Is there a Happy Ending? Hollywood versus Life

by Gavin

In the movies and many made for TV programmes, there is rapprochement between sons and their fathers, often on the deathbed. There is closure and acceptance, a final peace.

In real life this is not often the case. My father died last year after a 3 year battle with emphysema. He slowly withered over 3 years until his heart gave out. It was sudden and painless which was the best way for him to go.

About a month before he went, we drove down to see him. I was between contracts so had some time and had decided to walk the last mile with him and if he wanted, hold his hand at the end so he could have the love of his family with him as he went to wherever people go when they die.

But, this is where real life separates from idealised make-believe, as seen on TV. After a 4 hour drive to get there on a wet Friday afternoon we all sat down for a drink and a chat. He started to rip into me for not doing some things differently. I have burned into my brain his face turning purple as he gasped for air shaking his 84 year finger at me in rebuke and pouring out his venom. It would have been comical if it was not so real.

I was worried he was going to keel over on the spot he was getting so worked up. My wife was surprised at his venomous outburst and rather shocked. My mum attempting to sooth the waters said don?t worry dear he doesn?t mean it; it?s just the medication making him irritable.

Sometime later that evening in the quiet of our room I was talking with my wife and had a realisation. I had been there before. This is how he was 50 years ago when I was a child. He had always been this way. He had just removed the veneer of respectability as he got closer to death. This was the old man I knew and had grown up with.

We had never got along very well. My world was different from his and he never respected or understood mine and would often criticise or condemn my efforts without enough knowledge to hold a reasonable opinion.

The irony is, I have a wonderful wife and fabulous kids whom I love dearly. It was from this place that I was willing to put all the past wrongs aside and walk with him figuratively for his last days and make peace with our troubled past. I felt it would be healing for both of us and a good thing. I knew this was our last chance and he chose not to take it. For me that night he died and I had to accept that he would never be any element of the father I wanted him to be or like the father I want to be for my kids.

A few short weeks later he died with no happy ending.

The saddest part for me was that someone close to me was still so angry. He was close to dying and was so full of poison. He had not made any peace with death or me as his only surviving offspring. Yet he was very afraid of dying, as inevitable as it was for him, even knowing he was very close.

Is this a common thing in New Zealand? I suspect it is. I suspect of lot of people grow up in dysfunctional families and have the struggle of resolving the past whilst doing the best they can to accommodate the present and plan for the future.

As with a lot of problems in society these days they can only be solved by facing them honestly, perhaps brutally. You can only deal with things when you know what they are so ways can be found to fix them.

My thoughts for fathers and sons, if you can make peace with each other before it is too late, do so. I suspect many efforts will be rebuffed. But for some, it will bring healing, forgiveness and peace.

At least I can sleep at night knowing that I did my best to put things right with him before he died.