This year, Father’s Day will look very different for me and my dad. I’m sure it will for a lot of families.
Instead of spending it with my 90-year-old father John, we will be connecting across an ocean, me in Southern California, him in a care home in Harrogate.
I’ve been living in the United States since the 90s – having originally planned to go there for a few years, I decided to settle and have a family. Dad used to come and visit, and greatly enjoyed trips alongside the California Coast.
When the coronavirus pandemic first started, I was fearful but not overly concerned. Dad had been living alone since my mother passed away in 2003 so I began to call him twice a day to make sure he was OK and provide as much support as I could from afar.
My worry grew as lockdown was extended, however, particularly when I was unable to access online food shopping. I had planned to visit Dad for his 90th birthday on 23 April but the flight was cancelled. It was so difficult to be apart, especially as I hadn’t seen him since December last year.
He was becoming very isolated, unable to go out and see friends. To ensure he was well looked after, I made the decision to move him into Anchor’s The Manor House care home in Harrogate.
I was still determined to see Dad though, and managed to get one of the few flights coming into the UK on May 19 – which thankfully came with a guaranteed return.
I can barely describe the overwhelming joy I felt at setting eyes on Dad. I am eternally grateful to the care home staff that allowed me to see him. While they couldn’t allow visitors inside, relatives were still allowed to come if they maintained a safe distance outside.
That’s how Dad and I had our first visit – I was at the top of a small hill in the garden, him below behind the railings at a safe distance. It was odd to talk from afar but we made the best of it, and frankly I was just so happy I was able to see him. It was a privilege when so many families were unable to be near their loved ones.
From then on, come rain or shine, I went to the care home every day for 20 days. It made an enormous difference at a time when the pain, anxiety and uncertainty was wearing us down, and it really lifted my dad’s spirits.
We would meet outside for around 45 minutes and I would bring photographs, framed pictures and books to remind my dad of home. After a couple of weeks, the weather turned worse, but this didn’t stop me. Dad had a room on the ground floor, so we talked through his window as he sat in his reclining chair and I huddled under an umbrella.
We never ran out of things to discuss. My father was born in 1930 and lived through some pretty remarkable times, including World War II when he was evacuated as a child from Liverpool to Shropshire. He loved telling me stories of this time, reminiscing on how different his city life had been.
He recounted tales from his time in the RAF and the Merchant Navy, visiting Singapore, Japan, China, Yemen and supporting the troops in the Korean War. He had relished being at sea surrounded by a bunch of lads he adored – I gathered that they had taken some fairly notorious trips ashore together.
We’d chat about family – especially my mum – and the virtues of village-life. And without fail we discussed when the football would be coming back – Dad is a life-long Everton fan!
We also shared our hopes for the end of lockdown: going out for Sunday lunch, making a trip to his beloved Liverpool and the prospect of Dad coming to see me in Southern California one last time.
The most challenging part was not being able to reach out and give him a hug. Of course, it was the right thing to keep him safe, but it was still tough. I know that when I eventually do, it will be a moment I’ll remember forever.
My visits – and the pandemic in general – has transformed our relationship. I now know so much more about my father’s life, his story and the funny things that have happened to him and our family. Coronavirus has been dreadful for so many, so I am incredibly grateful for the additional time it has allowed us to have together. I’ll treasure it always.
The last day is often the most difficult part of any trip, and while I was keenly aware of how much older Dad is getting, this time saying goodbye only felt positive. I feel so much more bonded as father and son – as well as mates!
We last saw each other on 8 June. Dad did everything he could do for me as a father, and I feel like I’ve tried to do the same as a son – it is incredible to realise that.
I look forward to seeing my dad’s face when we video call him this Father’s Day. Before I left the UK, I bought him an iPad and headphones so we can enjoy a video chat rather than just a call on the phone.
He needs a bit of help from his carers to get it going, but he seems to really enjoy it. Technology has become a lifeline to so many during this time.
My kids will read him the home-made cards they have drawn for him, and we’ll be together as a family – even if we’re 6,000 miles apart.
If I could change one thing, I wish we’d be spending this day together in person. For now, however, being able to say how much he means to me over a video chat is as much as I could hope for. I’m very grateful for that.