Like Adele, I know what it feels like when your estranged parent dies

·5-min read
Adele's father, Mark Evans, walked on the family when the singer was three years old - REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo
Adele's father, Mark Evans, walked on the family when the singer was three years old - REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

There has been much speculation about how the singer Adele must be feeling after the death of her father, from whom she was estranged.

Well here’s a thing. She might be feeling absolutely nothing. Like her, my alcoholic father abandoned his family when I was very young and I had no meaningful relationship with him.

It's a peculiar and slightly embarrassing admission but I struggle to remember the date he died (it was six years ago, but I had to check with my sister).

What I can recall is, after hearing the news, I put on my makeup, caught the train to work and continued my day as normal. When at lunchtime I told a colleague “my dad died today” she gasped. But to me, his death at the age of 79 was as meaningless as the sandwich I was eating.

My father left when I was eight years old. He was an alcoholic who spent most of his waking hours in the pub. So it was perhaps fitting, but exceptionally humiliating, that he abandoned his wife and three children for the barmaid of The Red Lion.

From that day on he provided no financial support, leaving Mum to struggle to bring us up on a single factory workers’ wage.

The next time I saw him was on the eve of my ninth birthday, where I met him in the shopping centre of our Liverpool town, so he could buy me a present. It hadn’t been his suggestion. We spent no more than half an hour together. He asked me nothing, just cracked a couple of daft jokes and I could tell he was itching to get away.

To my mum’s shaking fury I returned home alone on the 97 bus, clutching a wooden musical box in the shape of a Swiss cottage. He’d got off a few stops earlier for a lunchtime pint at his local.

Even at that age I worked out that my father simply had no need for me in his life. “Street angel, house devil” was the phrase I heard used to describe a man who would laugh and joke and buy pints for his mates but treated his family with disinterest.

Marianne Jones was raised by her single mother after her father left
Marianne Jones was raised by her single mother after her father left

I declared to my mum that I didn’t want to see him again. He didn’t complain.

Nor did any of us. The love that was absent from my father strengthened the bond I had with my mum, who spent every waking hour working, cooking, knitting and sewing us into adulthood. Those rites of passage you associate with dads and daughters simply didn’t happen.

To this day I can’t ride a bike and I was walked down the aisle by my lovely and hilarious brother. Over the years my sons, now 17 and 20, have asked me many questions about Dave, from the obvious – “What did he look like?” (I have less than a handful of pictures of him but he was tall, slim and ginger) – to the more profound: “Do you think he would have liked us?” (God yes, the utter fool.) They both have his dry, sharp wit.

Apart from visiting him once with my brother in my late teens after he rang us up drunk and out of the blue to say his wife (he married the barmaid) had died, I had no contact with him.

I did hear years later that he had a graduation picture of me on his TV set, although I never discovered how he got it.

The last time I saw him was 16 years ago, as my sister heard he was ill and wanted us to “do the right thing” by visiting him at his sheltered accommodation where he lived alone. Outside his room were pictures of him in his Royal Navy days, spick and span in full uniform, cheeky, beaming.

I momentarily softened and wondered whether I’d get, if not affection, then maybe a smidge of contrition from him after all this time. Sadly, my encounter with this skinny, bloodshot-eyed stranger was as awkward as that shopping trip all those years earlier. He asked us no questions. Nothing about myself, my husband or the grandchildren he had never met (and never would). Instead he cracked the one-liners he was popular for and talked about himself.

I was furious with myself that day as I felt I’d been made a mug of yet again. On the depressing train ride home I mourned for a proper father, not some shell of a man whose only memory of his own children was a bad photograph of a daughter in a hat and gown (“showing off when he had no right to” my mum couldn’t resist saying).

Watching a colleague go through her utter raw, on-the-floor grief when she lost her father a few years back had me question how I would feel and react when mine went.

The night I came home from work following the news of his death I waited for some sort of emotion to overwhelm me. In the coming days I wracked my brain for something that would prompt tears, maybe a summer memory or an encouraging word. Nothing came. Because I didn't love him. I didn’t even hate him.

When my sister, ever the peacemaker, asked if I’d go to his funeral with her, I had one final wrestling match with my conscience.

While I wanted to support her on a difficult day I just couldn’t commemorate my dad’s life when he had never been there for mine. So my sister went with her husband and drank tea with relatives she hadn’t seen for years, possibly asking themselves why the rest of us hadn’t made the effort.

You hear of those who need therapy years after a death to unravel a parent they barely knew. Six years on I can truly say that grief for my father has not once grabbed me unexpectedly by the throat.

I only, very occasionally, feel sorry for the laughs, life and family he missed out on.

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