…a few words about my father.
The evaporation of my old blog was not an ideal situation, but I have quickly come to love the format offered here and so I have decided to re-post a few of my previous entries, rather than attempt to salvage the entire site.
After a momentary panic when I realised some of the posts I wanted to upload were nowhere to be found, a friend of mine sent me all my old drafts, that had by some technological wizardry been saved to his Google reader (Hooray for Kian, king among men.)
As Mum was the subject of my last post, I felt it only fair to kick off the archives with a post about my dad.
The below was originally posted on Fathers’ Day (Sunday, 17 June) 2012.
A while ago, I wrote a post about my mum in celebration of Mothers’ Day.
It got some attention and some kind comments and, most importantly to me, my mum liked it.
Then someone said “I can’t wait to read your Fathers’ Day post” and I had a moment of panic.
To me, my parents are the most important people on the planet, but part of what defines our relationship is that we rarely feel the need to express this. It’s just there, as obvious and constant as the baking sun that currently beats down on me everyday (I’m aware this simile doesn’t actually translate to the UK but the sun is very much at the forefront of my mind right now.)
I wrote a list of great things my mum has done and said, and included some of her more obviously wonderful qualities, and it made a surprising number of people happy.
Part of me thinks I could just do that again, but with my dad as the subject. A larger part of me thinks that would be cheating, and that I should do something different in deference to the fact that, right down to the way they put lavatory paper on the holder, my parents are very different people. (Seriously wall side or not – after more than 30 years how have you not agreed on this…)
So on to Fathers’ Day, an event I don’t think I have ever acknowledged with more than a phone call, more often with a text and, far more often than that, with nothing at all. Yes, I’m rubbish.
I think maybe the best thing about my dad is that I know if I didn’t write this, he wouldn’t mind, he wouldn’t feel short changed, he probably wouldn’t notice. I’m really not sure how he is going to react to the fact I am writing it, but then, I don’t really know what I’m writing yet. Let’s find out.
I have a very hazy memory of a TV show or book or some other medium, when someone said the only man a girl can rely on is her father. It was probably in the context of some romantic maelstrom in which the male protagonist was being rubbish in a way that, at what I think was about seven, I didn’t understand or care about.
Despite not really paying attention to the reasons for the statement, the truth behind it seemed to me so obvious I was surprised anyone needed to say it out loud. Obviously my dad is the most reliable human on the planet, why is that even under debate?
At the time of hearing it I could still fit, albeit awkwardly (I was a lanky kid,) into the crook Dad’s legs formed when he fell asleep on the sofa watching Sunday sports.
When I was there, in that nook between his faded blue jeans and the back of our old, brown sofa, I never felt safer. In later years, when I was stressed, or sad, or vulnerable, that was the part of my childhood I retreated to. You know your “happy place?” That’s it.
I don’t think it is that unusual to believe your dad is superman. The fact he used to be able to lift all three of us at once seemed to me like a feat of strength to rival the World’s Strongest Man competition we used to watch together each year. I’m sure I’m not the only person to have this memory.
What my dad always did was protect me.
I vividly remember the time I came off my scooter into a ninja tree (the thing just jumped out) and broke my wrist. At first I was in shock, by the time Dad arrived at where I was lying in the street I was bawling uncontrollably. I can’t remember him saying anything, but I remember the instant feeling of safety that came with his arrival and that stayed with me while he lifted me effortlessly, carried me home, placed me in the back seat of our Cavalier and drove me to the children’s hospital.
As I got older, that protectiveness never turned into “you’re not going out dressed like that.” He was always good at letting me live my life. In fact, in 2009 when I told him I was going to Afghanistan one of his initial questions was “I’m not going to have to look after your cat am I?”
This was followed by a certain degree of paternal concern, but the cat was the thing.
It wasn’t until I was well into my teens that I realised some people didn’t have this uncomplicated relationship with their fathers, that there were stresses and strains way beyond the teenage tantrums and rows over mess and back chat and general ungratefulness that we battled through.
No matter how furiously or how frequently we argued, as I became the centre of my adolescent universe and he became increasingly keen to not have teenage children anymore (as the youngest of three I think by the time my 20th came around we had put our parents through the ringer several times,) there was never a time when I thought Dad wouldn’t be there if I needed him.
It wasn’t even a conscious thought that he would be there. It was just a fact, underpinning my life and keeping it so securely on track I didn’t even need to acknowledge its existence.
And through all this, he still found time to be my dad.
To read the Hobbit, the Three Musketeers and PG Wodehouse to me while our tent was being hammered by rain in France.
To teach me the rules of cricket and rugby and to scream and shout with me as catches were dropped and as Johnny Wilkinson kicked a World Cup-winning drop goal.
To write a meal plan at the start of each week so we knew what we were having for tea and to get something different for lunch at school, to cook our meals, and to write the shopping list in the order we’d come to it in Sainsbury’s.
To bake cakes in the shape of elephants and to put up basketball hoops, football goals and to sacrifice his garden to our sports.
To get up every Saturday to take me to Judo, and to pick me up again with various broken limbs.
To endure 5am drives, having dragged me out of bed, to various backwaters, hell holes and cities around Britain so I could fence, dealing with service station sausage and beans on the way and having to sit in the car listening to 5Live once we got there because I was too nervous to let him watch me fight.
Perhaps most importantly, to never once let me win the University Challenge challenge during the 15 or so years we have been playing.
And so to my dad, the most intelligent man I know, the other reason I am as I am, someone who I would never want to let down, but who would never ask anything of me anyway, a man I hope many of you have had the pleasure of meeting, and the one man I can truly rely on, thank you.
Dad recovering in the aftermath of my 17th birthday.