Sunday, 18 December 2011

Age - Appropriate

Age.  Funny old thing.  I read somewhere recently (probably on Twitter) that 'old age' gets older the older one gets.  I get that.  Last week, I turned 56, which is the same age that my father was when he passed away - a few days after his birthday - from liver failure brought on by cancer.  I was 27.

When he and I were younger, I thought of Dad as a much more mature - OK, older - man than I think of myself now at the same age.  His generation seemed to have had age imposed on them - he was a child during the Second World War - and from my earliest recollections, he and my mother seemed permanently middle-aged.

When he died, it was relatively quick. A previously dealt-with bowel cancer had returned and unbeknown to us, had migrated to and knackered his liver.  When he went in for investigative surgery, they took one look, closed him back up again and advised my mother that he only had a few weeks left.  Because the liver was shot, he never truly came back out of the anaesthesia and over a couple of weeks, gradually drifted away from us in a relatively pain-free, opium-fuelled dream state.  If I'd thought he was older before, he certainly was an old man when he eventually slipped away between visits, a few days after his 56th birthday.

Now that it's my own 56th birthday, I have been giving a lot of thought to my Dad. On reflection, it seems that when he died, whilst I was concerned for my Mum and my Brother, I was mostly preoccupied with  how unfair it was for me to be left fatherless at 27; that I wasn't yet ready to step up and be the man he was. I had lost my 'final arbiter', the one person I still had to impress. It was as if he had said to me "Right, you're on your own now Son; time to be a man."  Poor me!

What I failed to realise then - and why I am writing this piece - is how much life he should have had ahead of him, with my Mum, whilst my brother and I forged ahead in our lives, married our wives, raised our children - his Grandchildren - started to succeed in our respective careers, etc. And what times he and my Mum would have had to share for many more years together.  He had worked so hard to get to where he was, to  provide a home and support for Mum, my brother and me.  He deserved to get to his well-earned retirement and enjoy his family and Grandchildren, who I know would have given him so much pleasure.  But cancer took that away from him when he was still a young man.

I can say 'young man' now, because I'm now that age, and I consider myself to be a young man still, with all of that good stuff still ahead of me.  My children are now nearly 20 and 16 (even younger again than I was when Dad reached 56).

But I have also recognised that my clock is ticking and I have much still to do.  So, in my 57th year, and as we approach 2012, my New Year - and every new new year's - resolution is to have more fun, travel, learn more and look after myself - for me, for Mandy, for Tash and Sam and maybe one day, my own Grandchildren.  

Thanks Dad.  


  1. Niall, this is a poignant and lovely post. I can relate to your story too. My Dad died at 57 when I was 16 and my philosophy is the same as yours - enjoy life today as though it was your last (although of course I am 8 years older than you).

    So like you I still feel young, still enjoy and can relate to younger people and that keeps me young. When you are feeling down with life, remember like I do how much my Dad would have loved to be me now and enjoy his never seen grandchildren.

    Thanks for writing this. It has greatly uplifted a mundane Sunday. I am now taking the dog for a walk in the woods to finish the walk at the old country pub. I will toast our Dads.

  2. Thank you Colin. Make sure it's a good malt whisky! To them both...

  3. What a heart felt post Niall and an amazing way to turn a negative experience into a positive. My Dad turned 60 this year and to me he's not old at all. He lives life to the full often having far more fun than me I think!

    Keep on enjoying everything you have, more people should follow your positive and inspiring example.

  4. Thank you Kate. I'm trying. Enjoyed your 'running' blog as well - not something I will be adding to my own 'fun and travel' plans, I have to confess.

  5. Hi, Niall. This is beautifully written; economical, simple, direct, elegant. One of my closest and oldest (in that we've known eachother a long time) friends is going through precisely the same illness your Dad went through and at a similar age. She's doing well. She's lucky it was detected quickly but it had spread to the liver. She's had an op. She's about to do her second batch of chemo. She has just the right balance of acceptance and fight to make the best recovery possible and we're all very heartened by her optimism and her progress. We're making more effort as a group of friends to be there for her, spend time doing things we might - no would - have been guilty of not getting round to, were it not for this illness. It's reminded us we should make this much effort to be with eachother irrespective of illness. But it focusses the mind. Thanks for writing this piece. And thanks for writing it so well.

    1. Thanks Liz,
      Seems like 2013 is a significant year in more ways than one - the anniversary above AND our 40 year college reunion! It'll also be my Brother's 30th Wedding Anniversary. Funny how things come together when you start paying attention to them...