My dad died six years ago, at the age of 47. If you want to know how that happened, you can read this post.
Ah, he would have found it funny.
I hate this time of year. Father’s Day often used to fall on my dad’s birthday and I would be so grumpy I’d have to buy him two lots of stuff for one day. How I wish I could do that now! I am stupidly jealous of people who still have their dads, and more jealous still of the ones who don’t but whose dads led wonderful lives, and of whom they have brilliant stories to tell about. My dad led a pretty awful life. Five children weren’t enough to make him want to live. When someone’s life is as sad and terrible as his, you don’t think they’ll die- they will of course, have their breaking point and turn it all around. Live to be an old man, to see his children grow and get married. I had this image of him in a chair with our children on his leg, letting them fall, fall towards the floor…then jook! He jiggles his knee and they fly up again, like he did with us when we were children. A man of savage potential, of natural intelligence, deserved a better life than he had. Sometimes it is hard to accept you were part of that life, and could not save it.
But he died anyway. And he’s not here, and I will be having my wedding day without him. As will my siblings. Sometimes that thought floors me. All we have now is memory and we have to search pretty hard for the good ones. The bad ones are the ones that make me wake up at 3am sometimes, images and vignettes I have to squeeze away, rub my eyes and look around, touch something real and present and soft. I find it hard not to be bitter sometimes. But they are there, small and fading, taken out and hugged so often they are frayed at the edges, and distorted due to my mum but still there. Such as:
(Long pause as I try to remember)
I remember my communion day, when I didn’t know whether to give him a hug or kiss or something. He kissed me on the cheek- very dry and stubbly- and said he didn’t do it a lot. He didn’t, and he looked awkward and shy and very sweet and proud.
Toasted toppers on a Sunday
The time when mummy was in hospital and he didn’t drink for a week. He made us go to school and made dinner every night- with white bread on the table, all buttered, and sweet tea for each of us.
Kicking open my door when I was watching a documentary on Kate Bush and bellowing the lyrics to, “Babooshka” before shutting the door again and laughing.
Telling people in work that I was, “on TV” when I got letters printed on Teletext! And his unfortunate finding of me on Google and ringing me, addressing me as, “little miss Clara” before howling with laughter and passing the phone to my mum. Scundered.
Taking us to work and playing with the frequency machine so our ears would split open when we annoyed him. Or for a laugh.
His often, “THAT’S NOT REAL MUSIC” when I listened to Manics (he often conflated their name to show his disgust). Listening to David Bowie with him. Watching comedy with him. His insistence that David Sherlock didn’t deserve a boyfriend as beautiful as Graham Chapman.
Coming downstairs in the middle of night and seeing him with the dog he professed to hate under his legs, being petted.
That the Muppets Christmas Carol was one of his favourite films, which he’d watch in July.
The memory of him, when I was 12, in a black dress with a white stripe down the side, getting ready to go to America for 6 weeks (it was a disaster). He told me I looked like a woman and his eyes filled.
BUT THE POINT IS…
the point is…
More than the memory remaining of my father is his children. My siblings and I are in his image. Not just his eyes and chin, and shortness and one sticky-out ear. Fundamental things about us we have inherited from our flawed and funny father. Our sense of humour, our resilience and compassion (even though it was a compassion borne out of witnessing suffering, of our own suffering. But you understand and accept an awful lot about people when you grow up like we did), our left-wing politics, our love of reading (he started us very early, and would take us to the library and leave us there with books while he did the shopping), of learning and of questioning. He taught us to teach ourselves and would give us the tools to do it. My enduring love of seeing how things work, of, as I call it, “fucking around”, came from the chemistry sets he nicked from school for us to play with. He is partly responsible for the many computers I’ve pulled apart and looked inside, of my fascinations with medications and trickery and how the body works, of being a bit of a smart arse know it all who likes to teach people things. He’d bring us home pencil cases full of pens and blocks of paper to write and draw on. More than anybody else in my life, my dad encouraged me to be a writer and completely believed that I could be. I am proud of the people my siblings and I have become, when we could have become broken people lost to bitterness and pain. And we haven’t. I have never met anyone as compassionate and strong as my siblings. I am incredibly proud of my family. I hope he would have been of us, too.
So, thank you, daddy. I love you, we all do, you silly bastard. Oíche mhaith.
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