Dad still brings out the best in me

It has been two years since my dad died, and I think I want to talk about it.

But an anxiety I have about not being able get the words out properly makes it difficult for me to confine in people.

I also appreciate that everybody has things of their own that they are dealing with. And as I think about it, of about half a dozen or so people who have confined in me about their own mental health since I began college nine years ago, I’ve only confined in two of them.

So I’m turning to a format that allows me to think, write, rewrite, and rewrite again to hopefully help myself make better sense of the whirlwind of emotion spinning round in my head.

The sunset over Birmingham, captured from the university library

Losing my dad was tough.

The week it happened was already quite awkward; I was in the midst of leading a huge group project at university, a deadline for a major essay was due and another deadline for my dissertation proposal was fast approaching – not to mention the dragged out and messy break-up of a long-term relationship at the end of the week before.

By some fortune a little voice inside my head had encouraged me to take time off work. It was a few weeks earlier that I approached my then-managers and told them that by using foresight I thought things were about to get tough. They already knew about my masters, possibly from my constant careless attitude to always talking about it. But since one absolutely devastating break down a week after dad got his diagnosis, I was upfront with them about the amount I was taking on outside work. By the end of January, I was becoming more concerned about the amount of coursework I had to do.

The planned leave began on the Saturday of the week before. Working part-time whilst studying meant I gave up my weekends, but I didn’t mind. Well, except for the occasional Sunday when there was a Grand Prix to watch. Formula One was father-son time from the comfort of home. But with the 2017 season still yet to start, my newly freed weekends were designated extended-study sessions.

Monday was a study day for both the group project and my essay. The first of the late night library/pub/library sessions. Uni days seemed to form a pattern of spending hours in the library, then heading to the pub for two rounds and food, before returning to the library for another long stint.

It was a routine that worked.

We formed a small study group, all with headphones in and not talking to each other. Occasionally we’d read each others work for typos or repatatition, and taking it in turns to find books or get snacks.

And it was very much the same on Tuesday and Wednesday too. In fact, out of the three days I only made it in time for the last bus home once – the other two costing me in taxi fare.

Thursday seemed to be the longest day ever.

It started at 7 in the morning when I arrived at the library. My deadline was Friday noon, but I always tried to submit my work a day before. Thursday lunch time would be a push, but I didn’t want to leave campus until it was all done. A late-morning photocall for our group project pulled me away for a much needed distraction before another pub lunch. And two beers down it was back to the library to get the last of the essay done, proofread, and sent off.

I was elated to finally get it over, and with enough time to take a photo of the beautiful sunset over Birmingham before catching the bus home. It was getting late, but I made it home to see everyone before they went to bed. Everybody was so pleased to hear that I had finally submitted that essay they were all so sick of hearing me talk about.

Dad told me he was proud. He had been staying up late that week so that he could see me come home after the long library stints and hear how it had gone, or to even proof read my drafts.

But on this night he gave me a hug I now wish never ended, because it would be our last.

He passed away the next morning.

Despite all the false alarms the real thing felt unreal.

And the point in which I realised it wasn’t another false alarm still plays in the back of my mind on a weekly, sometimes daily basis.

Sometimes it even flicks or taunts another memory to me; the night I lost my brother many years earlier.

Some advice I was given by a therapist around the time I lost my older brother came into mind; to write down what I remember happening and how it made me feel so I can look back when I felt unsure. I started to do the same this time, and part of what I wrote helped me write this.

I was lucky enough to graduate the following year; the essay I submitted on that Thursday night went a long way in helping me achieve a first-class degree, but his encouragement for the first half of my studies was was got me through the second half. And no more than a month after walking across the stage to collect my award, I was offered a job.

Working at LBC during the whole B-thing certainly gave me a much needed distraction. But other subjects sometimes threw me the occasional emotional curveball, like the time Iain Dale held a remarkable phone-in on mental health and I realised that I hadn’t confined in anybody for a long time.

And as I thought about it all, the more I thought about how I still want my dad’s encouragement.

I thought about who he was, and decided that I wanted it to inspire who I am.

He was calming, generous, thoughtful, encouraging, and genuine.

And I am trying, not be be him, but to embody what people loved so much about him so that I could have as rich a personality as he did for those around me. And it’s helped me become a more patient person unless you’re walking incredibly slowly on the bit that gets narrow between Hungerford Bridge and Charing Cross Station at rush hour on a Monday morning and I’m running ever-so slightly late for work. But any other time, I’ve noticed feeling much more patient than I was a year ago, or even five years ago.

I also feel much calmer now than I did before too.

And yes, there’s still room for improvement. It’s fair to say that not everyone gets along, but I would disagree if you suggested I didn’t try.

I have wonderful friends and family, but sometimes it’s easier just to whack these words out on a keyboard over the course of a week or two like an angry Twitter troll than to try and get them out in one go, fearing that I forget to leave something out or make a mistake.

But regardless of the medium I say it, I still think about him, and my brother, every single day.

I miss my dad, but I know he still brings out the best in me.