Hot summer nights: ‘I took my dad clubbing – and it brought my family back together’

After the death of my mother, I wasn’t sure how my father, brother and I would knit ourselves into a unit. Could a sweaty nightclub in Lisbon hold the answer?

“We should go to the Ibiza closing parties,” my dad blurts out, driving through the rain in Hounslow. It is 2015; I am 21 and for the past few months he has been mentioning the phrase “Ibiza closing parties” as if it were a Buddhist chant. The radio is tuned to Magic, playing Fat Larry’s Band’s Zoom, and I mumble “yep, sure”, not listening at first.

I had been to Ibiza three years before, on a 72-hour school leavers’ bender – a series of “hot summer nights” of their own – and was awed by the tiny island’s cavernous clubs and the fact that they could charge €8 for a pocket-sized bottle of water. It was the trip that cemented my love for the dancefloor. In those warehouse spaces I realised that there is something deeply soulful about being surrounded by bodies locked into the communal groove, each of us moving to our own personal rhythms, unencumbered by the day’s worries and instead – hopefully – free to be how we want to be in this darkened space.

Had my dad also been secretly clubbing and coming to quasi-spiritual realisations as Paul Johnson’s Get Get Down finally descended? I guessed not, but it had been a very difficult few years. My mum – his partner of almost 35 years – had passed away in 2013 after a lengthy battle with cancer and now, with me at university and my older brother living elsewhere in London with his girlfriend, my dad had too much time alone to think about how the rest of his life would play out and how the larger part of it had already been lived. I assumed Ibiza was a playful reference to the hedonism he could have enjoyed but didn’t – and these famous end-of-season club nights in September provided the promise of a last mythical blowout. I laughed, told him he’d get claustrophobic on the dancefloor and hate the drinks prices, then promptly forgot.

Two years later, I had graduated, my brother was married, my dad had persevered – and all three of us were on holiday in Lisbon. The July air was thick with humidity that threatened rain as we trudged up the cobbled gradients to trendy bars where we could buy bottles of sickly port – places my dad complained “lacked seating with proper back support”.

Then, one balmy evening we found ourselves in a student bar in Cais do Sodré, washing down oncoming heartburn from the previous day’s gorging. We sat on stools – no lumbar support – surrounded by gap-year travellers hammering beers. It seemed an end-of-the-night spot, as our eyes glazed against the spray of cans cracking open. Then, as I leaned out of the window, I spotted Music Box, a club that had been recommended to me, just around the corner. The “Ibiza closing parties” leapt into my head like a sweaty Proustian flashback.

“Let’s go, it’s what Dad has always wanted,” I pleaded with my sleepy brother. “OK,” he relented. “But it might be difficult to get him in. Because he’s so old.” The old man immediately bolted out of his seat – who needs back support when the boogie awaits?

We approached the stern-looking hostess in a triangular formation, tucking my dad behind us. She began with an apology; our hearts sank. “I’m sorry gentlemen,” she said, “but it’s €12 each to get in. That does come with a free drink, though.” My brother produced the cash and we shuffled through to the thumping space of the main room.

I followed him to the bar and, as we ordered, I realised our dad wasn’t behind us, as we had assumed. “Let’s just drink these,” my brother said. “I’m sure he’s somewhere near. And if he isn’t, it’s your bloody fault for bringing him into this dive.”

I was starting to feel that warm stomach-fizz of too many drinks and too little food, and, coupled with the fact that I was out with my big brother, I think I felt invincible. It was a giddiness I hadn’t experienced for years. After our four-person family triangulated into three, I hadn’t been sure how we would fit together again. Now it felt as if maybe there was a way through – by remembering that there was still life to be had.

We got another drink and then the floor called. Stepping down on to the laminate and casting our eyes over the partying groups, I spotted our dad, his arms performing invisible tai-chi, swaying his ass from side to side. He was surrounded, exclusively, by women.

We punctured this shamanic circle and danced together to the DJ’s disco edits until 4am, when he suddenly clasped our damp shoulders and said: “Boys, take me home.”

None of us remember the details of that night in the club particularly well, but we won’t forget the feeling of tantalising joy it fostered. When I asked my dad if I could write about him, and that night, he said: “I realised I was free – it had taken me this long to feel OK in myself for maybe the first time in my life. When I was younger, we couldn’t get into clubs because the doormen were racist and we didn’t have the self-confidence to challenge them. I always wanted to know what it would be like to be there and dance. I’d heard that Ibiza was the best place, but then we ended up in Lisbon all those years later – and how fun it was to just let go together. Your mum would have loved it.”

My dad’s dancing days have been put on hold while he waits for a hip replacement, but that summer night is still the greatest dancefloor experience I have ever had. In a year of isolation, it taught me again that there is no substitute for being spontaneous together, that it is those moments that make up a life lived, and that it’s never too late to dance with your parents – even if it isn’t at an Ibiza closing party.


Ammar Kalia

The GuardianTramp

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