I adored my dad. But his tragic story is proof you CAN be too old to be a father

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UPDATED:

21:47 GMT, 12 December 2012

Dad was waiting for me at the school gates as he always did but his appearance was alarming. To my infant eyes he looked banana-shaped. His body, from the waist up, was contorted into a strange, unnatural curve.

I was only six, but I instantly sensed that something worrying had happened. I felt upset and my instinct was to hold Dad's hand and support him. But before I could do so there was a flurry of adult activity. Suddenly my friends' mums were fussing around Dad, then my teacher appeared. Kind, hushed words were exchanged before we were all gently marshalled along the street to my home.

I remember my teacher's voice – quiet and concerned – on the phone to my mum. 'Tudor's had a stroke,' she said, and although I had no idea what that meant, I understood precisely that it was serious enough for the distinct and seemingly inviolable boundary between my life at home with my family and my separate one at school to have become blurred.

Mum Rebecca, Georgina, sister Henrietta and dad Tudor Trevor are pictured here in 1991

Mum Rebecca, Georgina, sister Henrietta and dad Tudor Trevor are pictured here in 1991

Here was my teacher, in my house, telling my mummy that something strange had happened to Dad. I remember trying to be brave. I didn't want my teacher to see me cry.

Looking back now, I realise Dad had made a heroic effort to get to school to meet me that day, as his stroke had been building for a while. It was a minor one – in fact he recovered from it completely – but it was to be the first of several, which grew in severity until his final, fatal one when I was just 15 years old.

My childhood was overshadowed by a constant fear that my beloved dad would die. Ever-vigilant, I'd watch the steady rise and fall of his chest as he napped to make sure he was still breathing. I was plagued by fears that he'd trip and fall; that I'd return from school to find him bloodied and hurt or slumped unconscious in a chair.

I marked each milestone: 'Let Dad be alive until my next report card,' or 'Please don't let him die before I get to secondary school.'

There was a rational foundation for my fears: my dad, Tudor Trevor, was 68 when I was born, and before I was an adolescent his fragile physical health was sharply declining; his once-sharp brain became steadily duller and more unfocused.

Georgina Trevor talks about the emotional traumas of growing up with an elderly father

Georgina Trevor talks about the emotional traumas of growing up with an elderly father

He was a dad who was the same age as most of my friends' grandfathers, and that provoked in me a complex mix of emotions from fear to embarrassment, protectiveness and anger.

My mother, Rebecca, was just 24 – the age I am now – when she met and married my dad, who was 38 years her senior. He was divorced with two grown-up sons, and was just retiring from the primary school where he taught and where Mum had recently arrived as a new teacher.

For me it is not hard to imagine how Mum could have fallen for a man as charismatic as Dad. However, I would never countenance a similar age-gap for myself. My own partner Ross, a social media manager with whom I live in Bristol, is 33, and my mum concedes she'd be concerned if I chose to marry a man old enough to be my father.

Yet she and Dad were clearly in love.

Both were drama specialists, and
early photos of Dad show his handsome, matine-idol looks. In his late
60s he was still smart, distinguished and twinkle-eyed, and his agile
brain was bursting with creative ideas. Mum, too, was similarly
imaginative. She was also beautiful; slim and sinuous with a bright
smile and blue eyes – her lustrous hair shoulder-length and dark.

Until
he died, Dad idolised my Mum. But when two people of such vastly
different ages marry, it is sadly inevitable that before long one
assumes the role of carer, and the dynamic of the relationship changes
completely.

Georgina Trevor with her dad Tudor marvel at a Christmas tree

Georgina Trevor with her dad Tudor marvel at a Christmas tree

Of course there were bonuses to having an older dad, especially one who was as loving, inspired and devoted as mine.

When my sister Henrietta, now 27, and I were little, we felt there was something magical about him. We were the only sisters at school whose dad was retired, and he devoted endless hours to playing with us.

We lived in a rambling four- storey Georgian townhouse in Exeter that Dad had owned for years. The tall French windows in the sitting room led on to a wisteria-clad veranda.

In the basement, Dad had created a den for us with a stage hung with curtains where we put on plays. It was Dad who painted the scenery, made our costumes and directed us, and the love of theatre he inspired in us stays with me to this day.

He was endlessly inventive. He took up the kitchen floorboards so we could create a Borrowers' den with our dolls' house furniture. We would return from school to find our bedrooms, on the top floor, transformed into enchanted kingdoms by fairy lights and pictures.

Dad's surprises would enthral and captivate us. Before we went on holiday one summer, he created a giant collage: 'The Trevors Are Off to Cyprus!' it proclaimed.

He was besotted with us and we, in turn, adored him. But from my first day at school I was sharply conscious that his age marked me out as different. I was the butt of constant teasing.

'Other children played rough and tumble
with their dads, went go-karting with them or kicked footballs in the
park. /12/12/article-2247218-16723004000005DC-576_634x419.jpg” width=”634″ height=”419″ alt=”Georgina Trevor with her dad Tudor in 1988, the year she was born” class=”blkBorder” />

Georgina Trevor with her dad Tudor in 1988, the year she was born

My distress was all-consuming but while I would cry for him, visiting him became a chore. And when I look back at his pitiful attempts to engage and entertain us, I feel a pang of sadness as sharp as physical pain.

Dad bought a puppy he was unable to care for in an attempt to entice Henrietta and me to visit.
His appearance, once smart and spruce, deteriorated. I watched as his shirt collars became bigger and his neck scrawnier, his shirts and ties were usurped by jumpers stained with food, and his hair became unkempt and straggly.

He was now an old man in a wheelchair and I was an adolescent. Inside me a desperate moral battle raged. I knew I ought to see Dad but I hated being in a cheerless room with an old man to whom I could no longer relate.

My half-brother Tom (then in his 20s) moved in upstairs with his wife so they could care for Dad, but his sadness did not diminish. He started to have suicidal thoughts and told me he wanted to die. I remember railing in private against his selfishness. 'I hate my dad. He cannot love me any more if he wants to die,' I told myself.

I thought I was somehow cul-pable: I lived with a burden of guilt that was far too heavy for a girl in her early teens, and I wish now that I'd been older and wiser, that I could have given him more support and love. Instead, I watched his awful deterioration with a mix of terror and helplessness.

'Why hadn't they married at more compatible ages Why was Dad so old'

He tried to take his life then was confined in a secure psychiatric ward for a month. Henrietta and I visited him there. 'I love you, Dad,' I'd say every time we left. I'd always fear I'd never see him alive again.

I did, but each time in a much-reduced form. When Dad emerged, weaker, thinner and more vulnerable, he went to live in a residential care home. His life was contained within the four walls of one small room. He had a hospital-style bed with a metal frame, a chair and table. Pitifully few remnants of his old, independent life remained – just a few books and a set of watercolour paints.

He tried desperately to retain a vestige of self-sufficiency. Once I found him trying to boil an egg in his kettle. 'My dad lives in a flat now,' I would lie to school friends who asked about him. Only my closest confidantes knew he was institutionalised.

I would pay him a perfunctory visit once a week after school. I seethed with anger at the world in general and at Mum and Dad in particular. Why hadn't they married at more compatible ages Why was Dad so old

Other friends' parents were divorcing but undergoing custody battles. Drowning in self-pity, I asked why my dad hadn't fought to look after me. I convinced myself he didn't love me enough.

When I was 14, I took solace in my first boyfriend, Matt, and spent as much time at his house as possible. It was a small act of rebellion – an attempt to find a thread of normality in a life fraught with unsettling emotions.

Then, in some ways, I began to grow up. I started to pop around to Dad's without feeling it was an obligation; I became his conspirator in mischief and his little carer.

He was diabetic but I brought him illicit biscuits and ginger beer. His hearing was failing so I talked patiently, loudly and clearly. I looked at his poor, paper-thin skin, blotched with livid red bruises, and thought how small and vulnerable he was.

My mum, too, visited him regularly. She had no other partner and still cared about Dad and loved him dearly. Constantly, he'd ask for her.

Then one day the fear I'd harboured all my life was realised. I went to visit Dad and found him slumped in bed, eyes unfocused, head flopped forward and his tongue lolling from his mouth. He was making strange, indecipherable little sounds.

I rushed to summon his carers and I called Mum. Within minutes, Dad was in the stroke ward of Exeter Hospital where doctors said he had just three weeks to live.

Even though I'd steeled myself for this moment for years, I was shocked. At home, alone in my room, I wept. I'd been grieving for my father since I was a little girl but I was choked with sadness and remorse.

I went to see Dad in his hospital bed and he was screaming and shouting in pain. He could barely speak but I told him: 'I love you very much.' When he squeezed my hand in reply, I knew he was telling me he loved me too.

The last time I visited was a week before he died, and he was so racked with pain and anguish that it was unendurable. He managed to articulate the words 'I don't want to die' and it utterly broke me. I could not face his distress any longer.

I didn't see Dad alive again, and on October 12, 2003, he died. I wish now I'd been holding his hand when he slipped away as my sister was, but I was little more than a child and not emotionally developed enough to deal with the situation.

Well-meaning people would say, 'He was 83. He had a good innings' – but they missed the point. I'd been mourning the dad I'd lost for many years before he died, and the pain and fear were very deep-rooted.

A large reason for that was that I loved him so much. My early years with Dad were touched with stardust. I wouldn't have swapped those fleeting precious years with him for anything. I'm glad I had my wonderful dad for a short time rather than a lifetime with a mediocre one.

And his legacy is a rich one. He has bequeathed to me the gift of empathy and a passion for acting. I know he'd be proud that I've set up the RE:Act Theatre Company, for children with disabilities.
I also work as a producer with another children's theatre company and recently began a charity project with Fixers, a group that helps 16 to 25-year-olds address issues they feel strongly about. Through it, I've made a documentary, When I'm 64, to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by children who have an older parent.

It is my single, most abiding sadness that I lived with the constant nagging knowledge that my time with Dad was limited. I adored him, but the stark fact remains: at 68, perhaps he was just too old to become a parent.

Interview by Frances Hardy. For information about Fixers see fixers.org.uk.