I’ve long had a strained relationship with my father.
Although we’ve nearly always been friends, his lifelong alcoholism has often driven a wedge between us. I sometimes find it difficult to be around him and he finds it impossible to say how he really feels.
He’s once told me he was proud of me, 10 years after my graduating from university. He frequently forgets my birthday without making up for it. He can go for a year avoiding me if he thinks I am angry with him.
Recently, whilst rescuing old photos from a corrupted archive file, I came across photos of him in his flat from 15 years ago. Possibly the last time I was there, when I lived with him for a month. It was not a happy month. But it was nice to see and reflect on times when we got along better. Since then, Dad has not entertained visitors, preferring instead to be the visitor himself.
In a strange twist of chance, the same week I unearthed these photos, I had a call from my Aunt saying that Dad needs our help and that we were to go back to the flat for the first time in 15 years to find him.
And so in a very short time I found myself in a position to be comparing fresh memories of the past with the immediate now.
In some ways, the flat had not changed. All the furniture was the same. Almost exactly in the same spot as in the photograph. The decor had not changed, Dad’s choice of bright orange still beaming around the living room, and the wallpaper I had been in the middle of stripping still peeling off the backroom walls unfinished, as I had left it.
The main difference was that the place was now filled entirely with hoarded rubbish. In some places above knee height. It was a shocking revelation.
Dad himself was dispondant, not immediately recognising me. I said we were going to take him away with us. He responded “OK, I don’t care. Who are you?”
I have never seen a human being so broken. And my heart breaks.