A very minor thing set me thinking last night.
I was sat in a pretty grotty pub in “beautiful” Tufnell Park waiting for some friends (we were all going to see Harry Hill and The Caterers), and at the table opposite me was quite an old couple with a severely disabled girl in a wheelchair. And her parents just casually took care of her – wiping her mouth, moving her about occasionally, smiling at her, etc.
The girl didn’t move or say a word and seemed to have very little awareness of what was going on around her, but now having a child myself I was suddenly struck by how I’d feel if this was my daughter, and was really quite surprised to realise how much she would mean to me, disabled or not, and quite how fiercely protective I’d be.
Actually, no, “protective” isn’t the word I’m looking for; I think I mean how much I would still love my daughter, irrespective of any problems she might have.
I remember the Lovely Melanie and I having a small chat when she was first rushed into hospital (51 weeks ago today), about what we’d do if Millie – although we didn’t know she was “Millie” then – turned out to have significant problems, as was entirely likely. Would we want everything possible done to keep her alive, or would we want to leave it in the lap of the gods?
Not take any negative action, obviously (because that’s called “murder”) but to not take any aggressive life-sustaining action to help Millie. And at the time we both agreed, not without some soul-searching, that we probably would want to leave it to fate.
Fortunately, that decision remained hypothetical, as Millie came out fighting and as well as could possibly be hoped for a 1lb 7oz, three-month premature baby; but seeing that girl and her parents last night made me rethink somewhat.
Before we had Millie I considered myself a pragmatist: a practical, fairly logical person, one who could look at problems and think them through quite dispassionately.
I had thought that I’d want a child who was the very best, who was going to be smart and pretty and popular…and just perfect. Just what every parent hopes for with their children, I’m sure. But now, to be honest, I’m not so sure. Now I think I just want Millie to grow up to be happy and to feel loved all the time. All the time.
And if she’s not the cleverest girl or the prettiest or the most outgoing, well, I don’t care; she’s my daughter and I’ll love her whatever she’s like. And I’ve realised that I’ll always be proud of her, whatever she does (or doesn’t) do.
One last thing. When I was about eight years old, I think it was, we had a fireworks display at home (I say “display”, we had a box of fireworks that my dad would carefully let off one at a time). Unfortunately, the stick on one of the rockets had snapped almost completely off, but my dad was convinced it would fly OK if carefully balanced. So he (carefully) put it in the top of a bottle, as you did then, and lit the blue touchpaper. We’d been watching the display for an hour or so and I’d gotten a bit blase about the whole business so I was now watching from the top of the garden, rather than the patio where my mum and brother were stood.
Disaster struck when the rocket flew sideways out of the bottle and hit me.
Now, what I always remember about this is my dad reaching me in what seemed like just two massive steps, grabbing me in one arm and whisking me away from the rogue rocket (which then span about and shot off somewhere else). But the point is, it felt like my dad was there in a fraction of a second to rescue me, with no thought for his own safety at all.
Since then, my measure of being a dad has always been: would I have done exactly the same? Would I have moved that quickly and carelessly to help my child?
And my (already high) respect for my dad has always been boosted by that one incident, not least because I’ve never been sure that I would have been able to do the same thing.
However, somehow, just seeing that girl with her parents last night has made me realise that, yes, I would do that, without a second thought; no question.
And not to in any way diminish what my dad did that night, but all parents would, too.
Oh, and I was fine after the rocket attack. Shocked and shaken, with a small melted patch on my blue nylon anorak, but fine. 🙂