Dad’s Dementia and Something for Sammy

I refuse to teach my boy how he should be a son, but I will gladly let him teach me how to be a dad

There were a variety of reasons why I decided to start writing a collection of my thoughts on the different subjects that make up this blog – principally it was to explore Niceness as a concept, by trying to answer the question ‘what’s wrong with just being nice?’ and introducing my own thoughts on the intricacies of Niceness in social beings. The idea was that a thorough examination of Niceness through the lenses of various schools of thought beyond my intellectual capabilities might make a compelling case for its importance to the future of humanity. It’s ambitious – and almost certainly beyond my skill set, but I’ve enjoyed the process, tapped into my Genuinity, and found out a lot about myself, so there is no doubting the value of undertaking the project as far as I’m concerned.

Now, Niceness is important to me – critically important. But there were also other more personal reasons for undertaking this literary quest. My father suffered a brain infection in his late fifties – long and heartbreaking story short, aphasia basically wrecked his brain, robbing him of his ability to communicate, and us, effectively, of him. I say long story, but it actually all happened in the space of a decade. Which, conversely, sounds like a reasonable amount of time in certain circumstances – but, believe me, really isn’t. My father, a bright, humorous, difficult, puzzling man with a PHD in chemistry, was all too rapidly reduced to the intellectual and physical capabilities of an infant.

Forever grateful

I knew my dad, Andrew Shackley, in his most Andrew-esque essence for a good 20-odd years – some people don’t even get close to that long with their loved ones, so I’m thankful for the time we did have together. I’m immensely grateful for the way he and my mother raised me and my two sisters, Victoria and Rebecca. I know he always did his best and made plenty of sacrifices along the way to ensure we were well looked after, protected and given the means to live enjoyable lives. I look back on my childhood with nothing but happy memories and I believe, ultimately, you really can’t ask for any more than that.

I don’t have many regrets – this is a good thing. But some of those I do have help to inform my decision-making in a positive way, so they’re not all bad – especially if you apply a bit of Complex Niceness reasoning to them. An example would be relationships – I regret the way I’ve treated previous partners. I regret not being honest with the people involved, including myself. But I choose to apply that knowledge, those memories, those regretful feelings, those failures, a touch of reason and some Complex Niceness, and aim to avoid repeating those mistakes again. And the least anyone can do is try.

How well did I know him?

Back to my father – because it’s concerning my relationship with him that I harbour perhaps my biggest regret. I regret that I never really got to know him. Of course I knew him. But I mean really know him. I know he loved Aston Villa Football Club. I know he enjoyed political satire. I know he liked his own company – probably more than the company of others. I know he loved children – and he was great with them. And another regret I have is that he’ll never know my son, Sammy, or any of my sisters’ children. They’ve met him – but they’ll never meet him.

The question of my regret here though is – did I ever really meet him? I wish I knew what his political leanings were (I know he voted for John Major once when it seemed everyone in East Anglia plumped for the Tories). I wish I knew what his core values were. What did he think of the state of the world? What did he want from his life? Was he truly happy? What did he regret? Was he proud of me and my sisters? What things in life really brought him joy? My mother, my sisters and I all suspect he had what would now be classified as a learning difficulty – possibly a touch of Asperger’s.

We’re all on the spectrum a bit, of course, and my father was certainly prone to such traits as favouring solitude, shunning social gatherings and rejecting any opportunity to share his feelings; emotionally speaking he was something of a closed book. Now, I realise this is historically not such a big surprise – older generations have always been more stoic, less open and more reserved about spilling their guts to anyone willing to listen (or not!) compared to how we are these days. His brothers, Ian and Duncan, are also the same. The latter has told me as much to my face when we discussed my dad at one of our regular family meets. “Hugs, kisses and affection just isn’t what Shackley men do,” Uncle Duncan assured me. And I of course agreed. It wasn’t. I suspect it’s highly likely that my dad didn’t even shake my hand when my parents sent me off to university.

Use your regret to help you

But that’s how it was – and there’s nothing I can do to change that. However, I can use those regrets to benefit me going forward. Complex Niceness informs me that I don’t want to repeat those mistakes in not attempting to get to know my father better – I don’t want to miss the chance to open up to someone in my life that means that much to me. And for this reason, I dip into my Genuinity, I think about my son,

Sammy, and I think about how I’d like him to know me; of how I’d love to share with him what makes me tick, what my values are and what’s important to me. And the act of Complex Niceness I thought of to bring us closer together (at least one day – he’s only eight months old as I write this!) was to write this book for him, too. To bare my soul on paper – to embrace my Genuinity, share my inner voice and show my son what type of person, man and father I am (and try to be).

So here it is, son – I believe I’m a good person. I know I’ve made mistakes – mostly not too bad, but certainly plenty that I should have avoided making. I believe I’ve learned from a lot of them. And I believe I learn something new about myself every day. You’ve taught me so much and helped me grow as a person in ways I never could’ve imagined. Sometimes, I’ve felt like I could’ve handled things better when you were really young – unlike your mum, who is just amazing with you. But I also feel that new parents need to give themselves a bit of a break sometimes, because it really is a hard job to learn from scratch. Having said that, it’s an amazing learning curve, a real pleasure and an honour to be your dad. And I hope you’re proud of me, because I know I’m proud of you.

Fit to burst

When you were born, when you were flopped onto your mother’s chest like a tiny, purple baby deer, I felt like my chest was going to burst. I was so overjoyed to finally see you, after months of watching you grow inside your mum, feeling your frequent kicks and singing silly songs to you (at you). I blubbed uncontrollably to be honest (I’ve always been a softie, whereas your mum has a heart of stone that not even a good Meg Ryan rom com could chip away at). Just to qualify that joke/true statement – the Chambers side of your lineage seem to be far more measured in their emotional responses, whereas me, my sisters and my mum appeared to get our more gregarious nature from mum’s Scottish side (me and your mum see a lot of that Foy side in your temperament). We also graduate towards singing/performing/showing off/drinking alcohol/being lary in a way that your early, inexplicable screams appear to suggest you’ll be highly accustomed after you sample your first alcoholic beverage.

Anyway, I hope after reading these blog posts you have more of an idea of who I am than perhaps you had previously. Who knows – perhaps we were/are so close that you didn’t need these words to help you get to know me? And if so, I hope you at least enjoyed exploring some of the concepts I’ve introduced. I hope you can use your Genuinity, and acts of Pure and Complex Niceness, to help you become a Nice person.

12 thoughts on “Dad’s Dementia and Something for Sammy

  1. Just read your blog re. Knowing your son and him knowing you. Strange to come across this as I’ve arrived at a poem by WS Graham called “To Alexander Graham”. You may know that he was from a Glasgow working class family which makes the link with your musings even more relevant. I of course, being a dour Scot born to early 20th century parents, relate closely to both the poem and your thoughts. I just read the poem out loud to Jan and felt the potential to weep………That’s jest nae whit ye dae I in Aiberdeen, unless ye are a big Jessie! I recommend you check it out. No doubt a journo of your experience can find the poem from the info above. Regards, Jack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just read it – I also felt myself tearing up! How beautiful. I think I’ll share it on Twitter for some of my blog readers to see (crediting you of course!)

      Thanks for reading my post. Is it something you ever think about in regards to your own relationship with Gav? You seem quite close in a way I never really was with my father – perhaps you’ve learned lessons from your own relationship with your dad? I really hope me and Sammy can be friends (while maintaining my primary position as the one who looks after him)

      I know the best leaders aren’t always able to be great friends with those they are there to lead!


  2. For some reason, maybe because of a dull moment at work, I thought I would search the internet to check on a few people I knew at some stage in my life. I have been trying to find out what happened to Andrew for some time. I used to work with Andrew in the Labs at Witton Chemicals, many, many years ago – 1983-1987. I remember him quite vividly and loved his sense of humour and his intellect, about many subjects. It was his enthusiasm for Chemistry that made me eventually leave Witton to go to university myself to eventually get a PhD in Chemistry. So, it really, really saddens me to hear your story of Andrew’s demise from such greatness. It has made me very tearful and has made me realise that we take our health for granted and if we don’t make the most of now, who knows what is around the corner.
    I’m glad I found your blog and to spend 5-10 minutes in a distant but fond memory.

    Darren Oakes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words Darren. They were lovely to read – and I know when I pass this on to my mum (no longer married to dad, he has a new wife from his Birmingham days) and sisters, they will find your comment very emotional to read.

      You would’ve just met my dad when I was born then (1983). It’s so sad what has what happened to him. I guess my blog was just my way of telling the reader, as you say, to make Every moment count.

      Did you know my mum Laraine as well? I think she also worked at Witton. Though probably before your time.


  3. Hi Joseph
    Thanks for the reply.
    Yes, I remember your Mum. Witton, in those days was quite personal, so I would have met Laraine when she popped into Witton (probably carrying you in her arms!), or on one of the many social events. Also, I sorted some radiators out for your dad and brought them to your home in Barton Mills when you dad was doing that up.

    Keep strong and keep sharing – it really helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Darren. It was actually Worlington, I expect. But close enough! We did almost move to Barton Mills at one point.

      Thanks for the kind words though. It’s certainly made this particular blog piece very worthwhile.


  4. Well said! I am sure Sammy is going to really be touched by this when he gets older. Even that you have thought to write this to him shows you are a great dad and Sammy is very blessed to have you as a father.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This post found me on an emotional week. We just said goodbye to my beloved father in law this week, way too early, and we my husband and I are trying to make sense of how we are feeling, and what all this means. You wrote beautifully, and I so relate to what you wrote about “knowing” your father. The silver lining I found in this sad week, was the fact that my husband had the time to get really close to his father, to have those meaningful conversations, and talk about regrets and mistakes and come to terms with it, and say I forgive you, I love you, I appreciate you. Thank you for sharing, it was the perfect time for me to read this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry you’ve had a tough week. And my condolences to you and your husband.

      I am glad this post was able to help you a little bit. It sounds like you’re already at a level of emotional openness and strength that you’re going to get through this tough time without a doubt.

      Thanks for your kind comments – this really warms my heart 💜

      Liked by 1 person

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