Dad’s three hats (2003)
Dad announces he has ‘three hats’,
as he stands in my porch way – arms gesticulating wildly.
He is wearing his woolly hat (his usual hat)
pulled down to his eyebrows that are somehow escaping
from under the rim, curling upwards like smoke spirals.
My heart aches and my stomach turns over.
I try to follow him across the rough terrain
because he informs me that he is now wearing his tin hat,
so the Germans can’t get him.
I gaze across at my potted plants and the forsythia
that is in full bloom, all frothy and yellow.
I know this is England, my garden, spring, circa. 2003.
Perhaps it is I who should run for cover?
I want to say, ‘Daddy, calm down, everything’s Ok,’
but I haven’t called him ‘daddy’ for over forty years,
and anyway – things clearly aren’t Ok.
‘Yes – I have three hats!’ he races on, the words as fast
as a hare being chased by dogs. I can’t keep up.
‘I have three hats and I can keep changing them. I am in charge!’
The psychiatrist never asked about the three hats.
It was easier to sedate my father, though he hid under the blankets
in protest at the ‘foreign’ doctor, as we mumbled apologies, trying to
explain that Dad was not usually racist, not normally, not in his
At the care home Dad kept taking a bath in the middle of the night,
Gleefully pulling the emergency cord to excite attention.
When asked why he did this he laughed and replied,
‘Because I’m Mickey Mouse.’
I thought, maybe this is Dad having a lark, wearing his comic Tommy Cooper’s hat.
Gradually things improved.
We visited daily with jigsaws, magazines – encouraged Dad to have
the radio playing.
We bought compost, petunia seeds and tiny pots. The seeds sprouted
shoots on the sunny windowsill.
Dad is home now,
sits quietly in his armchair, the one with the saggy springs, squashed
between a bookcase spewing old newspapers and envelopes and a
table piled high with crocks and oddments.
He is a scolded child.
He doesn’t even have his woolly hat; he has lost all of his hats.