I suppose being bombarded with advertising about Fathers’ Day is enough to make anyone think about their Father. But I hate myself for it. Years on and I still sometimes struggle to reconcile with the fact that my Father is no longer the Dad that I grew up with. I remember that Dad with love and affection, and then the lump grows in my throat with the knowledge that the person I remember isn’t there any more.
Years ago, before the anxieties of my teens had taken root, I remember a boat trip with my Mum and Dad. It was the 6th of January, in Tenerife. We’d taken a tourist trip to see the dolphins on an overcast and choppy day. The sky was blue grey, the wind was up and the spray was refreshing. Families, to the eye, not so unlike ours were sat in the covered cabin enjoying drinks and chatting away with little expectation of seeing a dolphin at all.
It was the same trip they’d run in Summer, and the guide’s script was the same. The boat stopped and they asked if anyone wanted to get in, for the chance to ‘swim with the dolphins’. ‘Go on,’ my Dad urged, ‘you’ll regret it if you don’t.’ The bait was set. What if someone else got in, and actually got to swim with a dolphin; what if I was the only one who didn’t get in and I missed out on the experience; what if I spent the rest of the week wondering what it would have been like and wishing I’d taken the chance.
I left my over clothes in the booth and made my way to the stern to climb down into the water. Half way down the ladder I still wondered if I’d made the right choice. It would be cold, I’d been eating snacks, what if my body went into shock and I froze in the water. I was nearing the splash of the water and the guide said to jump in. The water splashed my toes and sent an exhilarating chill of electricity through me. I let go and splashed back into the water.
The prickle of cold, salty water turned from shock to excitement. I was swimming in the Atlantic, in January. I was swimming in the sea in Winter. I cleared the boat and into the open water. A young couple made their way in next, the girl giggling as she shuddered in the icy water. Lastly, a teenager plopped in and waved to her Dad looking on. I looked for my parents but they’d stayed at our table. Although divorced, they enjoyed eachother’s company and these family holidays were their way to ignore the separate lives they’d chosen and just enjoy the time together.
Despite the other three swimming around me, I felt like the only one in the sea. I was going to be the only one at school who’d swum in the sea in their Christmas break. It bore no consequence that there were no dolphins. This was feat enough in itself. I had achieved. My Dad was right, I would’ve regretted not having this story to tell. But the cold was setting in and I made my way back to the ladder. Climbing back up and wrapping myself in a towel, the guide said I’d won a prize for my bravery, but they’d have to check with my parents if I was allowed.
Padding back to the table, the wooden floor felt warm and soft under my feet. I flung my dress on over my swimming costume and I squeaked along the leather seat of the booth to sit next to my Dad. The guide soon appeared with a cheap bottle of Cava and three glasses. ‘Well done,’ my parents cheered as the bottle popped, ‘but just a little bit of fizz for you’. I still don’t know if they were applauding my winter dip, or the free booze I’d scored for them. I began to shiver as the thrill wore off, the acidic tang of the cava warmed my centre but goose pimples formed on my arms. Dad put his burgundy fleece over me and the day continued.
I wonder what I would do if I was asked to visit my Dad in hospital again. The last time he asked to see me he was in Intensive Care. I went for him, not for me. He’d had a tracheostomy so there was no way of knowing why he’d asked to see me. Four years previous, he’d sent a text saying he’d see me when he was ready. Four years on, I jumped as soon as he called. I went for him and all I came out with was the flashback to the room in which my mum died five years earlier. It is a small hospital; it was the same room.
I had to go, because, ‘what if’ I didn’t. I’ve gotten much better at controlling my ‘what if’s’. Were he to ask to see me again, I would go, but it wouldn’t be for him it would be for my peace of mind. I’m okay, I don’t need to show him the successes I’ve found. They are mine. But I’d go to still the ‘what if’ in my mind of not trying; what if a bit of my Dad is still there somewhere.
The biggest ‘what if’ will always remain; what if he didn’t marry a woman who hates me.