My dad always had a broadsheet newspaper delivered. When he was working there was only time for a brief glance at the headlines and then a bit more at lunchtime, and maybe some in the evening. Once he retired, reading the paper took up most of every morning. Those were the days when asking him a question would be answered without any eye contact and a distant “Hmmmm … ?” My dad enjoyed his paper.
The very same Dad who would fume over (selected) local news: “That’s not how it happened! I was there (or some friend or colleague was there)!” It was another of life’s conundrums: how could the local news (some) be so shabby – and yet the national news so absorbing? Were the national news hacks endowed with truth … were the local hacks second division … what meant one’s story was more or less truthful than another? Hmmmm …
My Dad was also a bad Christian. All the churches Mum and he attached us to (as we moved around following his jobs) said so. Dad asked the wrong questions they told us. Dad stirred things up they said. Dad was a rebel they said. Dad gave me my own bible when I was seven years old – the first “present” of my birthday. Along with bible-notes, and a lesson in how to read the bible, as well as how to pray on my knees with my eyes shut. He did that with each of us when we were seven. And the having to go to church on Sunday (and even Christmas Day!), and having a breakfast quiet time following our own quiet time, and not watching rude things on tv, and not saying bad words around the house (or ever) – that kind of Christian. One I would now call a good Christian. Just goes to show how much I know.
Anyway … back to family. I can’t remember seeing my Dad much around the house. He was working at his proper job, doing jobs around the house, or away doing church stuff. And yet my memories of my childhood are stuffed to overflowing with happy times, fun times, great times – just not much Dad times. Should it have been different? No. It is was it was. All of it.
And something else …
I spent the last three months of Dad’s life with him (hindsight). Mum died before Dad did. When I “moved in” he was doing what Dad had always done – living his life his way (apart from not being able to accommodate the physical changes cancer and cancer treatment brings). Doing physical stuff is what Dad had always done. And not doing “them” (and being supported) didn’t sit well with Dad because he was the same Dad – still in control – still “Dad” – just not with Mum anymore. Just slowly dying of cancer. I had no idea “why me” then. We had a large family. We all had our own families. Why me?
I have my own answers now. But they are not the facts.
After Dad died and life returned to normal I told my story of those three months. Some agreed. Others disagreed. Others fumed. Because your own family – own brother or sister – own parents – own child … the death of a loved one … that is a “key moment”. That is a moment when we each seek the “only” truth – the facts – try to make sense of it all. In those moments we need the truth to be “the truth” – our truth (hindsight again).
Because our own (normal) family story has always been digested through the many family photograph albums that Dad collected, collated and catalogued. We all still love sharing the memories contained in that collection. The same Mum. The same Dad. The same family. The same family history. Our family’s story.
The truth … ?
Our truth comes mainly from this collection of albums (because photos don’t lie). Yet we each know that each picture is a millisecond. Many the result of posing and rearranging. The ones we share surviving the editing, cutting and deleting in making up an album. All of us were so attuned to the “instant smile” as a camera was pointed at us yet again. All of us were so practiced at grimacing inside whilst smiling outside. And these pictures are the result. “That” is our shared family history – because pictures don’t lie.
Which gets in the way. Because each of us also have our own individual recollections. And those clash with that of others (even our own a lot of the time). The truth is we are family. That is the only truth. So if we each wrote our own family history there would be massive differences as well as similarities (and none of you would be at all surprised).
Because each one of us – all of us anywhere and throughout time – have our own family identity way before we might write (or don’t write) anything at all. We all have (mostly) those pictures, those conversations, those holidays, the doing stuff together and apart. We all have (mostly) the extended family and their visits, their memories and their pictures. We all have friends (mostly) – friends with some but not others – but “family friends”. And family friends are always friends “of the family” – their memories are “of the family” (even though they may not remember one or another of us).
What matters most is “family.”
Why don’t we all open our bibles at this point … ?