In the UK, at least, today is Fathers’ Day. Some will say this is just one of those occasions created by Hallmark et al to sell cards and shift merchandise. And I used to think that. Then my father died. Now Fathers’ Day is a strange mix of happy memories and sad longing. I’ll probably visit the place we buried his ashes and have a chat with the soil in the hope that somewhere Dad will be able to hear what I say. Then I’ll buy a pint of bitter and toast his memory. There isn’t really a lot else I can do to pay my respects, though I feel an urge to do something.
As a writer, I think the best I can do is to use words to pay my respects. So here is a post that I published in February on the anniversary of his death and will continue to repost on that anniversary and on Father’s Day. Sorry if you’ve read it before.
February 10th means a lot of things to different people. As a history graduate, I tend to think in terms of historic periods. For those who studied the Middle Ages, February 10th 1098 is when the Crusaders took Antioch. Military historians will tell you February 10th 1916 is when Conscription began in Britain. February 10th 1964 is the day Dylan released the Times they are a-Changing. But for me, 10th February will always be the day my Dad died. It was one year ago today. He passed away peacefully in the brilliant Marie Curie Hospice surrounded by family and friends. He had fought cancer for 8 months. If he was a politician, celebrity, business leader, literary, musical, or artistic giant, then he would have an obituary in the broadsheets. But he was none of those things. He was just an ordinary working class hero, like millions of others.
It’s said that the loss of a parent is one of life’s most traumatic events. I know the devastating truth of that statement. In time, the pain starts fading, replaced by happy memories that soothe the soul. I’m happy to be able to say my dad and I had a simple and loving relationship. He was a remarkably good man; he was a person of devotion and integrity, a man who understood a hard day’s work. He spent 30 years of his working life with British Gas, doing very physical work outdoors in all weathers. But his core accomplishment was family and, as his eldest child, I was a lucky beneficiary. My dad poured vast amounts of love and energy into me during my most formative years. I can measure his life in the warehouse of memories he created for me.
One thing I often think about from my childhood is Dad’s sandpaper-rough hands, made rugged from hard work. My earliest memory of him was him taking my hand in his, as he led me to meet my new-born brother, and then immediately bribing me with a Mr Men jigsaw to stop the onset of a tantrum. From those earliest days, he took my hand in his and we discovered the world together. As my dad neared death, I put my hand in his one final time. I wanted him to know that I was with him on his final journey on Earth, as he had been with me on so many of my first journeys. As he lay dying in a hospice bed, my last words to him echoed a lifetime of his actions to me.”I love you.” The words were spoken just minutes before his death, a beautiful and a complete ending to a great relationship. The loss of my dad, whilst painful, has been strangely reaffirming because it has made me ever more aware of what a wonderful man he was. As I think about him today, I realise the legacy he left me – a curiosity about life, a hunger for knowledge, a passion for social justice, an example of a life whose riches owe little to money, a sense that anything is possible if you work hard, a model of what a father should be. Dad will always remain to me the man I hope someday to become. His was a life worth emulating: a life of great love and generosity, a life of care to others, a life of simple joys.
If I could see my dad one more time, I would tell him that I love him. I’d thank the man who means so much to me. Who is greatly responsible for who I am, and who I am becoming. Thank him for having the courage to do what was necessary to keep me out of trouble. For making me do the right thing. For helping me build my character, even when it made me angry. I’d thank him for pushing me to do my best, even when he just wanted to love me. I’d thank him for being my protector. For leading me through stormy times to safety. For making me believe that everything would be all right and for making it so. I’d thank my dad for quietly making a living to provide for those he loved most. For giving me food, clothing, shelter, and the other material things that really matter. For unselfishly investing time and money in me that he could have spent on himself. Thank him for being my playmate and my friend. Thank him for being my secure foundation, my rock, for holding on tight to me … until it was time to let go. I’d thank the man I look up to, my role model, my hero, my dad.
5th January 1947 – 10th February 2009
He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.