From the Rider-Waite Tarot

Waiting for me on the answerphone was the message I have been dreading, the one from my stepmother saying simply that she would call back later.

In the end, it wasn’t prostate cancer or tumours on his spine which killed him, but pneumonia, and he died peacefully in a California hospital, less than 24 hours after admission, with his beloved wife at his side.

Although I have been expecting it for a long time, the news was a shock.

It will take a little while for his death to sink in properly and it’s not helped by the distance.

Of course, it’s just not possible for me to travel to the funeral, something I accepted a long time ago. I have no difficulty with that, it’s more the absolute lack of anything practical to do which I’m finding hard.

When my sister Maryanne died I was so busy, first with our travel arrangements to get there and then, once we arrived, with arranging the funeral itself. This is completely different and I am at a bit of a loss.

There seems no alternative to simply carrying on as normal, which is alright, but I keep saying to myself, ‘My father has died,’ and waiting for something momentous to come of it, as if there should be more to the occasion.

I tried putting an obituary together, but although I seem to have written a fair few, this one feels beyond me.

Probably in anticipation of this moment, I’ve been thinking about his failings as a father and how I feel about them.

It’s only in the past year that I’ve realised how sad the funny stories I tell about my relationship with my father actually are.

Just the other day I was reminded of one of them when I found an old photograph of me, taken by my dad when I was probably two or three.

It shows me clutching a pen and for many years was pinned to his noticeboard over his desk.

I was an adult and working with him when that picture turned up in a pile of old cuttings and photographs.

‘Oh look,’ he said, ‘there’s that picture I took of you before you learned how to write properly.’

I asked him what he meant and he pointed at the pen and said, ‘look, you’re holding it in your left hand.’

‘Dad,’ I said. ‘I am left handed.’

Of course I went into journalism in a bid to gain his attention and it undoubtedly worked, even if for most of my adult life we related more as fellow journalists than father and daughter.

It was only in the last few years that we really got to grips with that one, and although he was never terribly good at it, I treasure his few attempts at fatherly advice and concern.

Perhaps the best thing he ever said to me was only a few months ago. I knew how disappointed he was that I hadn’t continued in journalism – mainly because he told all and sundry, if never me – and I guessed that my spell as a cleaning lady did nothing to ease that disappointment.

I joked that if it made him feel any better he could call it research for my next writing project and he said, ‘I don’t mind what you do as long as you’re happy. That’s the most important thing.’

So, in the end, right on deadline, he got it precisely right.

He was a great man, who may not have noticed I was left-handed, and who usually forgot my birthday – in my childhood I became quite used to being handed a fistful of banknotes and an apology – but in the end what he gave me was much more important.

He was a man of courage and integrity who always followed his heart and left the consequences to the devil.

He taught me to plan as far as you can and when you can plan no more, jump in with both boots and see what sticks. It worked often enough for him, and it’s worked so far for me.

I hadn’t been here long when I was talking to him once on the phone. They were dark days for me and I said to him, ‘I’m so scared.’

It was another occasion when he got it right. ‘It’s okay to be scared,’ he told me. ‘I’m scared all the time. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t scared.’

He taught me something else as well – that above all, through everything, have a bit of fun as well as fear. He taught me to find the humour in our oh-so-human foibles. Just because it’s scary, it doesn’t have to be serious.

Today’s card is the first that I did not choose at random. I was going to select the Emperor but now I’ve changed my mind. I’m going for the spirit of the Fool, setting out with the sun on his face and all the World before him.

Throughout his journey, my father never lost that sense of adventure and lightness of spirit. I don’t know if he took it with him. But if we can take anything, he’d take that.

Go well Daddy. I love you.

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