My dad still makes me angry, even though he’s been dead for 30 years. Angry, first off, for leaving us so soon. I didn’t know that I’d never see him conscious again that day he went off to football and collapsed during the match. I’d usually have been there with him. I can’t even remember the reason why I didn’t go that day, although I suspect that it may just have been that a February fixture against Barnsley wasn’t that appealing. That makes me angry too.
I’ve been furious with him so often in the years since. For not being there when I passed my exams. For not celebrating with me when I won the place at that university that he, who’d left school at 14, had predicted I’d go to when I was still at primary school. For not meeting his grandchildren who’ve inherited his Irish colouring and his zest for life.
But most of all I’m angry with the world on his behalf. You see, my dad was a good man. But he was also a politician and a Millwall fan. So when people say politicians are all the same, that they’re all in it for themselves and always have been, I get angry. I remember my Dad, who was, I learned recently from the Labour History site, one of only a handful of Labour politicians ever to have served at all levels from district and county councillor, to MP, to MEP and life peer. He first got involved in politics with a passion to make things better for communities like the one he grew up in in south London, where his own dad, a railway porter at Waterloo station, was as often out of work as in it.
My dad certainly wasn’t in politics for the kudos or the money. Just as well really: after he lost his seat at the 1970 general election, he got no redundancy and no pension. He went back to casual night shifts on the print floor and when he was asked by another printer if he was the ex-minister who’d just lost his job, he was chucked a broom and told: “Fucking sweep up then.” So he did.
Then there’s the Millwall thing. My dad first took me to the Den when I was tiny, so tiny that I can’t even remember who we played. He’d taken my cousin to his first match too some years before I was born. And so it was that when, years after my dad died, Millwall made it to the dizzy heights of the AutoWindscreens Shield final, I cried on the Metropolitan Line with my cousin as we recalled my dad saying he’d never see his beloved club at Wembley. When people say, as they often do, that Millwall fans are scum, that our club should be shut down, I remember my dear old dad and what our club meant, and still does, to us as a family and a community. And I get angry again.
I’ve been told, by people who know me well, that I romanticise my dad. There’s no doubt some truth in that. I put that down to the fact that he died long before I’d had the time to fall out with him, to see him in an adult light, to pick holes in a hero. When I look back now, I still feel immense pride in where he came from and what he achieved, but I can also see that his promise was somehow unfulfilled. Election defeat, a failure to be selected for another seat, a torrid time working in Harold Wilson’s office and an appearance on the infamous lavender honours list saw to that.
But if my dad was a bitter man, he didn’t show it. When I think back to my childhood, I remember him drawing puzzles and cartoons on paper tablecloths in restaurants to keep my brother and me amused before a raucous game of table football. I remember him digging out huge boats in the sand before taking us into the waves even though he could hardly swim. I remember him teaching me chess and letting me win, and teaching me to fish and letting me take credit for his catch. I remember the Frank Sinatra and the Louis Armstrong cassettes blaring out in the car. I remember a man who said you should never go to sleep on an argument. And then the anger washes away.