My dad was a successful business man with three shops and his own bakery. He worked hard and I didn’t see him much when I was growing up as he worked nights most of the time. He was very talented and could make any bakery or confectionary product including beautiful wedding cakes. If he was alive today, he would be in great demand for his skills, with the revival of artisan bakeries and homemade produce. I often think he missed his calling as a teacher, I took his vast knowledge for granted and he was very patient.
He was also an alcoholic. Not just a social drinker, but someone who couldn’t survive without alcohol. He drank Bells whiskey and this started from 5.00am in the morning when he finished working. Looking back this was behaviour that I normalised as a child, but it was obviously far from normal.
He was never a violent drunk, but he could say hurtful things that he didn’t remember saying the next day. In fact he was very quite and understated. He only socialised with a few close friends, yes mainly in the pub. He was actually very shy and I think that a couple of drinks helped him be able speak to people.
I remember only ever resenting him as a child. This person who should have been somone I looked up to was, to me, either asleep, working or drunk. There was no inbetween. We did have holidays and days out, but they were often dominated by his search for alcohol. I remember one trip to Blackpool, where he was literally shaking when got there. The only way he could buy whiskey was to buy a bottle by measure from the bar. It cost him a lot of money, but there would have been no way he could go without.
I never went to him for advice and he never offered it. I moved out to London and rarely visited. He was a complete stranger to me.
Then something changed. My mum, who has bipolar, was sectioned into physchiatric care. It wasn’t the first time and we knew the drill. It would take time for her to recover. The easiest way for me to visit as I didn’t drive was to go with my Dad.
I always dreaded visiting my mum. The hospitals were horrible places and her behaviour could be unpredicatable. It was as we kept visiting, that something suddenly dawned on me. My Dad had drunk to cope. He had to manage a business, which supported us all as a family, support my mum who had to kept stress and worry free, then when she was ill, make sure that we could look after ourselves. All this with, as a man of that generation, not being able to talk to anyone. He must have been so stressed that it was all he could do to get through it.
I suddenly started to see him in a different light. As we spent this time together, just the two of us, we got to know each other for the first time in our lives. His sarcastic tone, was now a dry sense of humour, his inability to speak to me about anything, was a shy, only child who lost his mother to cancer at a young age. His not caring about what I did, was someone who bragged about me to his friends in the working mens club.
We started to share our experiences visiting my mum, differently. Able to laugh at things that were too painful to deal with. Sharing a few drinks when we got home to unwind. I knew it was too late for him to change.
What I know is that he never complained, he never said how difficult it was and he never gave up. He went about his work that he was amazing at in an understated way, modest and hardworking. He had the resilience to keep going, when it would have been easy to give up. In his own way, he protected me from the worst bits, because he didn’t want me to get hurt.
As I enter my third year in my own business, I understand the ups and downs and the emotional rollercoaster that is being self-employed. When the going get’s tough I remember that my Dad kept going. Even when he was going through his own personal challenges and that he did that for me.
My Dad passed away in 2009, I’m just glad I got to know him before it was too late. I’ve got his dry sense of humour and the need to be alone sometimes. He’s there telling me to keep going and not give up.