Today has been Father’s Day.
Not since 1970, when I wrote my last Father’s Day card have I had any personal involvement in the occasion. A couple of months after that, he died, and since then it has been just another commercial event, of no meaning to me, except to memory.
I still think of him. I always think of him and I will go to my deathbed hoping that, in the face of my complete inability to believe in God or religion, there is another level of life above and beyond our sphere where I will, at long last, see him again, and I will ask him that only thing that matters to a small boy: did I do good? was I alright? were you proud of me?
There’s been some things happen again, bringing back some of the bad shit, disturbing my never very certain confidence in myself, and once again I’ve been referred to counselling. Not directly about that void that is what Dad would have been if things had been otherwise: I have largely come to terms with that, and have no resentments on that score, it not being his fault that he left me (though I will never cease hating those fucking cigarettes that killed him).
Maybe though I will talk about what I don’t know about him, which is who he was as a man. I never knew my Dad as a man, he died before I could even begin to think of having an adult conversation with him. I know things about him: his practicality, none of which I inherited, his passion for motorbikes, likewise, and his love for the fells, which he bequeathed to me in spades: all my walking has been, in some degree, following in his footsteps, however far beyond him I was allowed to go.
I only know of him as a father, as a Dad. He was a good Dad, strict when he needed to be, but kind and loving to both of us, my sister and myself. All small boys worship their fathers, unless they are cold, or nasty, or angry or violent. Dad no doubt punished me when I was naughty, but always fairly.
Once upon a time, there was something I wanted to go to, desperately. I knew that I, we couldn’t, that it was impossible, out of the question, but I wanted it so much that I had to ask. I hedged my plea about with so many caveats, and resignations that it would have been the easiest thing under the sun for me to be told, I’m sorry, no, it’s just not on. But for reasons I never knew, Dad blew up at me, in anger, shouting at me as if I’d committed some unforgivable crime. It shocked and overwhelmed me, and it reduced me to tears. Not the refusal, but the manner of it. It stands out in my memory still, because he was never like that. Mam comforted me, and Dad came and apologised to me. Naturally, I diddn’t bring it up again, and would never have mentioned it, but a week later he came home with tickets for us both, he and I.
Maybe his temper derived from pain. Not long after, he took the pains in his shoulder to the Doctor. It was the beginning of the long end.
I never spoke to him about his life. He had done his National Service in the Navy, he was a trained Draughtsman, he had built up a Division at the company where he worked then had it taken away from him. Afterwards, I didn’t think to ask questions about him, only rarely. He was Dad, frozen in time, and what he’d been outside my eyes seemed unimportant. And then those who had known him started dying too, and there was no-one to ask. My sister and I have been estranged for many years now, yet for reasons I can’t begin to account for, we never talked about him, and probably never will, now.
I last saw her at Uncle Jack’s funeral, back in 2011. He was married to Mam’s younger sister, who’d died before him. My cousins came back to England for the funeral: two live in Australia, but my cousin John, the only relative remaining who is older than me, has lived in Canada since 1981. He talked to me about Dad,about how much he’d respected him, and how he’d never seen Dad anywhere without thinking he was the most intelligent person in the room. And then he stopped, concerned that he’d upset me, for I was all but in tears. To have someone talk to me about Dad, someone who knew him as an adult. There is no-one else.
In a couple of months I’ll be making that annual pilgrimage to the Crematorium, to that place that is the last place some part of him physically was on this Earth. Today was Father’s Day, for you but not me. I hope you don’t mind me asking you to listen. It was a very long time ago and I have no-one else to talk to.