To paraphrase Camus, I thought my father died yesterday, or was it the day before yesterday?
Two days ago, I had an email from my mother telling me he was in a coma. After frantic chats with the doctors the news that he was unlikely to pull through. At 2am the following morning my mother called me. I missed her call. But when I woke up at 7am my time and saw that she had called I assumed the worst. Why else would she be calling in the middle of the night? By that stage it was 4am her time and I felt there was no point in waking her up to give me the bad news.
My father is not a young man, in fact he was 89 yesterday. It would have been just like him to do a Shakespeare (that is to die on his birthday). So for several hours I was convinced that was it. The first thing I thought was that I should have gone to see him in the summer, the second that I should have called him last week. We are not in touch that regularly, but it felt just appalling that I would never hear his voice again.
I also had an overwhelming desire to write about it, which I know will please him. He is definitely of the “everything is copy” Nora Ephron school of thought. He is a writer and is always saying to me that I should never go a day without putting something down on paper, even if it’s just a sentence.
This is also not a man who I can say brought me up. I didn’t meet him until I was 12. Although I would say that he is the person who had the most influence on me from that age in terms of how to think, write and live. I remember my first ever attempt at writing a book. I was all of 12, and possibly the most stupid living creature ever. I wrote a sentimental story about a girl being forced into marrying someone called Rupert (can you imagine?!). “I cried, oh how I cried,” said my heroine. My father put a big red line through it. “Never repeat yourself, listen to how stupid it sounds ‘I shit, oh how I shit.’” It’s a lesson I have never forgotten.
One of my most recent memories of him is from a party in Italy a few years ago where he sat on a rock and recited Dante to the assembled guests. It was a magical evening, which I think even the children will always remember. Not least because he told them two remarkable facts. One was that Olivia speaks French “comme une vache espagnole” (like a Spanish cow) and the other that he dealt with his enemies by cutting of his eyebrows and sending them to them in small white envelopes. They were all entranced.
I think a lot of people who know my father are entranced (well, apart from his enemies). He is an extremely intelligent, scarily cultured as well as hilariously funny man. In fact I think his humour is the thing that really sets him apart. However old he gets, he never loses the ability to make me laugh. Also there is just never, ever anything mundane about him. He seems to inhabit a different level of existence where everyday life doesn’t infringe.
As you may have guessed, the old goat has pulled through. In fact I spoke to him yesterday. “Why are you calling?” was his first question. “It’s your birthday,” I told him. It was incredible hearing his voice. They said last night that if all goes as it should he will be home from hospital in a week. A far better end to the day than beginning. Miraculous in fact. And so like my father.