Dad used to say that it was all so very simple. Life is life, we are no more than anything else. We are born and like a plant we grow, bloom, fade and die; the circle of life. He would confirm, nodding gravely, a silent yes, in answer to my unspoken scepticism. He did not believe in any Religion, so that was a dead end. Now, I get that’s certainly the physicality of life, but what makes us human, what’s the point? I don’t feel like a chicken or a plant. A lemon sometimes, maybe. I asked the same question that has burnt on the lips of scientists, philosophers, anthropologists and scholars over thousands of years.
We know that we have a reptilian brain, which controls the body’s vital functions, such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance, useful when we face danger and need to run to the hills. It does malfunction sometimes, a stray hiccup, a shart – look it up- or the weird sick in the mouth thing that happens for no reason. Laughing, when in fact you are horribly embarrassed. Alcohol renders it useless, I can personally vouch for that. OK, so the same in that respect. Dad one, me nil.
There must be more to life, I don’t feel like a plant
I would argue, but we feel things, we are capable of love, laughter and acts of great kindness. He would shake his head, no. The limbic system reigns over our angry, happy and fearful selves, and is responsible for our memories. Referred to as our emotional brain, it looks after our morals, influencing our behaviour, sometimes unconsciously, telling us when things feel good or bad. Alas for my argument, all these things are needed for survival, finding food, shelter, self preservation and we share this part of our selves with all mammals. Even more interestingly, the same structures in our limbic system can be found in ancient evolutionally animals, alligators, for example. Dad two, me nil.
OK it is all down to you neocortex. It is the neocortex that allows the development of human language, and gives us the sense of self, abstract thought, imagination and consciousness. The neocortex is an almighty sponge, enabling mammals to learn and grow infinitely. Our grey matter gives us the ability to connect with others, build a culture, society and be part of something bigger than ourselves. And man has exercised this part of our brain more than any other living thing. It accounts for 76% of our total brain. I have a point.
Just quietly, we all like to think, that we can make a difference, in the short time we are here. Somehow leave an impression, so as not to be forgotten, pass something along other than our genes, and I think that is what makes us different from a plant or slug dad. I’m getting there.
Dad, it is my car, leave it alone, you do not know what you are doing!
The advice dad gave me, as I struggled to find my way in life, I now pass down to my children. He had the ability to take things down to the core, to simplify and stay calm, odd, when he shouted at us for putting fingerprints on the record player lid. When I was worried about my first interview, he told me to imagine my interviewers on the toilet. When I was fretting about meeting senior figures in my life he would shrug and say, imagine them with no clothes on, they are just the same as you. I think he told many people the same. The images are hard to get out of your head. But it worked, and I’ve got virtually every job I’ve ever applied for, and never had issues with senior colleagues!! Thanks dad.
He told me just a few weeks before he died, that the only thing he regretted was, that he was not a more educated man. He told us all to work hard at school. Education was something he believed in with a passion. I remember impromptu maths and spelling tests in the kitchen, he wanted us to be the best we could be. He is probably testing someone right now on how to spell phlegm or vacuum. Funny then, that part of the brain he denied, was the part he wanted to expand and use the most. Tapping to his head he would say, use that old grey matter. Ha. Got you, I am right and you are wrong. He is dead now, so cannot counter for real, just in my head, but I have him, chess mate.
I still speak to him, my dad. He did sweat the small stuff, he hated crumbs on the kitchen bench, crooked mats, finger prints and had a habit of cleaning the car window just before we were going anywhere. The rest of us would sit all hot and impatient, while he wiped the windscreen with an old shammy cloth. That tatty bit of leather drove me mad, but guess what I have under the kitchen sink! When I found myself in a police cell, it was him I called, and when I came back home after a false start in life feeling stupid, he never questioned my choices, he was just there, polishing something, usually.
I think he led his life on his terms, happy to be ‘all in it’ when it was raining outside. Waiting for my mum to come home, after a long day at work to cook the dinner, he could have made more of an effort. He loved his cats, his food, his cameras, enjoyed wildlife, his early career in the Police, fishing and magic tricks; I honestly believed in magic, how did he burn that £5 note? He was a strict man and maddeningly stubborn at times, I fought fiercely with him and vowed never to be like him in many ways. He had a compassion that saw him get up out of his bed at night, to wander the streets looking for a dog that was in obvious distress.
As a kid he would tell me ridiculous stories and recite poems about grasshopper green. I thought he was the biggest, bravest man in the world. If I was worried or afraid, he would sprinkle oofal dust on me as I slept, so that everything would be alright in the morning. I now carry the oofal dust pouch. He told me once, that he had punched Muhammid Ali out and I believed him. A natural joke teller; mum and I would often roll our eyes with impatience, as he retold a joke we had heard umpteen times before. We ended up just as absorbed in the whole tale as the others, his rich voice making the lead up as good as the punch line. He liked a practical joke too; my young life was full of fake rubber custard creams, plastic fried eggs and exploding teaspoons.
It is the anniversary of his death today and I give thanks for his life, and will cherish his photographs, retell his jokes, pass on his knowledge and advice, work hard and with pockets full of oofal dust will not forget the magic he brought into our world. So he did make a difference and he will not be forgotten. He was more than a plant, and I am right.