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.
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.
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.
(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.