The 2nd of August. What a strange day. My father ‘celebrated’ the 2nd of August every year for the last 24. This will be the first year he doesn’t. As he’s no longer here to commemorate it, I suppose it’s down to me.
It always struck me as an odd day to celebrate when I was a child. Why on earth would my father want to celebrate the day? But now I’m older I think I understand. Dad wasn’t celebrating the day, he was celebrating the days, weeks and years that came after it. He was celebrating the fact that he lived through it.
For those in the know, who understand the significance of the date, you can skip this bit. But for those who don’t, allow me to explain.
In July of 1990 the Middle East was in a little bit of turmoil. Saddam Hussein had massed his troops along the Kuwaiti border, threating invasion. It was supposedly about territory, but really, it was about oil. The rest of the world didn’t pay too much attention. It’s sabre rattling, they said. He’ll never actually invade, they said. They were wrong of course.
Also in July 1990, I was on holiday in Cyprus. We went away most summers. Kuwait could be unbearably hot those last few months of summer, and it is absolutely no fun being a kid and being stuck in the AC. And so my parents would take myself, Ian and Jo away on holiday. Cyprus wasn’t exactly cool, but it was a hell of a lot cooler than Kuwait. Dad could never stay the whole time though. He had a job to get back to. So towards the end of the holiday he would pack up his bag and say goodbye for the next few weeks. We didn’t think too much of it. After all, we’d be back in Kuwait soon enough, and we still had Mum.
Then came the 2nd of August. It was the same as any other summer day. We played in the pool. We ate copious amounts of ice cream. My older brother and sister teased me. I told Mum on them and got them into trouble. Nothing unusual. But of course, we didn’t have a TV in the holiday home, we never listened to the radio. How could we know anything was wrong?
But in another part of the world, everything was wrong. Dad had woken to a confusing, half asleep phone call from his boss.
“Don’t come to work. Stay inside.”
My father was never a morning person, so I can well imagine him struggling to make sense of it. But of course, he asked the most important question.
And the answer. I have so many regrets since my father passed away, but one of the worst is that I never asked him more about these moments of his life. Like what really passed through his mind the moment he got the reply. Whether he was scared? Whether he thought about us? Or Mum?
The reply? “The Iraqi’s have invaded. They’ve already taken the city.”
Dad was officially in a country at war. And his family were a few thousand miles away, with no idea.
Eventually he got a phone call through. He finally reached Mum at the poolside bar where we used to spend our days. I’ll never forget. How can you? I was seven years old, I didn’t have a clue what was going on, I only knew that something was horribly, horribly wrong.
I could tell you the rest of the story, but this blog post would be the size of a novel. I will write it down one day, I’ve always said I would.
But I can give you the basics. I saw my father at the end of July. The next time I saw him was at the school gates, surrounded by sobbing parents and the media, over 4 months later. With the wildest, shaggiest beard and hair.
He’d been in hiding, living in fear of being caught by the Iraqi soldiers, for most of that, but he had eventually been found and arrested at gunpoint and shipped off to Bagdad to be a part of the human shield. But in between he had helped organise convoys out of the country to get women and children to safety. He had opened his home to other men in hiding like himself, where they hid in the AC ducts every time the soldiers came calling. He had opened his home to others too. He wrote a small ‘newspaper’ that was passed around hand to hand by those in hiding and the resistance.
He was, quite simply, what every girl believes her father to be. A hero. Not the crazy, action hero type. But simply a quiet, brave man, who did what he felt needed to be done.
So this year I’m going to celebrate the 2nd of August too. Because he survived it. Because he was a brave and wonderful man. Because I got 24 more years with him, when there was a time we didn’t know if we’d ever see him again.
If only I had a Keo.
Miss you every day, Dad. Xxx
(A/N – The memories of a 7 year old child are not the most accurate…and you must allow for a little poetic licence)