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.’
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:
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.