Terry, by A W Wilde

image

7.30am, November 10th 2006. I was walking off an English breakfast in the Oxfordshire countryside with three colleagues from work. We were up early on our company’s annual away days. The sun hung low, gloriously obscured by a thick mist rising from ploughed fields. The morning frost tried to hoax us into believing it was the year’s first snow. We were on our way to see the ruins of a sixteenth century church, walking down a country lane beneath an oak canopy and a volley of starling song. The ice was everywhere it wanted, varnishing dead leaves with crystals, glinting like silver fillings in the roadside mud. The ice was crunchy white and undercover black. My mobile rang and broke the morning in two.

Mum.
Austin. Get here now.
Sobbing. Uncontrollable sobbing. Fighting to get the words out between petrified chokes of air sobbing. What I heard was more than fear, more than panic, and more than pain alone. It was an aggregate loss of hope.
Mum, Mum, what’s the matter?
Austin, get here now. Dad’s not good. The ambulance is on its way. It’s his heart.
I’m on my way.
Please drive safe. I’m at your Sister’s. I need you.
I looked at my colleagues, their faces frozen and hesitant.
It’s Dad. Something’s up, I said. The ambulance is on its way.
Oh Austin, they said with their eyes.
Drive safe, they said individually.
I ran down the lane, over the ice, across the gravel car park, along the corridors and into my room. I stood in the middle of my room thinking what the fuck do I do? Is he dead? I snatched clothes from hangers, stuffed them into my weekend bag, piled on books, paperwork and toiletries then ran to the car. The bag thrown into the passenger seat, the key slid into the ignition. It didn’t start. Not now, not today. I tried again, the starter motor turned over, sounded hollow. Again, nothing. I knew I should have had it fixed sooner but please please please not now now now. Arms firm on the steering wheel pushing my back into the seat. Silence. White noise. Deep breath, I asked nicely. I talked sweet with cherries on top. I turned the key and the depleted roar of a once powerful engine rang out.
I pulled from the car park, on to the road and into the path of a fully-pimped matte black Range Rover Sport. Full beam lanced my eyes in the rear view mirror, forcing flecks on to my vision, fucking with my focus. Palpitations. The driver kept full beam on for what felt like seconds but could have been minutes. I flashed my hazards, issued my apology. I accelerated, made for the motorway blinking and unsettled. He followed.
Chest pains. The roads quiet. The fast lanes empty. Travelling against the tide of traffic. My mind raced faster than the speedometer. Indicate, overtake, down a gear, up a gear. This is it, my mind whispered This – is – it.
This can’t be it. They’ve only been back in the country for days, five days? They had lived in Spain for a decade and Christmas was coming. This was supposed to be the week of phew and woo-hoo. A week of relief of the unthinkable: of Mum being left alone in Spain, of his body coming back in a bag. Indicate, overtake. Down a gear. Up a gear. The matte black Range Rover followed. Dad’s in hospital. In an English hospital, and I will see him alive again. This is it is on a loop over and over and over and over and over until, shiiiiiit, breaks, pump, the, fucking, brakes. Tyres screech. I stop short of the car in front. Adrenaline bites down. Left ventricle failure. The driver of the Range Rover gives me a sardonic smile in the wing mirror. Heart attack.
Traffic starts to move again. Dark thoughts gain traction. Heart attack. Heart attack. Oh look, Eddie Stobart haulage truck. Your Dad’s dead. Heart attack. A classic Aston Martin Vantage. Your Dad’s not dead. Keep calm and cruise in the middle lane. Radio on ignore the voices. My stomach creaks, wants attention of its own. Drive just drive and think of something else. Humphrey Lyttleton is on Desert Island Discs. He loves jazz from no later than the 1950s and his desert island luxury is a keyboard. I couldn’t care less about his taste in music or his favourite book, I needed a shit so bad I’m hunched over the steering wheel in pain. Subservient to the needs of my body, I indicated to pull into the services. An all-consuming thought filled my head and my heart: he could well be waiting for me to arrive before he gives out.
I looped twice around the roundabout and pulled back onto the motorway, tried to achieve the monotony of vans and cars and lorries, signposts exits and bridges. Failed. Obtuse images and bleak thoughts reined, questions rattled and collided. Had he hung on long enough to get Mum home before giving out? Was this poetic or heroic or cruel? How much pain had he been suffering? Genetic predisposition.
I gripped the steering wheel tighter and tapped my right foot incessantly. The white noise wouldn’t leave me. I called my Sister’s mobile and home phone and got no answer. Am I supposed to be driving to her house or the hospital? I called my friends with the news he may or may not be dead. Warm voices helped calm me. Motorways became A roads and A roads became B lanes. The Potteries’ glorious countryside floated into vision and out of rear view mirror. The fully-pimped matte black Range Rover Sport overtook me. I was high definition slow motion personified. Shock had arrived. Nature’s finest opiate smothered me.
As I pulled into my sister’s street the sight of a solitary police car confirmed what I’d already known.
My Dad was dead,
My Dad is dead.

mumdadrollneck

My Mum and Sister met me at the door. In bits: completely in bits. He’s gone sobbed Mum, he’s gone. Fear of the unknown engulfed me. Fear of the unknown fought with the state of shock and knotted in my stomach. One fear fell onto the other, and then to my feet. I stood rooted on the doorstep as we all embraced. A Policewoman sat doing death’s paperwork at the dining room table. We joined her and answered the questions she delivered with care. I chose that day to start smoking properly again. Give me a taxable self-destruction, for now, but not for long.
Mum asked if I wanted to go and be with him. Dad was lying dead on the floor in the front room. His slow decline had meant the thoughts of this moment had rattled around my consciousness for years, plenty of time to formulate questions. The voices from countless airports and emergency plane journeys to Spanish intensive care units amplified as the motorway exits gained in numerical value. They asked me the same questions.
What is it like to lay with them at that precise moment?
Is it the wholesale effacing of pleasurable images?
Are they superseded by one bleak image of finality?
What is it to talk to a dead man, to unload the unsaid on incapacitated ears, just to ease your own emotions?
Are these moments cathartic?
What is it like to help your mother shut your Dad’s eyes for the last time?
I had envisaged this last moment over the years, but it was never like this. My mind had dictated that it was always in a Spanish hospital with surgical surfaces and reassuring smells of disinfectant. We were supposed to be buffeted by the bustle of the vital tending to the ill. As it turned out it was just hardcore normality. A house I know at the end of a road I recognised and will see again many times over. I’m glad it happened that way. We had more time with him in a place he was comfortable as the man we knew him to be.
With a deep intake of breath, I opened the door to the front room. A white sheet draped his body. He looked much smaller under it, loose folds made an outline of the man that taught me blue from green. If I am to trust the fidelity of memories I once tried hard to obliterate, then I was completely unruffled, submersed in a sublime halcyon moment. I knelt next to him and pulled back the cotton sheet. He was smaller, at once colourless, and every single shade of every single colour. He was unearthly cold. Devoid of the pump of lifeblood, individual skin cells were thickening, passing on the Chinese whispers of decomposition.
Everything was so motionless, but still – there was something.
I sat on the floor at his shoulder, stroked his hair, and kissed his forehead. I spoke to him, first in my mind and then aloud, words that would take me years to recall. I made my last new memory with him in the present when he was already in the past. A one time exotic duality. All of a sudden I was unsure if he knew how much I loved him. I would have swapped everything to have the chance to say it to him alive once more. At that one moment I knew I had wasted conversations. I would have given anything to hear a retort from him, telling me to stop being so daft. I felt a blaze of guilt for those pointless arguments about his smoking and his drinking. Guilt lengthened into every single cavity that my body had left to offer. The reasons for extended silences and rancour were so pointless to me now. Hefty tears came quickly. Mum must have heard and opened the door, joined us on the floor. I asked her if he knew what he meant to me, and if he knew I was only being hard because I cared. I couldn’t get the words out.
From the windowsill we said the last goodbye. I watched strangers carry him to the ambulance with much the same emotion as I’d waited for him to return home from work as a child: adoration. Mum watched the warmest man she ever knew disappear.

 

MumDad1974

 

Next day. First wave down. Numb and nowhere: somewhere else on foreign longitude and a pirate frequency. My future was yesterday. I looked different, sounded unfamiliar: internally corrosive. I’d woken up looted and fat lipped, wondered why I was at my sister’s, and then I remembered the day before.
Back in the car, on the road again, getting provisions. People still needed to eat. People in the countryside don’t drive like people in the city. I edged out at junctions, pushed, barged, and chanced it. People honked, people gave me hand signals. The passengers offered stares I could not return. That very same matt-black Ranger Rover sport passed me in the other direction, I read its number plate: CAN C3R The driver met my gaze and raised his index finger from the steering wheel.
The roads were busy, the streets were empty. I left the retail-park and its commercially manicured round-a-bouts, and made for the contours of the b-roads. I passed a junior school. Kids in uniform were running in the playground, standing in groups in the playground, kicking balls at each other in the playground. Having fun seemed like a strange concept and it looked energetic.
The difference. The difference. The difference.
The open road. The green fields. The reflective yellow of speed cameras.
The view opened out for miles and miles either side. Patchwork quilts and stone cottages. Winter skies dark soon. Black rusting gates. Rootlets of decay. Electricity pylons. Giants walked the earth.
Silence.

Glacial silence.
A pair of umber cows sidled up against each other, breathed each other in, were still. The rest of the herd were scattered around the field, some lying down under naked and brittle trees. A few examined the stone wall that separates them from the open road.
Escape?
Go where?
The only visible disturbance was road signs pointing at me in tongues. Chevrons to the left and to the right. Sharp bend. Adverse camber. Cattle grid. Soft bastard verges. All had exclamation punctuation. Be careful.
The village welcomed careful drivers. The engine is up to temperature and up to speed, gears changed automatically both up and down. I just point and press, point and press. Take chances round corners. Rail the car, hard. Vulcanised rubber screeches, black hole, ambitions breeched. My sister’s village welcomes careful drivers too. I decelerate and indicate: mirror signal manoeuvre. The second time in two days. Up more hills round more bends, hedgerows, piles of leaves in gusts of life, the autumnal colour palette was pulled through my lachrymose eyes. I flashed full beam to give oncoming traffic right of way. Yearned into my sister’s road. Parked. Walked into the kitchen. Looked out the window for two minutes or three hours. Time didn’t matter anymore because it wouldn’t move backward sufficiently.
The coffee was cold so I put it in the microwave. I walked into the front room and forgot that the coffee was in the microwave. I sat down and tried to watch the television. Failed. All I could do was stare at the carpet. My eyes fixed on the carpet. The carpet was beige. Daytime television was vanilla. People wanted to buy a place where the shine is ‘splendiferous’. Couples wanted to move to the countryside to escape the arsehole of city existence. People wanted to downsize, spread out, ‘get back to nature’. Feel the sun on their backs, the sand under their feet. I stared at the carpet. The carpet held my attention. The carpet, it was beige. The carpet was where he was declared dead. Think about it. I couldn’t think about it.
Go back into the kitchen. Nuke the coffee for the second time. It tasted like piss and I threw it down the sink. Back on the sofa, the idiot box flickered at me and I at it. The presenter talked of kitchen diner large open plan living space. Fantastic sea views no real fireplace and the second room is a bit cramped: onto the next property. Old oak beams period features working Victorian fireplace and permission to extend already granted conservation area. See it, hear it, and don’t take it in. Stare at the carpet then look out of the window. The Place in the Sun theme tune rang out. Bright and breezy guitar licks.
The credits rolled on a Place in the Sun and the adverts started. A grey haired man looking despondent. He stares wistfully out of his kitchen window and shuts his laptop, combs his hair with his hand. The same man with noticeably darker hair looks in the mirror and I sense conviction as the boy watches him drive off. The man returns home and the boy runs to him and is scooped in his father’s arms, they wrap around each other.
Plump tears fell down my face poured from my eyes. It’s quite incredible, I didn’t make a sound my breathing remained the same, tears streamed I felt nothing absolutely fuck all. I tried to marry the evidence of tears with the knowledge of Dad’s death and get jilted. Hard.

Two months down the line and the starter motor on the car was still playing up. I tried talking to the car coaxing it back into life, got nothing in response. I reached for the mobile to call Dad.
There was no answer.
There was to be no more calls of fatherly advice.

A W Wilde has been obsessed by the power of words since Chuck D walked onto his record player in 1987. A Large Can of Whoopass, his new collection of short stories is Out Now – for stockists check awwilde.co.uk

Anthony Freeman, by Amanda

Image

 

“Mean, moody and magnificent” was a phrase often used to describe my Dad Tony. He met my Mum on the bus to Kingston art school. She was 16, straight out of a stuffy girls school and from the posh end of town. He grew up in a two up, two down with no bathroom in the same village and had recently finished his national service. Dashingly handsome and enigmatic, he swept her off her feet.

They married in 1962 by which time Dad was a lecturer in Fine Art at Kingston College Of Art and they moved to the suburbs from London. Our home was bohemian compared to my friends – hessian on the walls and Dad’s large abstracts along with a sculpture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the nude (modeled by my Dad and commissioned by the couple).

Dad was the life and soul of the party, funny, charming – but complicated. Despite his obvious talent, he shied away from exhibiting his work claiming it “prostituted his art.” He was a loving dad but often absent.

Cine-film from that era paints an accurate picture of family holidays with my Mum’s parents – Dad standing on a distant sand dune gazing out to sea, the rest of us having a picnic. My Mum’s parents were supportive of his work – a huge portrait of Mum painted by Dad hung in their house which my grandfather bought when it was exhibited in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. To his own parents he was an enigma – he hadn’t followed a conventional career path, he’d married above his station and they struggled to understand him.

Image

(Amanda’s mother painted by her father)

I was 12 when my parents separated – It hadn’t been a happy home for some time so for me it was a relief. Dad hadn’t wanted the break up, but it did mean he could leave the art school and its regular income and start what turned out to be a successful career in films.

After years of thrifty living my Dad was finally making good money – and enjoyed spending it. There were meals out in fancy restaurants, generous presents – he bought me my first car. But visits were infrequent. I meanwhile was in my late teens and starting to understand – and sympathise – with the sort of character my Dad was.  Someone for whom life was challenging and conflicting, and that sometimes it was easier to retreat to the pub then ring his daughter.

Then changes in the film industry meant that work dried up.  Never one to prepare for hard times things spiraled downhill quickly. He lost his flat and moved back in with his elderly Mother. The requests for financial help started. The odd £30 now and then became more frequent. Then the ballifs and the police turned up at my door looking for him. Things reached crisis point with a very troubling phone call where I thought he was going to commit suicide. He didn’t – but I felt for my own sake I had to stop contact. At least for a while anyway.

Time passed. One year turned into two. There was a letter, but no apology which was what I’d hoped for. I should have responded but I didn’t. And when I did try to find him, attempts to do so resulted in dead ends.

Five years later, around midnight, I answered the door to a policeman and woman. “Is it about my Dad?  “Yes”. He’d died the previous night, peacefully in his sleep. After years of thinking he must be homeless, I found out that he did at least have a roof over his head.  He was in a hostel. He was popular amongst the residents, helping the older ladies with their gardening. The woman that ran it was lovely, it felt like she really understood him. His room was full of photos of me. “I tried to get him to contact you many times, but he was a very proud man and obviously didn’t want you to know his circumstances.”

We gave him one hell of send off.  A service full of his favourite songs, an epitaph to which my Mum and I contributed. All his old friends came. It was a celebration of all the good things about him. And I was reunited with my Uncle – his brother – and cousins who I hadn’t seen in years.

I wish things hadn’t turned out as they did. I wish I’d got in touch sooner. But I also know he was trying to protect me, didn’t want to be a burden and thought about me always. These days I’ve got memories of him in every room of my house.  The head he sculpted of me aged 3, that portrait of my Mum and other art works.  I’m reminded of him every day and in the best way possible.

Amanda Freeman runs Freeman PR – an independent music PR company – and lives in London. She celebrates 30 years in the music industry this year. Amongst her favourite things are darts, Disco and next door’s cat.

John Tierney, by Michael

November, 1983 and I was about to attend the first game of football with my father in Glasgow. I was already a teenager. My father and mother were raising nine children and there was rarely any spare money to go round, least of all to spend on Saturday afternoon entertainment.

My father had taught me how to wire a plug at ten, put up a halfway decent shelf at eleven, mix cement at twelve, fix a bicycle at thirteen and wallpaper a bedroom the following year. I could shoot his air rifle at the boys over the quarry that used to steal from our garden, and never get caught. True to his Irish heritage he taught me to love the sound of an Irish fiddle and the difference between Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera. But at fifteen years old I had never been to see Celtic, the team I had always supported.

Image

(John Tierney outside a pub in England, sometime in his 40s)

A friend of my father’s secured some tickets for himself, my father, my brother, Iain, and me. It was Celtic versus Sporting Lisbon in the second-round, second leg, of the UEFA Cup. Celtic would go on to win the game 5-0 and go through the tie 5-2 on aggregate.
It was a magical, memorable night. The game passed in a flash. And so did the next three decades. I never imagined it at the time, of course, that it would be another 30 years until I would attend a second match with my father. We had never discussed our lack of match attendance together. Perhaps, it was just how some things were meant to be. Life was a series of obstacles, my father would say. At least ours was.

Sometime last year I decided to try to figure out where the time had all gone. There was no fractured father and son relationship, no fall-outs or angry fists. It was the opposite, really. He was never a peripheral figure in my life. He was the centre point. Yet, in 2002, aged 58, a drawbridge of sorts came down, when he suffered a catastrophic stroke rendering him unable to walk or talk. For the past twelve years he has largely been confined to his bed or armchair, and tended by my mother.

I often thought of that first match together and it left me with a great deal of longing and yearning. Gradually, it became an entry point of sorts for me to try to look at our lives over the past three decades and try to discover a lot more about him and a little more about me. As a writer I was intrigued about the enormity of small things. I wanted to look at my father, his identity, a little of our memories and the things that made us a family.

Image

(Michael Tierney, centre with red watch, alongside brothers and father)

My father, who was born and raised in Glasgow of Irish heritage, believed himself to be an Irishman. It was a quirk of history, he said, and the lottery of geography and politics that had brought his family here to Scotland. Yet, for all this, he was the son of a British soldier, my grandfather, Michael, who was killed in the Second World War under circumstances that, I would later discover, might shed a little light on some of his deeply rooted animosity towards all things Establishment.
Much of his life, I always suspected, was hugely affected by the loss of his father, who I was named after. Even though my father was just an infant when his father died, a little part of him died too. So, in many ways, he invented his father. And he invented some of his father’s people too. We all did. And, I believe, we all do.

Even though we never attended matches, football loomed large in our lives. He took me everywhere to play for my local clubs and school teams. As a youngster I had trials with Middlesborough, Morton and Dundee, amongst others. My father’s decrepit, second-hand Volkswagen van ran me to most of these places regardless of how far or what the weather was like.
I didn’t need to attend real matches. He just held an imaginary prism to the light and I watched as it turned, slowly and quietly, more perfect and intricate.
My father once wore his best Sunday shoes on a rain soaked pitch while playing in a charity match for a local team I played for. I might have been thirteen, as he slipped and slid around on the wet grass, and I found myself a little embarrassed by the whole episode. And he knew it. By the end of the match there was a small death in our relationship too.

My father was – is – part of a deep and abiding sense of time and place. He was the childhood longing in all of us and the growing pains and the skinned knees and the football that existed in our past. It was the small things, he always said, that were worth remembering. About memory and childhood. And about time, and place.

In November last year we went to only our second match together. Life had turned full circle. I had discovered a lot about my father, the strident Irish nationalist, and also a lot about identity and truth and memory.

Image

He turns 71 this year. More than twelve of those years have been voiceless. Throughout this time he has sat in silence in a chair in the living room of my parent’s house, staring out the windows at the birds and the trees and listening to the echoes from our childhood past. And I know, more than anything, he realises now that all he ever really wanted was to live. And that the past no longer really mattered. His real story was here, with my mother. And with his children.

I once heard it said that we glory in our fathers in victory and success. But we fall in love with them in defeat. The stroke saved my father. 
It saved all of us.

Michael Tierney is a journalist, editor and writer who lives in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow.
The First Game With My Father, by Michael Tierney, is available now from Doubleday. Hardback £14.99

Peter Stein, by Juanita

Image

One of my earliest memories is standing on a couple of telephone books in a vocal booth at a recording studio in Melbourne, Australia. My father was recording a track called Dear Daddy and I was singing the part of the little girl pleading with her imprisoned father to “please come home”. A sad and melodic James Taylor-ish folklore song. Between the late night jams at my family home and the vague memories I now have of fiddle players and drummers interpreting his blues laden songs at local venues, I of course never contemplated that this was not a run of the mill childhood. Ours was literally a house filled with music. The only rebellion I could ever muster as a sullen teen, was to shut my bedroom door and listen to my favorite records through headphones. To this day, I credit every grain of bohemian and artistic open mindedness to both my parents.

Growing up in a quiet, tree lined street, in an extremely loving and colourful household in Sydney, I imagine myself and two brothers were raised in a vastly different environment to our dad. He grew up in suburban Perth, Western Australia, in the 1950’s, and I don’t imagine this was a particularly friendly place to grow up as a tanned, half Palestinian, Jewish kid. The racist slurs and physical assaults were typical of a pre culturally integrated Australia. But that was a mere buzzing fly compared to the physical abuse he was experiencing at the hand of his father, a handsome ex army officer/pro boxer, at his family home.

At 17 my dad unsurprisingly left his home, soon after he met my beautiful, also somewhat wounded, stage actress mother, Linda, and they went on to build a loving nest together.

I delve into his past, because I believe this absolutely informs who you become as an adult, as a partner and as a parent. There’s a definite ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ sprit that colours my fathers existence, a true survivor of the free spirited 60s and still very much lives by that ethos. No rules will bound him, no convention tie him, nor any expectation burden him.

Image

He adheres to not just one, but many religions and ideologies; whichever brings him the most sense or salvation at that particular moment. He truly lives in his own magical universe. And yes, this at times has proved a considerable struggle, especially when trying to survive in a modern capitalist universe and within a typical family nucleus. Predictably, I somewhat rebelled against all of this and became a pretty dam focused and driven person in everything I do. Not quite the accountant or solicitor, the old cliché would have you believe. The heart of me breathes a nature adoring, spiritual, vegetarian hippie, however, I can’t avoid the ambition and strength, which guides my every decision.

Having watched my dad carry his music with him throughout his life, I see no other way to survive really. His sheer tenacity and self-belief in what he does is more than awe-inspiring. After all these years he still pens meaningful poetry and soulful blues and gospel, more recently selling one of his tracks to the great Blind Boys of Alabama. I’m sure all those past experiences, have given him that strength required to survive this God-awful industry.

There’s a certain legend that shadows my father back home: he’s that guy who played in a 70s alt country band called The Cahoots – they supported Roy Orbison when he came to Perth and he was the guy who passed along a demo to Bob Dylan’s manager, resulting in a backstage meeting with the legend himself (this experience only gave reinforcement to the expression, never meet your idols). He was the guy who thwarted a Hells Angel with his Gibson guitar mid Cahoots gig, after one of the angels screamed at my dad “You calling me a Sue?” (they were covering Jonny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue at the time). He revels us in stories of his favorite gigs of all time, Zeppelin being up there, and when I was 13 he gave me his giant Beatles songbook and a guitar and hoped for the best!

Image

My band, Howling Bells has become much more than just another family whom I adore, but a place where my family connection survives. I’m able to express all those collective hopes and broken dreams as well as a place where I can tell my own stories and express those greatest loves and losses. Every time I can see that we’ve brought some semblance of happiness, beauty or hope to someone’s life, I’m magnificently reaffirmed and content. Raising my own daughter now, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the true sense of self my father retained throughout our childhood. He taught us the things that were important to him, love, music and honesty, and left out the things that weren’t, we figured those out by ourselves.

As dad says, let the band play on, and so they shall!

Image

Juanita Stein: Girl in Howling Bells. Living in London. Missing the sea.

Sid Fyfe, by Andy

Image

Flying back home to the UK from New Zealand after my father’s funeral, I thought maybe it was finally time for a little cry. It was a late afternoon flight out of Christchurch, 37 hours back to Heathrow via Hong Kong, just four days after making the same flight the other way, and I was physically and emotionally banjaxed.

Dad died 20 years after surviving a then-rare quadruple heart bypass, an operation that was supposed to maybe give him another six years of life, but left him a paler version of his former self. The doctors, however, hadn’t counted on my mother’s sheer bloody-mindedness to keep him alive through two decades of further heart scares and hospitalisations thanks largely to a low-fat, beer-free, celery-bothering diet that greatly offended his Kiwi meat-and-two-veg mentality. Every time the phone rang late at night in my adopted UK home, it could have been The Call that sent me scurrying back to be a pallbearer. But The Call didn’t come until a brain tumour finally did for him. That was something Mum couldn’t help him survive.

As dusk deepened and the plane tracked along the beautiful line of Alps that backbone my homeland’s South Island, I tried to squeeze out a tear. If it was to come it would be more from duty than grief however because, unfortunately, Dad was a bitter and often unpleasant man after a life of disappointments.

Image

(Sid Fyfe, above, on his 70th birthday)

His first great regret was being born too young to serve in World War II. Not because of any noble duty to defend Queen and country, he was just jealous that others born only two years before him had war stories to tell in the pub, and was pissed that he couldn’t get membership to the RSA (New Zealand’s British Legion equivalent), which would mean subsidised beer.

Image

(Sid, above, at 20)

An easy-on-the-ear tenor, he was invited to try out for the New Zealand Opera. He moved to Wellington, where the opera was based, and scored a job at the Post Office while he went through auditions. Then came a phone call from his family back in damp, drab Dunedin that hauled him back to help nurse a father slowly dying of throat cancer. He never knew if he passed the audition. Dad gave up a promising engagement in Wellington, too, and only years later met my mother. They married late in life (well, late for the ‘50s) because, it often seemed, all their friends had already paired off and there was no one left to marry. I sometimes think she battled so hard to keep him alive after the heart thing because she enjoyed how miserable he looked at meal times.

In an admirable effort at self-improvement, Dad took the equivalent of an Open University accountancy degree, but during his sporadic study a love of the grog saw him ‘invited to leave’ numerous clerical jobs. As a result, by the time I was 13 the family had lived in 13 different houses in seven different towns (cheap rental housing often came with the kind of positions he applied for, so when the job went, so did the house). Even his own village grocer shop went tits up when he was accused by the franchise owners of having his fingers in the till. I never knew if he was guilty or not (other incidents make me suspect yes) but it signalled the start of a series of menial, often seasonal jobs to which he was ill-suited, but they were all he could maintain for the rest of his working life.

Along with the booze came violence. My parents fought loudly and constantly, my mother chipping away with jibes about his competence as a husband and father, him charging back with the blunt volume of his opera-trained voice. Eventually, inevitably, his temper found its way into his fists. When my elder brothers were old enough they would stand in between him and my mother, so when they left home it was my turn to act as protector. I was barely in my teens, having toe-to-toe fistfights with my father. Luckily for me he was a useless fighter when drunk, although he was better at it when wielding a belt with the buckle as the business end.

Image

(The Family Fyfe in 1985. Andy is left, on bench in blue)

He wasn’t always a bad man, and to those outside the family he probably seemed amiable enough, if a bit hapless. After the heart surgery stopped his drinking, my mother says he even became a decent husband again, however by then I’d not just moved out of home but out of the country to get as far away as possible.

On that flight back to the UK, it was now or never to shed a tear. Never, it turned out. I wasn’t glad he’d died, but neither was I relieved that his suffering was over. All I felt was dull, crappy ambivalence. He was my dad, and we’re supposed to honour and love them, right? In some
way I did, but the good times/bad times ledger had too many entries in the latter column.
Still, his actions partly made me whatever sort of person I am, even if his influence is almost entirely negative, an example of how not to live a life. In some ways such inconclusive emotions about someone so important is more unfortunate a memory than simply not liking them.

Andy Fyfe is a freelance writer. Having spent his teenage years plotting escape from the slightly forgotten and faded NZ seaside town of Timaru, he now lives in the slightly forgotten and faded English seaside town of Hastings. 

John Butler, by Jim

photo 1

My dad is normal. Does that sound harsh? It’s not meant to be. And neither am I damning him with faint praise. No, to the outside world at least, my dad, like countless others, is the very epitome of normal. He’s led what I suppose is considered an ordinary life.

There have been no dramas; no vivid or grandiose events that one might find on Coronation Street (his former favourite soap: “It’s rubbish now,” he reasons justifiably). He didn’t die tragically young, leaving a gaping hole in his sons’ lives. Nor was he an absent father, squandering his money down the pub, lamenting missed opportunities or plotting his escape from whatever demons afflicted him.

Unlike a lot of my friends’ parents growing up, my mum and dad never got divorced. Nor was he violent, rude, arrogant or helpless. Likewise, neither did he write a novel, or patent some ground-breaking invention that helped mankind. His behaviour has not caused me or my two brothers to enter adulthood with any lingering resentments or issues. I hope. He was – is – merely my dad. An ordinary, hard-working (now retired) man who has devoted his life to his family.

Born in his grandparents’ Sheffield pub in 1945 just after the end of World War II, he led a somewhat peripatetic existence in childhood before settling in Boston, Lincolnshire. There he left school at 15 and went to work in the timber trade. He met my mum aged 22, she cut his mum’s – my nan’s – hair. They got engaged six months after they started courting (as my granddad called it) in 1968 and were married the following year. And only then did they start living together in their first house.

Like most baby boomers, the 60s didn’t really happen for my parents – not the mythical version that probably only occurred in pockets of London, Manchester and other cities that possessed some semblance of a counterculture.

photo 1 (2)
I came along in 1972, followed by my brother in 1974. My youngest brother was born in 1982 when my dad was knocking on 37, curiously enough the age I was when my eldest son was born. In 1985, we moved from Lincolnshire to Somerset. My dad had worked his way up at the timber merchants and a colleague asked him to run a similar operation in Taunton. And that’s where my parents still live to this day. He retired a couple of years ago and now spends his days volunteering at the local hospital, trying to fathom out curious modern phenomena such as LinkedIn or tending to the garden.

Written like that it sounds a fairly unremarkable life doesn’t it? It hasn’t been. From my vantage point, there’s something noble, almost heroic, about his life. Of course, I would say that, he’s my dad after all. But it’s the sheer ordinariness of his – and all the other regular dads out there – that I want to celebrate. Maybe it’s because I’m of an age – and with two sons of my own – that I have begun to reflect upon my own life that I can see what my dad (and mum, lest I forget) has done for me. As a child he drove me all over the country so I could take part in various sporting games and tournaments. I distinctly remember wondering why other dads didn’t shoulder their fair share of driving to football or cricket matches.

photo 2 (1)
The move to Somerset was also predicated upon the notion that it would give me and my brothers a better life. Boston hasn’t been a buoyant town since Medieval times; Taunton, in the 80s at least, was a place on the up. Of course there’s no telling what would have become of us if we had stayed in Lincolnshire, but I think we can safely say the move was a success. I was the first in my family to go to university, and while this isn’t a working class-boy-makes-good tale, my dad never pressured me into pursuing a career such as law, medicine etc. He only ever wanted me to be happy, as he touchingly told me one time when we were driving over the Snake Pass between Manchester and Sheffield.

This steadfast devotion has carried on into adult life. He’s the first person I consult when it comes to typically male pursuits: DIY, cars, mortgages, that kind of thing. When my brother had a T-shirt business a decade ago, he took on the role of unpaid rep going into nominally trendy shops in the South West hawking my brother’s wares. What an incongruous sight that must have been: my dad in his suit talking business with a barely comprehensible chap in a Stussy sweatshirt.

Of course there have been arguments, my upbringing was no Waltons-esque Shangri-la. As a teenager we argued about politics. Today there is something of an entente cordiale between us on that subject, but as he’s grown older he’s become an unlikely Republican, barely concealing his disgust when a member of the Royal Family shows up on TV or on the front of his paper. Deep down, given his compassionate streak, I’m pretty sure he’s a socialist at heart. I’ll get him to admit to it one day.

And, doubtless, he harbours misgivings. Who doesn’t? As much as I worship Eric Cantona, a life lived by the maxim ‘je ne regrette rien’ seems too dogmatic, too illogical. My dad would have been a success in higher education. He was also a born leader of men. I got a glimpse of this when I worked for him for a summer after leaving school. My fellow workers spoke of him with real affection. One said my dad was the only man willing to give him a job after leaving prison for murder. My dad, he confided, was one of the reasons he had turned his life around so successfully: him and God.

Does this make my dad special? Unique? As I said earlier, probably not outside his friends and family. But then, should a man not be judged by the esteem in which he is held by such people? My dad’s life has not been as colourful (dysfunctional?) as some, but it’s rich in other ways.

P1040267

(John Butler third from left with his sons, including Jim far right, a couple of years ago)

As a child I perhaps didn’t always appreciate this – who does? – but I certainly do now. There’s nothing wrong with a life more ordinary. It’s the lot most of us experience so why shouldn’t we celebrate it? There’s beauty, excitement and pain aplenty in the commonplace. So, yes, my dad is normal. And to be frank, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jim Butler writes words – usually relating to things men obsess over – for a living. He lives in sunny St Leonards-on-Sea with his wife and two boys.

David Ellis, by Brian

My old man did not follow the van.

He did not dilly-dally on the way,

Despite being born in London.

 ‘Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,

  And all he did done perfectly.’

 Image

My dad was born before World War II but was conditioned by Edwardian attitudes from before the Great War. We grew up with a curious mix of Methodist and orthodox Church of England beliefs. The family had lost the business in the 1930s, so we lived in genteel yet financially straitened times. My dad’s soldiering was with his God, his life was with medical science and his mount had two wheels rather than four legs.  A father that creates himself in an heroic stance is devoutly to be wish’d. Although the sideburns never made Victorian or Edwardian standards.

My dad was a biochemist who bought second-hand volumes of poetry; a man who won the Annual Village Mile five times in a row, then retired to allow the others a chance. A man who ran a Youth Club to give the rural teens something to do in the 1960s, and confronted thugs wielding bicycle chains when they wanted trouble. A man who never listened to any composer that had not written pieces for the piano. Stern stuff!

I never walked down the street with him without someone doffing their cap. He was probably in his mid-thirties at the time. Makes one sit up and think about things in a particular way. Respect is something that I shall always associate with my father. Secretary for years, and latterly chairman, of the Parish Council, he was well-known.

There were downsides to my dad.

If Mum nagged him too much he would just saddle up the trusty steed and disappear for the weekend. In the days before constant GPS surveillance this tactic may have exorcised his demons, but clearly did little for my mother’s!

He also slippered us on a Sunday morning if we woke him and Mum too early. Our usual modus operandi was to rehearse 1970’s pop with the tumultuous aid of up-turned biscuit tins. Dad was always forgiven his temper by lunch-time: in those days a decent smack was not considered unusual.

Sunday was always family day in my father’s house. Church for the parents, football for the boys. Around half-past one we all met at a table piled with roast meat, vegetables and fruit from his acre and orchard.

Then the fun began! Sunday lunch was family catch-up time for my dad. He went to work later than most and returned late; sometimes he was on-call. Occasionally he returned from an emergency call to the hospital to be called back out immediately. Sunday lunch was show-and-tell-time for his next week’s workplace banter.

My dad’s Sunday lunch-table taught us our times-tables and taught us Latin and Greek roots for our language; taught us biology, chemistry and physics and the principles of engineering; taught us about comparative religion and the humour of The Goons and Monty Python.

It also taught my mum that eating in the kitchen was preferable to listening to ‘men’s nonsense’ in the dining room.

The saddest aspect to my relationship with my dad is that he died when I was twenty-one. When my youngest brother was just sixteen. What could he have shown us all as we grew through adulthood? What could he have shown our own sons about humility, respect, discipline and plain fun? My father would have helped my brothers and me to raise our own children: particularly the boys, of which there are five.

As a father myself, I could have done with my dad to remind me of some of the rules. To suggest ideas to coerce pre-teens away from their computer games. I am sure my brothers would agree. I miss his commands from the lunch-table: ‘get the book, boy’. We were never allowed to complete an argument without verification from the OED, perhaps an encyclopedia.

I miss him playing football with us while wearing his wellies, having hot-footed from the garden to the Memorial Ground. I miss his common-sense.

I miss his ludicrous attempts to join family photos having propped the camera on some boulder miles away before clicking the timer. Like This:

Image

I miss his appalling photographs of ploughed fields, attempting to get some texture into his art. I miss the way he’d take all of this in a good spirit and it made us all happy

My childhood was largely about education and sport, and indeed for my family’s current crop of lads, still is. A fundamental notion that ‘outside’ was better than ‘inside.’ An upbringing based upon respect and discipline, but most of all fun. I try to instil that talking to my own sons, although I am not allowed to beat them mercilessly!

A good dad is your best friend. I lost my best friend at the exact time I needed him most, and I’m sure my brothers would agree. When you are breaking into the world it is good to have a mentor, someone who breeds respect amongst not just his sons but the citizens of the world.

He still brings a smile, occasionally a tear, to my face.

Brian Ellis sells stuff, to buy food. Writing includes reviews and a periodic blog.