Last month, it was my youngest daughter’s birthday so we had a party to celebrate. As the children were quite young, a few of the parents stayed to keep a watchful eye on their child, whilst others went and did the inevitable Saturday morning chores that everyone has to do. After all the running around, racing through the obstacles in the soft play area, dancing in the disco, taking pictures in the photo booth, it was time to eat. All the children settled down to tuck into the party grub. And that was when it struck me. I took a step back, looked around and was astounded at how many dads were there, all making sure that their child had enough food, making their children laugh by telling silly jokes and making funny faces, making sure that they were eating enough food, and swiping the food off their child’s plate to help them out. It was actually really beautiful to see. I mention it because a) normally, it is mothers who stay at the parties; b) a few years ago, you would not have seen so many dads be so ‘hands on’, in this fashion.
I stood there feeling happy that at least times are beginning to change. I imagined that a lot of the fathers standing there, making their children laugh, joking about, actually looking like they wanted to be there, not that it was a horrendous chore being at the party, were also the types of dads that would have helped willingly with the nappy changes, the night feeds, the endless sleepless nights. Whether that was reality or just my imagination running wild, of course I don’t know – but that was the impression I got anyway.
I often marvel at the way my husband is with our daughters. We might be watching a film, or a programme at night, deeply engrossed and interested. Suddenly, he’ll press pause on the remote, rush out of the room and race up the stairs to where the girls are sleeping. Why? He will have heard a noise (that I didn’t hear), and he just wanted to make sure they were ok. He takes pains to cook what they want; he spends time making them laugh and joking with them; nowhere is too far to drive or travel to take them to where they want to go. He’s the one that instils in them the drive that they should ‘never give up’. He tells them how strong they are and tries to instil the discipline of tidying up and putting things away. (That’s still work in progress by the way!) And they adore him. He’s the fun one that they want to spend time with. He’s the one that they want to rest upon and snuggle up to when we have ‘Movie Night’. He’s the one that they want bear hugs from, who lifts them up in the air and swings them around and up onto his shoulders, whilst they scream with delight. Do I feel envious of their bond? A pang of jealousy perhaps? Absolutely not. For me, there is no greater pleasure than watching the three of them together and I’m grateful that he is the way he is.
Those of you who read my blogs all the time, know that I write about this a lot – but my father passed away when I was 11 years old. You never recover from something like that. Never. I would always watch other fathers with their daughters, and it would feel like someone had placed huge bricks of concrete on my heart. The pain would feel as if I was being crushed. Unbearable. Of course, I just got on with life. You don’t concentrate on your pain, you concentrate on the tasks that lie ahead of you, you get things done. You feel like you’re coping, you feel like you’re getting on with things, when suddenly – BAM! The smallest thing might happen and the pain resurfaces, as raw as ever.
I remember when I was about 14, I had a dream that my dad hadn’t really died. In all the years that have passed, that was the only dream that I’ve ever had about him, so I remember it vividly. Honestly, it was like watching a film from the 1970’s, it had that type of filter, he was wearing a dark chocolate brown waistcoat, over a long sleeved white shirt, with brown flared trousers. We were on a bright, white yacht, sailing on the sea, my dad and the rest of our family, and he explained that he was sorry that he had had to fake his own death, but he had had no other option. We were all going to sail away together to start a new life somewhere else. I woke up convinced the dream was real, he was alive, everything else had all been a terrible nightmare… Of course when I realised that everything was still just as it was, I was devastated all over again – but a part of me was so happy that even for a few seconds, even though it had been a dream, seeing him again had felt so real – I hadn’t lost him after all. A part of him was there with me…and always would be…
I believe there have definitely two times in my life when either he, or another angel was there to look after me when I could have possibly died – or at the very least, been badly hurt.
Once, was when I had just passed my driving test, and was driving back home one evening. I was extremely confident and cocky about my driving skills, driving faster than I should have been, braking later than I should have been. Overestimating the control and capability of myself and my mother’s ruby red Ford Escort, that she would let me drive. So there I was, driving a lot faster than I should have been, approaching the roundabout that people often call the ‘Ribbon roundabout’ in Coventry, due to the sculpture of a huge blue ribbon, in the middle of the huge, grassy mound. A nod to the days when Coventry was a famous ribbon making city. I could see that the traffic was slowing down, but I foolishly maintained my driving speed. All of a sudden the car in front of me, which had seemed quite far away, came to a abrupt stop – but I was still hurtling towards it. I panicked. My heart was thumping. My palms were sweating. My breathing, fast and shallow. I don’t know why but I closed my eyes. I was convinced. This was the end. I was going to smash into the car in front of me. I pressed the break pedal with my right foot – but I felt it go down deeper, much deeper under my foot. The only way to explain it, was that it felt as if the brake pedal had a mind of its own. It had gone down much further than I had pressed it because by this time, panic had made me lose a lot of the strength that my legs normally possessed. The car had miraculously come to a halt. Tentatively, I opened my eyes. My car had stopped just in time, and the traffic was moving again. With so much gratitude in my heart, I drove home safely – and have been a careful driver ever since. I know many of you won’t believe me, and a lot of you will scoff – but I know that I wasn’t in control of the car when it managed to break without hurting anyone. I was just immensely grateful to be alive.
The second time – and this one – I can’t believe that I made it out of the situation unhurt and safe – I was at the Pool Meadow bus station in Coventry. It was a Sunday night. I was a student at the time and I was returning home after a friend’s wedding that had taken place in Wolverhampton. I had had a terrible time getting home. I had caught a train from Wolverhampton to Birmingham New Street, but there were only replacement bus services to Coventry. I arrived at Coventry station quite late, but felt really unsafe as there were no members of staff around, and there were a huge number of unsavoury types, who were clearly drunk, yelling aggressively at each other, I knew I had to get out of there. There was no real time to use the phones at the station to let my mum know the change of plan. She had been due to pick me up at about half past 9 from the station. Another woman, who could see that I was feeling distressed said to me, ‘I’ve ordered a taxi, jump in with me and get off at Pool Meadow, you’ll be safe there.’ I was so grateful to receive some kindness when I was feeling so frightened and vulnerable, I immediately agreed.
Her cab arrived and we both got in. I realised my mistake as soon as sat down and the doors were closed. She knew the cab driver. They were arguing. My brain just shut down. My head ached. I was so tired. I just wanted to get home. Why had I got into a car with a complete stranger in the first place? She began asking me questions and I answered mono-syllabically, trying to muster the calmest and friendliest tone that I possibly could. Carefully, I scanned the route that we were taking – hoping desperately that the roads were leading to Pool Meadow. When we finally got there, I thanked the lady and the driver and ran out of the car as fast as I possibly could. Racing into the station, I hunted for the telephones. There they stood, in the middle of the empty, deserted station, a cluster of phones that would let me hear a friendly voice once again. I grabbed the receiver of the nearest phone, shoved in some coins and tapped the buttons to call home. To my relief, my brother picked up the phone, he relayed the message to my mum that I needed to be picked up from Pool Meadow now. She leapt into action, and I continued to talk to my brother. Whilst on the phone, I saw a figure, not much taller than me, walking towards me. It stopped directly behind me. I turned and saw a man, with a strange look in his eyes, staring straight at me. ‘I have go to now,’ I whispered to my brother, as I placed the receiver back on the hook. I remember hearing him cry, ‘Wait! What’s the matter?’ But there was no time to explain. I knew I was in trouble. I looked at the man, straight in the eyes – then I heard a clatter on the floor. I looked down. By his feet, there lay a kitchen knife. The type that you use to chop vegetables and cut meat. I looked back at him. Everything happened in slow motion. I grabbed my things and ran to the nearest door. I didn’t scream. I couldn’t. I didn’t look back. My arms and legs felt like lead. I wasn’t running fast enough, I couldn’t make a noise. I needed to get out. Outside to safety- where I would be able to breathe again.
I reached the door, pulled it open, saw some cab drivers and stood hovering near them. I couldn’t tell them what had happened either. My mind couldn’t quite process what had just happened. A man, with a knife, had been standing behind me. His knife had dropped – and I left. What if the knife hadn’t clattered to the floor? What if the echoes of the sound hadn’t reverberated around the hall? What if I hadn’t run away fast enough? What if? So many what ifs? Eventually, my mum’s pulled up to pick me up and I sobbed all the way home. Not able to speak. Unable to explain what had just happened. All I could think was – I could have died. But thank God, I didn’t.
Several months later, after I was able to process what had happened, I realised how incredibly lucky I was. I was grateful to God, to the angels who are there to protect you, to my Dad, who I felt was always there looking after me. I don’t know who saved me, who protected me, or what forces were in action to save me on both occasions. All I know that I was blessed and incredibly lucky to come out unscathed on both occasions, and that it makes me feel comforted that even though he physically isn’t here anymore – perhaps my father played a part in making sure I was safe and ok, just as he would have done, had he been alive today.