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In Memory of My Father

A decade since my father died, and I felt a need to remember him in words.

The twenty-ninth of April. Ten years since I last saw my dad. Ten years and two days since I last heard his voice and knew that he heard me when I told him I loved him. I have not been able to tell him that I got a 2:1 in my degree (he died the day before my final, but it’s okay, as I hadn’t studied); that I passed my driving test first time round; that I got a real full-time job and discovered I’m not too bad at puppetry; that there was a mean woman where I worked who shouted at people, including me on my first day; that I learned eventually that it really peed her off if you walked away whilst she was laying into you (but that it was hard to keep your temper to do it); that I loved Leeds and the Yorkshire Dales with all my heart, and that I was jealous the boys were born there and I wasn’t; that I found refuge for my heart in the beloved stones and bogs of the moors and Bolton Abbey; that I discovered a love of fishing and photography in later years; that I got a job in the south with Yorkshire bosses and a shop full of shiny things across the road from the tackle shop; that I carry a small plastic gnome around in my bag and take pictures of cookies just for the fun of it; so many other things I can’t even begin to remember!

Despite popular belief, my dad was not perfect. We know this, because he thought he was wrong once, but it turned out he’d been right all along. He was a man with a heart and passion for justice, equality, and sticking up for the underdog. He loved music and magic and fairytales. I got my love of legends and myths from him, a habit of looking for beauty and joy in the crap piles of life. And from him, I got my love of cake and all things sweet.

At harvest festival meals, he would often been found in the kitchen towards the end, usually behind the door or round the corner, with a cheeky twinkle in his eye as he devoured his fifth helping of apple pie and cream. When wandering around a garden centre, or stopping at a motorway service station, it would be “coffee and a bun?” Once in a blue moon, he would pull cream eggs from our ears, and sometimes, just when you needed it most, he would slip a chocolate bar into your hand and give you a little wink.

With a passion and fervour for the more joyous things in life, he also had passion and fervour in getting, shall we say, a little bit worked up. One hot day, whilst we lived in Cornwall, he was laying into my brother for something. I have no idea what, and such things no longer matter. He was stood in the doorway between the hall and the living room, all the doors and windows wide open. Dad had a somewhat carrying voice, and was using it to full effect. My mother, ever anxious that the Methodist Manse would not appear indecorous with a ranting minister in full swing said, “Ssssshhhh, people out on the street can hear you!”

Now, I don’t know how many Yorkshiremen you know. But in full ranting swing, they are like a wrecking ball heavily cruising to target, a large incendiary object looming its threatening way to earth from the groaning belly of a dark bomber. You cannot stop it exploding something or other. In my father’s case, it was his temper. A reasonably short man, large around the middle, ruddy and round-faced at the best of times, and now a deep wine-red hue steaming from every pore, heavily jumping up and down in ardent rage on the cool, terracotta tiles, quiff (and what a quiff it was!) bouncing with every rise and fall, he yelled, “I DON’T CARE IF THEY CAN HEAR ME ALL THE WAY DOWN ON SUMMERSIDE FIZZIN’ BEACH!”

The silence was deafening. His sudden need for oxygen in midflow created a bizarre pause in the events, and we all stood looking at each other, Dad’s barrel chest rising and falling as his whole body had done seconds before, eyes madly glinting, steam pouring out of his ears and smoke from his nose like a raging bull about to gore somebody to death.

And I’m afraid I giggled. My brother giggled. Mother giggled. And finally, Dad giggled. And I don’t know what the people on Summerside fizzin’ beach thought, because I couldn’t hear them.

The other time I remember Dad particularly losing it was whilst we lived in Devon. My grandma had been living with us since Grandad’s death, and I am sure those of you who have had difficult older relatives can imagine the kinds of strain and pressure it puts upon people. I was sat in the front room watching the little telly alone (I found Grandma was in a miserable mood that day, and left her in the back room to watch the bigger telly). Dad suddenly appeared in the doorway, looking both anxious and angry. He asked me if I had a minute, which, of course, I did.

He stepped into the room, shut the door quietly, looked out of both windows to make sure nobody was around, and said, “I apologise for what I am about to say.” He hunched his shoulders in, his eyebrows met his cheeks in a glowering fury, his hands clenched into fists, and he did his little angry jump-up-and-down movement, quiff bouncing and cheeks reddening. In a low, angry hiss, he whispered, “That bloody woman!!!” My dad never, ever swore. I mean never! He then proceeded to have a good old-fashioned rant about what he thought about Grandma and her behavior, and what he’d really like to do with regards to whatever she’d been moaning about. He carried on until he’d nothing left to hiss coherently, relaxed his posture, pushed his quiff back, plastered a large grin on his face, said, “That’s better”, and went off into the back room to ask Grandma if she would like a cup of tea.

There are so many times and incidents and situations that I could share with you, like the years he spent ranting about me having my hair trimmed, let alone cut! I was 15 before I had it trimmed, and it was all too much for him when I had it cut to my shoulders. He went off on one for a while, hissing and fizzing in my general direction for a few hours. The next day he stopped me in the hall and whispered embarrassedly, “Actually, I really like your hair like that. Don’t tell anybody I said that, though”.

One of my favourite memories is when I was out on his boat, Reepicheep, with him, around the age of 8 or 9. He couldn’t swim, but he loved being out at sea on his boat. He only fell in once, forcing a friend to jump in and save him. But it didn’t stop him. He only sold the boat when he had to, as his next job meant he would not be near the sea.

Dad would shout at us when we got travel sick, as he couldn’t cope with people throwing up. So when I began to feel sick, I immediately went below deck so he wouldn’t find out. But I learned very quickly that that was the worst thing you can do for seasickness! In the end, I was forced to climb out and tell him. And he didn’t shout, he said, “Ah, you shouldn’t have gone below deck, let’s give you something to do...” And he set me up with a little handline, and before long, I had stopped feeling sick, and I caught a mackerel! It was the first fish I had caught since the age of about 5, when I caught a tiny little fish in the River Ribble using just a ripped Space Invaders crisp packet, seemingly by the river on my own, although as I climbed the bank, I saw Dad had been watching the whole time.

And what did Dad do with this miraculous mackerel? He bashed its head on the side of the bucket, and happily ate it for his tea! He offered me some, but I felt a bit weird about it, so I didn’t. In fact, the first mackerel I tasted was last summer, after a friend gave me some. When I sat down to eat it, I thought of Dad, and wished I could show him my reports, and go fishing, try new baits and rigs, poke around looking for interesting and weird creatures in rockpools, have coffee and toasted teacakes in random garden centres, and generally just have him still in my life.

It sounds as if all Dad ever did was get mad and then relax. But actually, he was one of the most long suffering, joyful and happy men I have known. He would find joy in the way sunlight fell through the leaves of autumn; he would giggle over silly jokes (the cheesier the better!); he would sometimes have us rolling about laughing at a silly little dance he had (which I can imitate poorly when the right mood strikes); he, along with Mother, would make the magic of Christmas and letters from Santa Claus a reality; the Easter Bunny was a living, breathing Being who delivered not only the true message of Resurrection, but yummy chocolate too – you can’t beat sweeties that have a purpose!; he would comfort those who were grieving; he suffered the moaning of those who moaned a lot, and kicked them up the backside when they needed kicking, only to welcome them back with open arms when they stuffed up again; he would listen; he would share; he would enjoy delights that belonged to other people in support of them; he cared; he lived through everything life had to throw at him, sometimes grumpily, but always tenaciously and passionately; he was fiercely loyal; he was open to new ideas; he could mix practicality with vision and make dreams become manifest; he loved deeply.

And really, he actually is still in my life. He is in the laughter of memories shared; in the taking of photographs of flowers he would have enjoy looking at; in the foliage of the two tiny plants he bought me before I went to uni, which are now bigger than I am; in the paint of the rocking horse he salvaged from the school rubbish pile, and which Mother had restored after he died; in the fibres of Squeakitt the mouse who lives in the cabinet; in the silly impression I do of him that wigs out family friends even today; in every waking moment we have, whether conscious or not, he is there.

This time of year is very hard for me. I feel very down and low, and wonder why. And then I suddenly remember Christmas is lovely with the rest of our little family, but without Dad, it is missing the Magic and character of him. His very presence, and Squeakitt the mouse hanging up his stocking on Christmas Eve, could make church not only bearable, but actually enjoyable, meaningful, and challenging! At the end of March it is Dad’s birthday, and a few days later in early April, Dad and Mother’s wedding anniversary. And at the end of that is the anniversary of his going to a more eternal home, one which will never decay or need a new roof, and never be troubled with wasps’ nests. He is in a place where angina and the pain in his hands and feet from an illness that once nearly killed him (he was a stubborn Yorkshireman, he lasted much longer than he was meant to) can never touch him again. He will never be bothered by the trivialities and passing incidents that fail to make a positive moment in anybody’s life. But I like to think that he knows something of our joys, our little triumphs, the things and people that are dear to us whom he never had chance to meet whilst he was here.

And a decade later, I think of all the things I could have told him about, all the things I wanted to share with him, and still the only thing that I could say to him is, “I love you”.

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