As I hear the dragon-esque screams from the aeroplane flying above the home of my two terribly incongruent but tremendously loving parents, lying on my mom’s bed as she’s recovering in hospital from nose surgery and my father in the next room tucked away in his own slumber, I feel a moment of sheer terror as I begin to imagine these dark and twisted thoughts that would be running through his mind as he lays there…a man haunted by death.
For some background, my father is 69 years-old, partially blind and a cancer patient. He fought off two previous scares, 5 heart attacks from defective pacemakers and a splosh of gout on his right leg, but don’t let that fool you.
My mom still makes him take the trash out.
But the disease has returned with some venom, and for the first time so far he’s had to take chemotherapy to stave off the growth that took root in his pancreas and lymphatic system, and finally reached its way into his lung.
Ok, you may think this piece seems somewhat bittersweet from a comedian and I’m sure you’re a little uneasy about reading such intimate details. Suppose it is then? What honour do I bring from laying out such morbid, and frankly quite personal, facts about a man you may not know? What point is there to revealing a factor of our mortality we usually cannot face so readily?
I want you to know this, not because I get a kick out of it…but that you are aware of my intent for what I say below.
Up until this point, this isn’t his first time on the rodeo. It’s already been a few years now that he has faced the threat of letting loose his mortal coil, and Dad has grown accustomed to waving goodnight at 9pm, shuffling off to his bedroom and closing the door to the family he produced.
From then on, I can’t even begin to think that it’s all fine and dandy.
I continue to imagine him getting ready for bed, cover himself with his blanket, turn on his right side like he used to when as a child I found him so, and as he closes his eyes and wishes himself a merry sleep, I descend further into my own version of his madness and poke at that large psychological wall we build around our psyche with signs all around saying, “Here lies your real purpose: to die.”
And what a horrible terror that must be.
With myself being 32, far younger and with hopeful prospects to outmatch his age, I couldn’t blame him if he was sobbing like a child every night, pleading with a whisper through the tears to spare this life for a while longer and only just to keep thinking about the days when he was younger, the antics he pulled and the lessons he learnt.
And then the dreams, for eventually every man so comfortable underneath a roof and surrounded by four walls, sleep will eventually take him and let loose a torrent of perpetual mind-f***s over which he has no control. Memories play like theatre in this world, a menagerie of characters, actors and influences. The loves, the wants, the regrets and the joys, the pain and loss, all scripts in movies he plays overnight like a crap television station.
Doesn’t he go mad?
Well if he does, he never shows it through his stable exterior, chatting to us about various subjects that don’t tax the brain, laughing at jokes and pointing out my ridiculous antics in front of my girlfriend purely just to hear her giggle. The ultimate joker.
He also embues a deep sense of pride in his independence, never asking for assistance standing up from the couch and washing the dishes after my mother’s cooked a meal like any decent husband would. I guess keeping a routine is therapeutic, giving him what little purpose he has left after his retirement from slaving away at odd jobs in private retail outlets for various Portuguese businessmen more successful than he ever was.
But the routine doesn’t end there.
He faces each day knowing there’s a check-up to be had, a bloodtest to be taken, a session of chemotherapy for 6 hours at a time. Walking with a cane is a sight I’d never thought I’d see from him, and he struggles with the rust-coloured inflammation on his aged calf. A few teeth have rotted and fallen out thanks to the harsh cancer treatment, he pricks himself on his finger to check his diabetes every day, and he scratches on the scar by his heart where a pacemaker regulates the heartbeat that keeps him with us everyday.
My father’s body is breaking down.
It’s also hard to ask him what he thinks about, let alone the dreams he has. He’s a gruff man of few words, tends to give opinions about politics and finances the same as any simple folk with simple needs may question, but digger deeper has never been his strength. And my own fear and mismanagement of confrontation cannot wring the truth out of a man who thinks that to be a man…you have to get married.
So I lay here, on my mother’s bed, dreaming his dreams. As I’m not a foremost expert in psychology, I’m sure it’s some disturbing practise I should probably speak to a psychiatrist about but, to theorise why I’m acting so, it’s like…I’m using my father to understand my own fear of death.
I’m terrified of dying, it’s not a fun subject for me. I wish to some mythical power everyday that I mystically can change the scenario so that I do have to die, keeping going on doing the same routine I live by everyday, continue to see women, joke with friends, get on stage and write a screenplay, countlessly and endlessly.
But there’s a flicker, a memory, that rebounds back into view…that this is finite. When this is over, there’s no more of me. My own consciousness will cease to function, and the limbo we…
…well, I’ve been to write something other than exist, or feel or experience, but I soon realised we have nothing to explain that state which is no state at all, that nothingness which is nothing at all.
But through seeing my dad, observing how he reacts to all of that fear, they’ve said in ages old that when “a man stares at Death and gets to know his face, he gets to know that face a little better,” and I hope he has that, that one triumphant grasp at respect he worked hard for and only somewhat retrieved. By showing me he accepts the danger that looms, forgets it’s ever there, and sits down to watch old Wrestling movies with me, I feel immense comfort knowing he’s still trying hard to be the man I once knew growing up. Not the man before with his many faults, the man that brought ME up that I know.
A man that held his tongue up over his front teeth while disciplining me as a way of scaring me.
A man that drove me to primary school after we’d opened the corner shop, cutting up the newspapers and stacking the fresh bread.
A man who taught me how to ride a bicycle.
So I sit here, writing this piece, letting you know that he taught me to do what you need to do, whatever you have to do, to be a man, not necessarily a good man, but a man. And never go out of this world without leaving a mark, like he’d never done. And so I do; each performer, writer, artist and producer all had deadlines. I’ve got my very own, and something will be done that will dazzle many people’s minds…before my own candle’s snuffed out.
And if I fail that, in the “immortal” words of the late Llyold Bridges from Hot Shots: