I always saw my dad, in the best way, as a Del Boy-like character.
For those too young to know, Del Boy was the star of Only Fools And Horses, an ’80s sitcom in which a perpetually unsuccessful market trader with the gift of the gab. Along with his plonker sidekick younger brother, he constantly embarks on one deal after another – many of which backfire and cause them to only end up back where they started: skint, or counting a small win.
We all loved Del Boy and Rodney’s slapstick escapades – in much the same way we get a vicarious thrill from watching others slip on a banana skin. But for people like my Dad, who felt forced to replicate the same kind of risky ventures in their own lives in order to simply provide for his family, the results were rarely as fruitful or comedic.
My dad even had an uncanny resemblance to Del Boy, walking with that same cocksure swagger. I recall the many conversations about money making ventures he would have with my mum, who was always less averse risk, and how on rare days off from his job, he found himself in the local bookies having a flutter on horses or mingling with the local wheeler dealers.
“He who dares, wins”, Del Boy’s famed mantra, just never came true for my Dad. Between the laughs huddled on the sofa watching the show, I would catch a momentary glimpse of sadness in his eyes which in hindsight is clearer now than it was back then. After one too many dares that lost, and with his ongoing misfortunes taking a toll, my father took his own life one night, leaving behind an absence none of us could have prepared for.
“Eighteen years since that day, and I still see the same issues Dad was dealing with affecting hardworking mums and dads across the country...”
I had never imagined a life without Dad. And from that fateful day, that sense of security every young boy has with his father around just vanished forever. He had never been medically diagnosed with any form of mental illness, and as was often common amongst his generation of migrant males, he had always been quite resilient with regard to life’s ups and downs. But that also meant he was of a generation that never spoke about their feelings openly with others.
Eighteen years since that day, and I still see the same issues he was dealing with affecting hardworking mums and dads across the country. Just as then, we’re in an era of financial uncertainty for so many families, with austerity impacting particularly hard on those at the lower end of the economic scale.
The latest statistics when it comes to suicide rates – male, female, young, elderly – show we are at epidemic levels, and that the mental health of far too many of us is being affected by the consequences of a culture obsessed with winning and losing rather than appreciating the more meaningful aspects of what life brings; of corporations fixated on forever making more profits at whatever human cost.
Almost two decades later, I now myself am playing that role of the grown-up father figure to my own kids. Being a dad is certainly not always an easy ride, and will always be riddled with daily obstacles, challenges, mistakes, and at times misfortunes. But equally, and if not more so, the rewards of fatherhood is my primary focus and daily source of motivation.
I don’t think my Dad allowed himself to enjoy parenthood in the way I am able to now. He was so preoccupied with simply keeping us afloat and providing us with the opportunities he never had, that time just caught up with him. Before he knew it, we were adults finding our own feet, while he had become older, tired and still not where he had imagined he should have been. Understandably, he was simply trying to live up to the expectations imposed on him by his circumstances and he knew no other way. Losing my dad in the way we did is what has shifted my focus towards the more qualitative aspects of life and beyond simply acquiring better things.
To confront the void I still feel to this very day from losing my own father in the way that I did, I’m healing by being kinder to myself and my needs, as well as being more aware of the needs of others around me too. Investing regular focus on the mind, body and spirit balance routines is something I’ve learned to incorporate into the daily grind to be able to operate fully for those that rely on me. When I think back to the way my dad parented, I recognise now that so many of his generation often felt the only way to be a good dad then was to sacrifice their own needs to provide for their families.
“Losing my father to suicide has also naturally developed a much deeper compassion for people struggling everywhere.”
Losing my father to suicide has also naturally developed a much deeper compassion for people struggling everywhere. I often recognise that same sadness my dad had in his eyes in others who are themselves also simply trying to get by daily and the signs of our wider systems failing more people are clearer for all to see today. It certainly feels as if the demands for a new model of living that enables us all to look out for each other more is greater now than it has ever been.
I appreciate that we all respond to the many traumas that life can bring us in our own unique ways, but what has helped me most in being the parent I want to be has been understanding that there’s so much more to being a dad than just being responsible for the money. As important as it is, it isn’t the sole focus.
I wish this was something my father could have realised.
Vin Sharma is a freelance TV producer and director. Follow him on Twitter at @vinsharma
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