I used to think the first memory I had of my Dad was when he took me and my brother to the park and told us that he and my mother were going to live apart, that they were getting divorced. We were sat on a bench in Debdale Park in Manchester, right next to the enclosure where they kept all the rabbits and the birds, my favourite place. For most of my life I thought that was the first time I remembered my Dad. But it wasn’t.
There’s fleeting images of him returning home from a work trip laden with gifts – American Airlines teddies, gumballs, t-shirts with wolves on them, carved Elephants from India. There’s the memory of gleefully trying to help him fix his rally car, wearing my red overalls (they matched his,) him rubbing swarfiga on my tiny hands. His moustache. The trips to the woods, standing by the muddy track to watch him race. The blurred glimpse of his car flying past. They’re barely there memories, almost like I heard someone recount them one day, imagined them in my head and think they belong to me. Because most of my memories of my Dad are from the Wednesday evenings or the weekends that he was allowed to look after us.
Growing up, I lived between two homes. I had two bedrooms. Two wardrobes. Two Christmases and two summer holidays. Two Dads and two mums – but only one Dad I loved. These two lives barely touched. My Dad would pull up outside my mother’s house, beep the horn. Or he’d call ahead while he was two streets away so I’d be at the door by the time he arrived. On my 8th birthday he knocked on my mother’s door and handed me my birthday present: my first Manchester City football shirt. I remember being disappointed because I’d wanted the full kit. I asked him to come inside to the party but he kissed me on the cheek and he left.
Without fail he would be outside her house every Wednesday at 6pm, and every Saturday at 6pm. Without fail he would always turn up, always want to see his kids.
My dad is a workaholic. I guess that’s where I get it from. Along with the rallying, his job in aerospace engineering really took off. He travelled for work a lot, and I regularly spent a few hours at weekends in his office, playing with his staplers and drawing unicorns and drinking hot chocolate from the vending machine while he wrapped up some urgent work. I spent summers abroad with him while he worked in America, me and my brother and my step-mum would live in the hotel while he worked, we’d watch Lamb Chop’s Play-Along in our pyjamas and swim the pool until he came back. I remember staying with work friends of his, eating cookies and watching Indiana Jones. I used to get sent Christmas presents from them and the staff in the hotel.
Teenage years. Uncommunicative. I left home at 17. We didn’t speak very often after that. I wanted to forget I had a family. Too much unspoken emotion. Pain. Depression. Anger. He came to visit me once, when I was 17, living in Newcastle with a bunch of 25 year old BMXers. He came to visit me and he gave me money. He bought me lunch and let me make my own mistakes, even though at the time he didn’t know why I was making them. Even though every bone in his body was telling him to throw me in the car and drive me home. He didn’t. Maybe he should have.
For years, my Dad had a teddy doberman in his car. It was from my beanie baby collection. He took a shine to it. I asked him why he kept it in his car. “For protection,” he said.
November 2009. 7am. Morning. Bright, cold. Today’s the day. Out of bed. Cold floor. Mum’s spare room in the house you grew up in. Formal clothes. Downstairs, and your brother and your mother are sitting and looking at you. You look at them and you realise you can’t do this without your Dad there. You only told him yesterday. You didn’t even want to tell him because he would beat himself up about it. It would hurt him immeasurably, knowing that he had failed to protect his daughter. But you can’t do this alone, without his help. The strongest man you’ve ever known, the one you judge all other men against, and they are always found wanting. That morning, stood in the kitchen, feeling powerless and pathetic again, you call your Dad. You call him and you tell him you need him. For the first time since you could remember him, you absolutely need him there beside you. You need to see him, hold his hand, you need his steady eyes and his hugs that makes all insecurities disappear for a split second. He asks which court. You tell him Crown. He says I’ll meet you at the doors in an hour.
I wear my Dad’s watch every day. My Dad’s 1990’s Gucci watch, the first expensive watch he ever bought. He gave it to me – had it repaired, the strap shortened.
I wear my Dad’s sunglasses every day. They’re Ray Ban aviators. Proper Top Gun style sunnies. Top Gun is the reason he bought them. I remember them from holidays with him in Portugal, Spain, America with him on his work trips. Those glasses, and that moustache.
On the wall in the bathroom of my apartment is a photo of a rally car. The car is mid-air, flying over some dirt track. It’s not my Dad driving. It’s his hero Herni Toivonen. When you look closely, the picture has a crease down the middle. It’s been pulled out of a magazine. Years ago, he used to have it on the wall of his office. We found it in his shed last weekend. He wondered what to do with it. I told him I’d have it on my wall at home.
Leah Wilson: music publicist, DxH CEO and international big dog.