I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about my dad dying. Grief is an odd beast in the way that it just rocks up and often when you least expect it. I thought that by not writing about my him, maybe the grieving process would be easier. My writing style, such as it can be called a style, isn’t always suited to the serious or profound. I’m more of a dad-joke and poor taste comment. Case in point, don’t think for a second that I didn’t have a dad-joke vs. dead dad joke line primed and ready to go. Taste and better judgement moved me on though.
But here I am, writing part one of what I laughingly planned out as a three-part piece. A guy I once worked with used to plan out magazine features by drawing them freehand on any scrap of paper he could summon. At the time I thought it a rather over the top waste of energy and resource, but in retrospect it was a fantastic way of visualising the words and layout without giving the art monkeys too much direction. I planned this out on the back corner of a piece of paper that had a work to-do list and the measurements of my bedroom window.
Sometimes, people who find out I used to write for a living think it a very ignoble pursuit, they can’t see the strings so it’s all circus to them. Only very rarely do people seem to respect the fact that in a very specific way I know what I’m doing, and they don’t. That’s not bragging by the way, it’s just the way it is with any trade – plumbing looks easy to a lot of people especially with all the plastic push-fit stuff that’s available, but it’s not until you are knee deep in PEX that it dawns on you that, actually, there’s more to it than inserting pipes into connectors. For example, the writers and editors have reached the end of this paragraph and wondered why it’s here at all.
Anyway I’m 300 words in now and I should really get to the point – the plan, by the way, was to produce three posts on the theme of past, present and future. If I’m being honest, if a student had come to me with this I’d be circumspect about the present and the future thing, but hopefully it’ll all make sense when I get to those. Which brings me on to the first instalment; Past.
Past is prologue as the saying goes and this story is very much of that ilk. It’s formative for me, in ways I hadn’t really assessed or realised, in deep ways I didn’t understand even at the surface level. When I was 7 or 8 I had an interaction with my dad that has completely shaped the way I am and how I act (most of the time). Of course, I’m the historian here so I’m painting this in an entirely positive light so if you’ve met me and I haven’t acted this way I’m sorry and also; keep your mouth shut.
You can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs and this is a story ostensibly about cracking eggs, but really, it’s got nothing to do with eggs. Back to me as a 7 or 8 year old, it seems odd that I can remember with absolute clarity some of this tale but not other parts at all, but there you go, the memory is an odd beast. I was in the kitchen in the house on Harlech Road in Beeston, South Leeds. It’s a terraced house made of red brick that is almost black from years and years of pollution and they are on the ‘cheaper’ side of the park – Mrs Bucket would not approve. The houses, though cheaper are big. The terraced houses on Harlech Road are through and not back-to-backs as most of the others in the area are. I’m in the kitchen and that’s all I can remember in detail, can’t remember the colour of the walls, the flooring type, what was where or how the events that about to unfold began or ended, but from a process of elimination I do know that in some capacity I have been asked by my dad to procure 2 eggs. I’d love to be able to tell you more about the mythical eggs, write a long drawn-out story of where the eggs were stored, who bought them or, like Bill Bryson perhaps, the history of the egg in 500 jolly fast paced pages of prose that has you doing that breathing out hard laugh or occasional guffaw. Sadly, I’m nowhere near as talented as Big Billy B nor can I remember a single detail about any of this story prior to the aforementioned getting of the eggs. So, here’s what I do know; I put the eggs on the table. Shocking, right?
I put the eggs on the table, the table I have no recollection of. I couldn’t tell you the colour, style or any single detail about the table if you had a gun to my head. But what I can say with 100% clarity is that the eggs are on the table and I put them there. Slowly, one of the eggs begins to move. Where it’s off to I have no idea, I’m 7 or maybe 8 remember so my imagination is probably not that sharp. Well, I know it isn’t because of what happened next. The egg picks up speed.
Now, here’s something I cannot recall for sure, but I think I’ve maybe added in for poetic comedy recollection, I think egg one starts to roll of it’s own volition, I know for certain that I didn’t move the eggs because I know all I’ve done so far is put the eggs on the table. However, egg one is now rolling and as it meets the edge of the table physics takes over. At almost exactly this moment egg two sees the opportunity of a lifetime and begins rolling too. Comic. Timing.
Here, my dad alerted by the sound of egg one meeting its end has turned around to survey the eggy chaos unfolding behind him. I can’t remember what he was doing, washing up maybe or getting the oven ready – it’s all a long-forgotten blur. Anyway, he watched me as I watched the egg, lovingly referred to here as egg 2, but I doubt I’d got as far as naming it back then. Egg 2 went the way of egg 1 and my dad shouted at me. I have no idea what he shouted – not a clue, he could have used foul language, but I truly doubt it, he could have said something mean, but somehow I know he didn’t. I know he said something in a raised tone, but honestly, I can’t remember the words or tone or volume with any degree of accuracy. I know I cried.
I can still imagine the tightening of the windpipe and the way the tears that you can’t stop sting. I cried because it was my fault the eggs broke and that dad shouted, or raised his voice though I can’t say for sure how raised, and like a rabbit in the headlights my egg drama response was not fight or flight, but freeze. Two eggs over edgy, a waste.
What happened post egg smash is lost on me too – completely. Not a clue if this meant there was no egg and chips for tea or if we had to have something else. No idea if I was charged with cleaning up to atone for my inaction. No idea what happened from that point on until bedtime and even past then.
I was asleep, I remember that, and I remember being woken up. I remember being confused, because as you’ll know if you’ve ever had your own 8-year-old, they wake confused. It takes them a moment to re-enter the real world when they’ve gone to Bedfordshire or wherever you send yours off to. But I know for sure I shook off that confusion because I remember what happened next with clarity as if it happened to me today. Dad was there on my bed and he said to me “you’ll never guess what happened?” “No” I said, because I was the least inquisitive child in the world at that time. “Well, I was cooking my own tea and I put two eggs on the table and they rolled right off! I’m sorry for getting angry.”
I can hear the words like he’s still here now.
Fast forward a decade or so and it hit me like a lightning bolt – for I am thicker than thick. He didn’t let two more eggs roll off the table you absolute moron! That was his way of making sure I didn’t worry about it, that he knew it wasn’t a big deal and that he was sorry for shouting. He never shouted at me anyway, so I think it might be more realistic to say he raised his voice in the moment.
He didn’t wait until morning he knew it needed to be done even though that meant waking me up. It was imperative that I know as soon as possible that two broken eggs were just that and nothing to be sad or mad about. Also, that he was sorry.
Of course, as adult now myself I can see the potential series of events that led him to be annoyed at me for standing watching two perfectly good eggs throw themselves on the floor and go to waste. He was paying a mortgage; he was paying the other bills and all that other boring adulting stuff. I’ve no idea if he’d just found out that he didn’t get a promotion or if the car had a huge repair bill, no idea if he’d just had a shit day. There are a million and one reasons why he might have lost his temper with me, I recognise that now. Watching me, stupefied and spectating as egg 2 went splat could have been the straw that broke the back of a monumentally shit day, week, month or whatever, I’ve no clue because we never spoke about it again. But what I do know is that he didn’t try to justify his reaction, he simply tried to make sure I didn’t feel I was the stupidest person on the planet, how could I be if it happened to him as well? And, he apologised.
The wider point here, of course, is that of all the things I remember about the incident the only parts that I can recall with clarity are the words he spoke to me in bed that night. The apology and the story that put the ‘egg incident’ firmly in the realm of accident that could happen to anyone because the universe is like that sometimes and you’re not a thicky thicko for letting it happen. It’s just one of those things. Also, that people react, potentially overreact and that’s going to happen even if they are your dad, and when it happens, even if they are the adult and you are the child, they should apologise. It makes a lifetime of difference.
Childhood trauma stays with you, but then again so does how that trauma is dealt with and, of course, this isn’t a perfect story and he wasn’t the perfect parent and neither am I and that’s ok – it’s all a work in progress.
Besides it’s all in the past now anyway.
Dad had lung cancer, bone cancer, liver cancer and some other stuff, he died in January 2024.
Part 2 soon, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.