We were sitting outside on the south facing patio though the sun had worked its way east and was no longer giving me the benefit of its heat since I was in the shadow of the house next door. On my left is the back door to the house that goes into the kitchen, on my lap is a poodle. A man appears in the doorway and bends down to stroke a dog, for a few drawn out seconds I see my Dad. At the same time I see my brother, except my mind is racing to see why, or how I could possibly see my dad there, it just doesn’t make sense. I study his hair, his eyebrow, his cheek, what is it that triggered that memory? The man stands up and now I definitely see my brother and yet for a moment I am again reminded of my father but this time, it is the slack face I saw whilst his body lay in the coffin; I would say my brother’s face is rather round so I don’t know where that echo came from.
I have an uneasy relationship with my family mainly I think because we never really learnt to communicate honestly with each other. I deliberately left home to get away from such issues and now I live hundreds of miles away from them. Of course technology nowadays doesn’t recognise that distance as an issue but I rarely contact my family via the telephone let alone video chat, the disconnect is a safety buffer. It is a bit unfair really for my brother; the three year gap between us seemed to be too much for us to have much in common but looking back on it, I suspect he was escaping the home situation in his way whilst still living there and I was just left behind.
He had a tougher time than me so it seems; he was the eldest and my parents had to continuously redefine their role as he was becoming an adult – he always seemed to be doing something wrong, when in reality he was doing completely normal stuff that my parents couldn’t get their heads around. Perhaps unconsciously I enjoyed the spotlight being shone on him, I learned to keep to the shadows and not draw attention to myself, and you can’t get in trouble if nobody sees you. Equally though I don’t think I did a good job hiding in the shadows, adolescents have to break rules to define themselves and I was not exception. I refused to go on holiday with my parents after I was sixteen; I refused to eat what my mother cooked and made my own food instead; I stayed out later than I was allowed; I went to University rather than getting a job.
Over thirty years later I can look back on these rebellions with amusement. There is a part of me that looks forward to the time my kids don’t want to go on holiday with us, time to spend doing what we like with my wife rather making compromises for the kids and our sanities, though I could see perhaps that I might worry about what the youngest is doing at home. We have encouraged our kids to cook for us so that they appreciate cooking for others and have some skills when they leave home. As for staying out late, my wife trains the kids to let her know where they are and with the advent of mobiles, they are never too hard to locate though it doesn’t stop my two youngest “not seeing” the texts that are sent. Like my father before me, I tend to be the one to go and pick them up when a late night lift is needed (the wife does the unneeded ones). The expectation in our house is that you do go to university so rebellion would be not doing so. I actively encourage my kids to stay as long as possible in further education because it is not until the opportunities are gone when you realise how great those times are due to the lack of responsibilities you have (well that’s my view).
My brother made his own way in life. Whereas I was academic, he was practical and undertook an apprenticeship after leaving school at sixteen. He is a production engineer by trade, but has recently moved more into a customer focused area which I would call Professional Services, that is, he helps his company’s customers get the best from the equipment they have, and also researches and demonstrates what can be done with the current systems. He would seem to be a good communicator now since that is an essential part of what he gets paid for. As we grow older I find we have more in common. We have both married people from different cultures. We both have challenging teenage daughters at the moment. We both own houses as well as dogs. We both voted against Brexit, and we both have issues with our livers. My wife pointed out that we hadn’t seen my brother and his family for a long time particularly without my mother being present, and that fact seemed to be quite important. Everybody seemed to be relaxed (apart from my poodle who has been attacked by a husky) and enjoying the company, we shared food and drink; we caught up on some of the things going on in our lives. We were starting to become better friends as well as brothers. I like that.
It has been eighteen years since my Dad died and there is still a part of me that cannot comprehend how that can be possible. How can such a warm, kind, funny, comforting man no longer be around to support and advise me? I can still remember the incredulity of seeing my father’s shell of a body in a coffin but not recognising what lay there as my Dad. It looked wrong, it didn’t look real. Yet the fact of the matter is that my father lives on in me, and particularly my brother, and to some extent my mother. We were all affected and remoulded by him in ways I probably don’t realise. Perhaps when I briefly saw my father in my brother face when he appeared in that doorway, my subconscious was reminding me of this continuity fact. Next time I wish my father was here to help, perhaps I should take that as a hint to connect with him through my brother. After all the most important connection I have with my brother is through my parents, and both being men, in particularly our Dad.