My Dad was a larger than life character, he loved life, food, wine, cognac, art, conversation and debate, he loved family, he loved his Mother who was 93 when she passed. He was difficult too, especially with me. You see, he liked to be in control, he liked to feel needed and he liked to win. I on the other hand challenged what he had to say, withdrew when criticized or controlled and would confront situations and discussions head on when I disagreed. All this meant that I loved my Dad, but didn’t spend a lot to time with him as he triggered me hugely, most of what he said fed into my ‘your not good enough’ belief pattern.
He passed over about 3 years ago… well, on 21st April 2013 to be exact. He was 252 lbs, suffered with adult onset diabetes, had an enlarged heart, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and high blood pressure. He had been chronically ill for about 10 years, yet died suddenly it seemed. I was with him, as was my sister, He’d called me early on a Sunday morning and we both knew something was different about this day. He couldn’t even stand up, I called the ambulance and under a blue light and sirens we traveled to the Accident and Emergency department at May Day Hospital in South London. My sister was on her way up from Brighton (an hour’s drive).. so I sat with him… he couldn’t breathe.. the doctor told me his lungs were filling up fluid, we needed a particular machine to drain them, but two other people were using the available ones, so we waited… Dad’s lungs took on more fluid… we waited… and then he died. We were in shock, life is so tenable, so precious and is taken in an instant. He, though, looked more peaceful in death than I had ever seen him look in life.
David Edward Gray was born 1st July 1937, in Croydon, to Rose and Valentine Gray, Rose was a housekeeper, in service and Val worked as a carpenter. He was an only child, as his older brother had died very young. He was small through the Second World War and stayed in Croydon with his mother. They had an air raid shelter in their garden. Croydon was the main war effort airport so their town was bombed often. His father died from mustard gas inhalation. I can’t imagine the impact that sort of childhood would have. As he grew up he was ambitious. He suffered a physically abusive time as a boy and was the first in his family to get an education past 11. He went to Building School and became a Surveyor, he served in the army from the age of 18 to 21, his duties were teaching the officers how to cross country ski in Germany and he was a lightweight boxer during his time there. He married my mother aged 23 and set up a company that refurbished the big hotels in London, I so wanted to be a ‘Daddy’s girl’… but I wasn’t. That was my sister. So early on, I took on the idea that I had to fight for attention, that I was loved less than others and that everything single thing I did wasn’t good enough for praise.
It made me achieve, I was the best I could be at school, on the athletics field, in the dance studio, looking for approval.
He wasn’t there much in my teenage years, he had a drinking problem and a smoking problem and my parents marriage was failing. Part of his business was to network and entertain, which meant late nights, boozy meals and distance from the family. This is when he started to get fat. This is when I first realized he was unhappy. This is when I first really clashed with him.
I realize now that he played a huge part in how I manage my romantic relationships. He was the first man I ever interacted with, to my inner self, this relationship was a failure, in this relationship I had to give too much, ignore my needs to get noticed and I wasn’t allowed to express my true feelings of voice my thoughts. Ultimately, I just wanted him to love me, he did, but not in the way I needed him to. I wanted him to see who I was and encourage me to keep going, not tell me of all the reasons why I might fail. I wanted him to be proud of me for my achievements not just what I looked like.
The relationships we have with our mother and father are absolutely pivotal to how we ‘relation’ in adulthood. Yet most of the time our inbuilt behavior and beliefs were laid down when we were emotionally immature and vulnerable children. Delving deep into the make up and history of the first relationship experiences bring such insight, awareness and growth.
I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg here with what my Dad taught me through the way he behaved, there is much more to unravel I am sure.
What is poignant to me is that two weeks before his death, he had (finally) agreed to come and live with me in my home so that I could look after him. I have an artist’s studio that we were going to convert into a self contained apartment for him, I live in a village so he wouldn’t be isolated and I would be there to help him when he needed it. He was reluctant to agree to this as he said he didn’t want to be a burden. I wonder when he first believed he was a burden in life (at his mother’s knee perhaps?). Anyway, I got him to agree and as soon as he did relinquish control over his life and came to a place of acceptance he died. I felt we had healed our relationship, it is as though unconsciously he was waiting to do that before he left.
Now, three years on I have a great relationship with him. That physical being that he was in life I feel was an expression of all the things he came this time to learn. The soul that he is visits me often, and I know is guiding me now more than he ever did alive.
I am truly grateful for my Dad, for the gift of life that he gave me and for all the things he showed me not to be.
Love you DAD!