I examined them I inevitably thought about, and reassessed my relationship with my parents, primarily my father, to whom I had stayed close for years.
As I sat and reflected, I was reminded that I was a dreamy child hampered by dyslexia – unrecognised at the time – which meant that for years I struggled to make sense of reading, writing and learning generally. I was also reminded how it was my father who took me to school, wrote letters and visited my teachers to try to resolve my learning difficulties; who spent time at home helping me to read and write – these were often tense affairs; who was instrumental in my education generally right up to my university choices. It was he who he taught me to swim, ride a bicycle, tell the time and play chess; introduced me to the principles of science, nature and even the classics; took me to lectures; regularly sent me postcards; embraced my various inventions – even applying for patents for them on my behalf; and who immediately ‘adopted’ Rohan, my future wife, from the moment I introduced her.
Harry was the bedrock of my childhood; reliable, calm, ever-present, protective, hardworking and a role model, and all this came back to me as I was sorting. By contrast, as I sat in my study I remembered how Patience, who could be loving, remained manipulative, unfathomable and difficult and, because of her late nights at the theatre, often absent or “not to be disturbed”.
Although it is now too late, I owe my father an apology for distorting his character traits after he died – to describe him as weak or frightened when he was bringing me up was so wrong. Restoring his rightful image has brought great relief. Perhaps re-evaluation of ones parents from time to time should be made obligatory.
As for my last will and testament – it was never found, and I finally had to get a new copy from my solicitor. To help me out next time, it has been carefully placed in a file labelled ‘My Will’ and placed just behind ‘Joe 1’ and ‘Joe 2’.
The illustration shows a photo of me with my elder sister Susan, my younger sister Sarah and my parents Harry and Patience. We are on a beach in Dovercourt when I was around 9 years old.
For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Sarah, Thierry, Rohan and Vivien.