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My family’s bucket list: 1) Be safe. 2) Be secure. 3) Whaddya mean, you want to see more items than just those two???


Misty morning

My poor car is broken. It hasn’t been well since Monday night, when the steering felt heavy as I parked up. Hoping that it was a low revs problem, I tried to drive to work on Tuesday morning, but after about five minutes of optimistic revving, I realised that finishing the twelve mile journey would not be sensible and pulled in at the local service station.

Luckily, the service station is right next to the train station.

So my journeys to work over the past few days have looked a lot like this. It’s autumn cool and misty but with a strong, low summer sun still hanging in there. I’ve enjoyed the cycling and walking part of it, and being able to read on the train (Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness is my book of choice at the moment), although this does add a total of an hour a day onto my journey so not something I could sustain on a regular basis.


Even though my car broke down, Tuesday was pretty cool:

  1. My manager didn’t mind that I was late and said don’t worry about making up the extra hour.
  2. I got a lift back home close to my house from my co-worker, who was off with his wife to some function in the north of the county.
  3. I then got a lift all the way back home from my friend, Kath, who runs the village shop. It’s nice that often around here, it happens that when you are walking around, someone you know will see you and offer you a lift.
  4. My parents phoned in the evening.

Usually number 4 induces a mixture of boredom and dread.  Especially as I am not sure what’s up with my dad at the moment, but he’s taken to wanting to get to know me and my sister more, and expressing regret and that kind of stuff. I’ve always been very cagey about showing how I feel to my family. I always felt that as no-one was really interested in giving me what I wanted, only what I should have, that it was important to guard my feelings closely and protect them.

He’s been wanting to get closer for a while, but I’ve never been ready. I’ve wanted to hold on too much to this need to protect myself. It’s only recently that I’ve started to feel properly like a grown up, and part of growing up is not being imprisoned by the habits of your upbringing any more.

On Tuesday evening, my mum phones, as usual. After a few minutes talking about their holiday, she says my dad wants to talk. My dad never talks on the phone. He never even answers the phone, because it’s never for him. But today he wants to talk, and we get back to the subject of getting closer.

My dad’s aim of getting closer is always weirdly tied in with the fact that one day he and my mum will need looking after. He worries that if we don’t sort out whatever issues we have had as a family, it’ll be miserable for he and/or my mum when it comes to being dependent on me or my sister.

I find this attitude towards life a bit hollow.  I’m not sure what my dad likes to do, or what he lives for, or what he wants.  Only that his (well, really, our whole family’s) bucket list looks something like this: 1) Be safe. 2) Be secure. 3) Whaddya mean, you want to see more items than just those two???

Usually during these prematurely end-of-life conversations, I mutter that everything will work out fine.  Just like everything’s always worked out fine for me, because I’ve felt that I have to make it so. I have this overriding sense of duty, you see, this compulsion for everything to be OK.

But this time I say, “It’s not that I want to avoid the subject. But we’re talking fifteen years at least before you become dependent. And there are lots of things you could do with your life in that time. There are lots of positive things we could do and talk about. It’s not all about working out what is going to happen at the end and making sure that is going to be all right.”

I’ve never said anything like that before. I’ve never been really open about what I want. He said actually, I’d made a good point. We went on to have a really nice conversation for the next fifteen minutes or so, not too intense but open and respectful.

It would be nice to get closer. I would like that too. I wonder a lot whether I am brave enough to do this, because it seems like an overwhelming journey to undertake.



  1. Be brave.

    And remember, that just as you are not the same person you were ten years ago, neither is he. I moved forward with my parents when I started treating them, now, as people I hardly know but would like to know (and understand), a little bit better. But it’s difficult, because we’re always looking for understanding from our parents. It helped me when I stopped doing that, and just accepted that we won’t ever fully understand each other, but we can still care about each other.

    Were you surprised that he was able to acknowledge that you had a valid point?

    • He’s pretty OK with opinions and talking. So long as he’s on a logic based activity it’s not so much of a problem. It’s just the expression and acceptance of feelings bit that’s a bit of a non-existent area.

      My mum is the other way round and more judgmental, with a more fixed idea of how things should be and tends to take into account only her point of view. I guess this has made me feel more judgmental in return, whereas if it were another quirk she had, maybe I wouldn’t be.

      Another irony is me wanting to be treated as a person but not really treating her as a person. It’s just daunting breaking patterns we feel safe with.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • If you like a literary read, you might enjoy the book “The Faraway Nearby” by Rebecca Solnit. It explores the mother-daughter relationship and its effect on the selfhood of the daughter, but not at all in an easy-answer, self-help way. It’s deeply layered, insightful and yet mysterious, like poetry. And not too long.

  2. It is so interesting isn’t it how our relationships with our parents change over the years. It is only in the last year that my dad calls me every weekend for a chat. He has never done that in his entire life, but he would write letters (when sober).Our conversations are always the same, nothing deep, just how are the kids, how is he etc. but it helps me know that in his twilight years I have some small measure of my dad back.
    I’m glad that you were able to enjoy the rest of your conversation with your dad. It’s nice to know that it has given you some hope that perhaps you can, as a family, become closer. One step at a time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Denise, have a lovely weekend 🙂

    • It’s funny when your parents suddenly want to start talking. Even that physical act can be something strange. With my mum it’s the other way round. We talk about nothing in particular, about how other people are doing, because we can’t really communicate on a different level.

      Was out being busy yesterday, and had a good time. Hope you did as well with your family.

      • It is, I agree. I found it quite strange when my dad suddenly started calling me regularly. It felt really awkward as I could count the number of conversations I had had with him when he was sober on one hand before that.
        Glad you had a good time, yes, a busy weekend but a good one thanks. Got my boys coming home this weekend so am a happy mamma for that 🙂

  3. It’s so interesting how every family has its own dynamics, and none are simple enough to be put down in words. They’re all complicated, in ways both good and bad. Either way, it feels refreshing to speak out how you’re feeling to members of your family! So it’s good to see you did just that (however ironic it may be for me to say so because I don’t do that myself very often either).

    • The dynamics are always changing too. I suppose it’s because we all change, and then once you have a 4-person family, that is 6 different relationships that can be moving around or going wrong…

      I am wondering where it will lead. Lots of times over the years I’ve thought there would be improvements and then been disappointed. That was to do with me too, not being ready.

      • I keep getting told that things will get better with time. I hope I’m not setting myself up for disappointment too. I myself find consolation in the fact that I at least have other people I can confide in in my life, and I hope you do too.

      • Grrrr… that old chestnut about getting better with time. I remember being told that and *knowing* no it won’t, not carrying on like this. I think the assumption on the part of the person saying it is that the young person is somehow the cause of the problem by having “young people’s” issues.

        I think things can get better, if beneficial things happen upon one or other party to improve the situation, either through seeking them out or luck.

        I do talk to people I know, it’s funny, as you grow up, you realise that there are lots of people with similar problems.

        Y’know – if my mum ever met you she’d want to adopt you. Speak different languages, good at writing, clever, a med student… what more could she ask for? I’d best keep quiet.

      • I feel that it helps when I talk to people who have experienced similar situations or understand what I’m talking about in one way or another – not to find a solution, but at least to feel well enough to carry on to the next day.

        You know, it’s funny that you say that about your mum wanting to adopt me; I actually received a comment exactly like that from a childhood friend of mine too, when I was about 7 I think. The only thing is, even though I aspired to be categorised as “smart” back then (and I still am inherently attracted toward that attribute in general, for better or for worse), I never really thought I was good enough. Honestly, I don’t think I ever will sometimes. Like “somebody please tell me how you feel proud of yourself”. Oops sorry, I always seem to be able to digress into a different topic in these comments.

        P.S. Sorry about the late reply! Even though you may not have been expecting it at all.

      • I’ve wondered where you were and missed your blog.

        Very recently I stopped needing to think I was good enough and I never thought I would reach that point. It is scary shedding that need though. Sometimes that aspiration provides structure to our lives and it can be scary to tear it down. I’ll be honest, it was traumatic. But now I have come through the worst of it, I hope.

        You are very much good enough, from what I have seen.

    • It’s out on weekend release and has to go back on Monday… but hopefully I will be able to get it back in time to go out for my first novice climbing session on Monday evening!

      • Yes starting indoors. Also I have Reynauds 😦 so would be very nervous climbing outside in case I got cold and my fingers froze. They go totally dead sometimes, not a useful trait out on the rocks 😦

      • Ah cool, are you enjoying it? Yeah I imagine that wouldn’t be too much fun, maybe wait till the summer?

      • Went tonight. Bit tired now! Will describe later. But I found out the instructor has Raynaud’s too! She said actually once you start to climb, your body warms up and the only dangerous point is at the beginning. Yes she said she only climbs outside in the summer, and sticks to indoors in the winter.

  4. Sounds like you’ve made the first step towards having a better relationship with your father, good for you! t’s not easy holding out the olive branch, especially as you have a lot of hurt from your childhood. Hope all goes well with your car tomorrow 🙂

    • I haven’t been ignoring you… but I just checked my spam and WordPress thought that all your comments were spam! I have rescued you now.
      I haven’t done anything about my mum and dad since I wrote! I’ve been sooo busy. But I will make the time to have another conversation this weekend. It’s also easy for my courage and resolution to wane over time, which is why encouragement like yours is so important.

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