When I was little, my Dad was my whole world. My Mum could stand on her head, I wouldn't notice, but my Dad was the sun and the moon to me. I thought of him as a hero; no one else had a Dad that tall, that strong, that beautiful...I was certain he knew all the secrets of the universe, and he was going to tell them to me, too. I followed him everywhere, and I was never happier than when he took me with him on his frequent business trips.
Of course, that all came to an end when I became old enough to go to school, and my Dad and I slowly drifted apart. My Mum was right, he was never home, and when he was, he was preoccupied with work and too busy to spend much time with his daughters. For years, we hardly noticed him; then all of a sudden, we noticed him too much. He had started drinking, and he became an embarrassment.
In my early teens, my overriding concern became to keep my friends away from my father. If he was home, I wouldn't invite them round. If they came round anyway, I'd fly into a panic. Is Dad in the office? Fine, we're good. Is Dad lolling about in the living room, hung-over on a Tuesday afternoon? Can we dispense with the greeting ritual? Better herd them away...In these angst-ridden days, the thing I felt most keenly was ashamed. Ashamed of my Dad, and ashamed that I felt ashamed of him. When Mum filed for divorce, and we moved out, I wasn't just sad and scared, but also relieved.
Strangely enough, after the divorce and the loss of his business, my Dad suddenly found the strength to go tee-total. He also started to take an interest in me and my sister again. Before too long he was back on his feet, and soon got himself a new girlfriend, too. He moved in with her and she soon became my beloved step-mum. And my Dad and I became friends again. He wasn't my hero anymore, but he had earned my respect, and we got to know each other a bit better.
Then he suffered the first of his strokes. Through sheer determination, he overcame the paralysis and within a year he was walking again, although he never managed to get his left side back to full strength, and he slurs his words.
In 2000, my step-mum died. A month later, my Dad was admitted to hospital with his second stroke, from which he hasn't recovered as well as he has from the first. He hasn't become any worse in his physical strength, but mentally he's deteriorated a lot.
He now lives in sheltered accommodation, and doesn't get out much. I usually see him at the weekend, spend a few hours with him, sometimes take him out to dinner - but it's hard to keep a conversation going when the person at the other end forgets what you're discussing. He's perfectly capable of getting up and walking away, in the middle of uttering a sentence; completely oblivious to the fact that he was talking to someone not even a minute ago. He pulls the same stunt on the phone: calls me up, starts to tell me something, breaks off in the middle of it and hangs up. I call back -- and he isn't aware of having been on the phone with me before.
He drools and he cannot control his bowel movements, but he's my Dad and I love him.