Sunday, 30 October 2016

Things My Father Told Me

To be honest, my father never really told me very much at all.  When I was growing up my dad worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. The seventh day was spent recuperating and recharging his batteries for the next onslaught.  So, there really wasn't a lot of time for talking.

Anything I ever gleaned from my dad was more by a process of osmosis than any other means.  He is a stickler for keeping promises and never letting people down, something that held a lot of sway as I was growing up. If dad said he was going to do something, then come rain, hail or shine, he did it.  I don't remember him ever putting it into words but it must have rubbed off on me, as I pride myself on my reliability to this day.

Although my dad never offered much advice to me there was something he was supposed to tell my elder brother when he was about eleven: the facts of life. My mum had already discussed the female side of things with me, their only daughter, leaving me slightly stunned and horrified but strangely smug to be part of that elite club in the early sixties, 'Girls in the Know.'

For some reason, presumably to soften the blow, dad was dispatched to a newly built hotel in the Lakes (where he and mum had previously enjoyed a rare childless weekend - I'm not sure whether this was significant) with an unsuspecting and very excited eleven year old boy.  I, of course, had no idea of this cunning plan, and probably did a lot of whining about missing out on what sounded like a fun trip. It was years later that my brother confessed they had spent a wonderful weekend, eating posh food, going for long walks and rowing on the lake, and as they neared our house on their return, dad patted Geoff on the shoulder and muttered, much to my brother's bemusement, 'Anything you want to know, son, just ask.'

The whole episode was to be repeated a few years later with my younger brother, only this time our next door neighbour (who subsequently turned out to be quite a 'ladies man') inexplicably decided he would accompany them.  John had a whale of a time and the threesome returned home without the birds and the bees ever having been mentioned.  My father might not have told them but they didn't do so badly finding out for themselves.

One thing I do remember my dad telling me about was space, the planets and natural elements.  Even at a young age I realised how interested and knowledgeable he was. He had a big book, full of brightly coloured photos, that absolutely fascinated me.  I don’t know whether it was the colours or the drama of the images but I do know I would sit, long before I could read, flicking over the pages and marvelling at the vastness of a desert or the vibrant orange hues of a dramatic sunset.

In fact, my dad was knowledgeable about a lot of things (a source of many an argument when I was in my teens).  He was an expert in mathematics and spent hours reading books and pondering on mathematical problems.  All of which should have been a great asset when I needed to catch up on two years of Advanced Maths before the ‘O’ level exam.  What I had omitted to tell him was that I had absolutely no understanding of any of it and had spent most lessons in a state of terrified petrification, desperately trying to copy the answers from the boy next to me.  The planned extra lessons with dad lasted a total of approximately forty five minutes, most of which was taken up with dad nearly exploding with frustration and me in tears.  When the exam came I wrote my name at the top of the paper, then sat for two hours, staring at the rows of bent backs in front of me.

Driving lessons followed a similar path.  In dad’s defence, I have to admit I was a worrying combination of nervous and temperamental.  In my defence, dad never did have a lot of patience.  With hindsight, a recipe for disaster.  It started off quite amiably, with my mum taking each of us to one side before we left, and offering helpful advice.  We had a mission this day.  We were taking my brother to the tube station.  I wasn’t too happy about having a second passenger but settled myself into the driving seat.  Dad said, with a false calmness, “All right, when you’re ready.”  Apprehensively I switched on the engine, put my foot on the gas and took off the handbrake.  The car lurched forward, Geoff nearly shot out of his seat, dad’s head missed the windscreen by about half an inch, and I burst into tears.  I threw the door open and marched back to the house, passengers’ laughter ringing in my ears.  Dad drove Geoff to the tube and I never had another lesson.

My dad’s ninety now, still doing the Telegraph crossword every day, still pondering maths and philosophical problems and, above all, probably mightily relieved that he doesn’t have to deliver the facts of life to eleven year old boys or teach a stroppy teenager to drive.

My dad, who made me half of what I am

I wrote this a while ago for a Fathers' Day competition in the Guardian.  It was composed following an emotional afternoon going through old photos, with the last line added for my dad's ninetieth birthday celebrations, earlier this year.

Dear Dad,
 You are the slim young man with the thick wavy hair, caught forever in the 1940s, strolling with mum along the prom at Margate 
You are the proud father of one, two and – whoops – three babies, reluctantly posing against the1950s décor 
You are the stressed looking thirty-something, sprung to life in a fading Polaroid, with three grinning teens in ‘60s shades
 You are the pale, gaunt figure, with empty eyes, in the grip of a nervous breakdown - knife poised purposefully above the Silver Wedding cake
You are the handsome dad, smiling self-consciously at your sons’ weddings, then beaming at the congregation as you walk me proudly down the aisle  
You are the relaxed and happy grey-haired man in 70s sweater, gazing fondly at the first of eight grandchildren 
You are the proud husband at the end of the century, fifty years married, squinting as the sun makes a sudden break through the clouds, and your family laughs around you 
You are the octogenarian magician, mesmerising great-grandchildren. 
You are the slightly stooping, white haired man, serenading mum on your Diamond Wedding Anniversary, as I wipe away tears

You are my 90 year old dad and I love you. 

Thanks for reading        Jill



groovygran said...

Tears �� from me too xxx

Angela Horton said...

This is fab Jill, am enjoying reading your blogs xx

Angela Horton said...

This is fab Jill, am enjoying reading your blogs xx

Twigger said...

A great piece of writing, Jill, and a lovely insight of your family. I love the poem - vignettes ofa very important person in your life.

truthnotlies said...

Hi all, for some reason I can't reply to your messages individually on my Mac, so, just to say, thanks for your lovely comments, they really are much appreciated. I love writing these blog posts and your comments are the icing on the cake! xx