To mark Father’s Day, three Standard Issue writers pay heartfelt tribute to their late fathers. From mercurial vicars to farting sportsmen, it’s a wonderfully funny, poignant – and surprising – celebration of all things Dad.
A multitasking maverick with film-star looks, Jen Brown’s dad was anything but conventional.
My dad’s name was William, Bill for short. The meaning of William is strong, determined and resolute. My dad had all of those attributes and was especially determined; determined to make us laugh.
He was funny and renowned for his cheek. Or lip, as my mam called it. She said he was “bloody crackers” and backed this up with the story of how he carried a photograph of Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins in his wallet instead of her.
My dad met Higgins once and had his photo taken with him. My mam said he just wanted to show off at the post office when he was collecting his pension. She said: “Any normal husband would have a picture of his wife on his person, but not your dad.”
Well my dad wasn’t “normal”: anything but. Rather, he was an extraordinary man, whose antics always brought the house down. He once made his entrance through a window instead of a door. He was trying to win back my mam’s affection after a brief spell apart and he turned up, unannounced, at where she was living with her mother.
He had keys to a new house but instead of presenting the good news on the doorstep, he pulled up the old sash window and stepped straight into the kitchen. My mam was breastfeeding me at the time and nearly passed out with the shock. That was my dad: funny, dramatic, dynamic.
“The term ‘Jack of all Trades’ was invented for my dad. He was a steel erector, a boiler man, a scaffolder and a bus conductor, to name just a few.”
He was a looker and in his youth was likened to Tyrone Power. In his mid-50s he panicked about his advancing years and in particular the grey hair that was coming in thick and fast. He persuaded my mam to dye his hair black. It didn’t look right but unfortunately the dye was permanent and couldn’t be washed out. I remember my daughter looking up at him, bemused, and announcing to worried onlookers (us and a few of the neighbours who had come in for a viewing) – “Mammy, doesn’t me Granda look like Elvis Press-stud?”
An urgent call went out to a favourite auntie; the auntie who knew everything there was to know about hair. She rushed down with a neutraliser but not before we’d used a full bottle of Domestos on his blue-black locks. After many ‘neutralisings’ the offending hue was eventually dulled down, leaving Bill’s barnet a pale, murky orange.
The term ‘Jack of all Trades’ was invented for my dad. He was a steel erector, a boiler man, a scaffolder and a bus conductor, to name just a few. His favourite job was driving and he drove everything from buses and fish wagons to motorbikes and bread vans. We were endlessly entertained with the yarn of how, when a row broke out in our house one New Year’s Eve, the family gathering was cut short when Dad threw every one of the partygoers into the back of the bread van and delivered them home, like loaves.
Trying to put together a eulogy for Dad with regards to his work was complicated but we finally decided he was a wordsmith because the flipside to this Jack the Lad-ness was his eloquence. He could effortlessly recite The Donkey by G. K. Chesterton, side by side with rhymes of a somewhat lower culture.
When his life was drawing to a close and he could barely draw breath, he never answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Instead, he would say, “I’m not particular” – a mouthful for someone on their last. It was Christmastime and we had a feeling he wouldn’t make it. We asked him what gift he would like, anyway.
He said: “A pair of gentlemen’s leather gloves, please.” A look of disbelief crossed my mother’s face.
“Gloves? Did he say gloves? He’s got gloves!”
My mam was the Morecambe to his Wise.
Just before his death, I heard the poem Invictus at a friend’s funeral and it resonated with me, probably because it had the word ‘captain’ in it. One of my dad’s favourite songs was Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat by The Ink Spots. He loved the song and we felt he was the captain of that ship. The song played as we entered the crematorium and as part of his eulogy I read the poem.
And so my dear dad sailed away to the strains of The Ink Spots and the haunting words of William Ernest Henley. An unlikely combo, you may think, but fitting in many ways.
His send-off concluded with I’ll See You in My Dreams by Joe Brown and I’m happy to say that I have seen him in my dreams, once, on Father’s Day 2011. He didn’t make me laugh on that occasion. In fact, I woke with tears on my face. But it was wonderful to see him again.
This Sunday I will be celebrating the warmth, love and mirth he brought us with his unique and raucous brand of humour. It was his speciality – and second to none.
Thanks Dad, for the good times and the laughs. You gave us a barrelful.
To the memory of William Lewis, 24.01.20 – 16.12.10.
A Hollywood based Geordie pensioner living on her wits. Affectionately known as Nano to her granddaughters. Instantly likeable. (Daughter’s words!) @MmePcato
Father’s Day raises complicated emotions for Camilla King.
Mercurial. If I had one word to sum up my dad, that would be it: he was human quicksilver. His mind always working faster than anyone else’s, so fast that even his mouth could barely keep up, causing him to stop and start and stutter, wild hand gestures desperately trying to shape the thoughts his speech couldn’t manage.
Add to this his twinkly eyes, and brows springing madly from his face, and you have a sort of modern-day Gandalf. It wasn’t only a physical resemblance: he was as wise, impatient with fools and quick to anger as Tolkien’s wizard, but I think he quite enjoyed the comparison to a character who had great influence on those around him, while always remaining somewhat remote.
Approaching Father’s Day means planning gifts for my husband, trying to persuade our sons to make cards containing heartfelt sentiments as opposed to “Daddy’s got a beard” or “Daddy got a willy”, you know, the usual. But it also leads me to reflect on my relationship with my own father, which it’s safe to say was complicated.
“Even with our ups and downs, periods of not speaking to each other, and frustrations on both our parts, losing Dad gave me something back; the start of an understanding of who he really was.”
The pre-Father’s Day card buying trip always left me cold. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a “Best Dad In The World” or a “Beer & Football King” card – sentiment and LOLZ did not exactly apply to us.
My father was a great man, but not an easy one. To the outside world, he was a Church of England vicar, pillar of the community. And it’s not that he was some kind of religious tyrant; he believed passionately that faith shouldn’t be forced on anyone. For example, I suspect somewhat unusually for a clergy family, we never said grace before meals, unless someone ‘holy’ was visiting. In fact, I had to phone my horrified mother to ask her what prayers before a meal are actually called. Sorry Mum. But at home, family often felt like an irritation – one my dad wasn’t great at hiding.
It took his death, just over two-and-a-half years ago from stomach cancer, to grasp why we’d always been at odds. As anyone who has seen a loved one suffer with cancer, or any similarly degenerative illness, will know, it robs a person of almost everything; by the end he was skeletal, his eyes made vacant by the huge doses of morphine needed to manage the pain.
At his funeral, his coffin looked so small that even though I was nine months pregnant at the time, I felt I could have carried it alone. I hated to see my dad reduced to this. I don’t think anything can prepare you for losing a parent, no matter how good or bad your relationship with them, or how much or how little time you have to say goodbye. It’s an emptiness that even now can leave me breathless at the most unexpected moments.
Even with our ups and downs, periods of not speaking to each other, and frustrations on both our parts, losing Dad gave me something back; the start of an understanding of who he really was. Our fathers are so many things to us, but often we don’t look at them as a whole person; someone who had a life before we ever existed.
Soon after his cancer diagnosis, I visited Dad and for the first time he talked openly with me about his life, and admitted that he felt he hadn’t been the father we (my brother, sister and I) needed.
He talked about how he never had an example of fatherly love from his own dad, and had always struggled with the role as a result. But, he said, he had always tried his best. He tried to love us in the only way he could, and was terribly saddened to think that perhaps it hadn’t been good or demonstrative enough. He expressed his sudden fear of dying – as a priest, his faith had always made this one thing certain, but faced with death, he no longer knew whether that had been right.
“I remember your good nature in the face of constant requests from me and my friends for you to get on the Big Red Phone to God to put in a good word for various exams and driving tests.”
He wept (another first) and I held him and comforted him, and began to understand that we’re all imperfect. As parents all we can do is our best to let our kids know that we love them, even if it’s hard to find the words sometimes (particularly on the 20th meltdown of the day).
I guess what I’m left with is this: Dad, things weren’t always great between us, and I’ve always been pretty sceptical about the idea of Heaven, but, if you’re out there somewhere in the ether, I hope you know that I always think of you, miss you and remember your wicked sense of humour; how you were officially The World’s Tightest Man (for the love of God, reusing teabags is really not worth the saved pennies); your inability to pronounce anyone’s name correctly (Louse Lane anyone? That would be Lois… Or how about that well known Welsh opera singer Brian Turtle?); your good nature in the face of constant requests from me and my friends for you to get on the Big Red Phone to God to put in a good word for various exams and driving tests, and that time I nearly persuaded you, during a particularly tense cricket match, to pray for an England win. Oh the sin and temptation!
Maybe I couldn’t buy a World’s Best Dad card on Father’s Day, but I know you loved me in your way, and you know what? That was good enough.
Things Hazel Davis wishes she could tell her dad
Don’t worry Dad, this isn’t going to be morbid and sentimental. One of the things you instilled firmly in me before you died was that showing (having?) real feelings is to be avoided at all costs, or at the very least masked with a joke. And while I do sometimes curse you for it, it’s probably served me pretty well in the main. At least in that when I think of you it’s with nothing but fondness and I am pretty certain you’re not up there (or anywhere) watching over me.
Anyway. I wanted mainly to talk to you about eBay. You’d bloody love it. Though it started in 1995 and you only died in 2004, I’m pretty sure you never heard of it because computers didn’t reach your house until the mid-2000s and the internet quite a bit after that.
So it’s basically all those car boot sales and flea markets we trudged round EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND on a computer and you can bid for things and they get posted to you.
“Family lore has it that you took your football boots to your own wedding just in case my mum didn’t turn up and you could squeeze in a match.”
Actually, come to think of it, you’d hate it. You’d never be able to think up devious tactics to win (you’d be forever saying, “No, after you”) and you’d never be able to sell things because you’d insist on driving them directly to the buyer in person and end up giving them away for free like you gave away at least two secondhand cars to neighbours in my lifetime.
Also you’d have to use a cashcard to pay for it, something I never saw you do in the entire time I knew you (wait, did you even OWN a cashcard?).
But I do like to think of you browsing through the golf clubs and motorbikes guffawing at the astronomical prices people pay for stuff you had kicking about in the garage but couldn’t be arsed to sell, and talking about the time you swapped a banjo for a bag of sweets. See also Abebooks. You LOVED old books, even though to my knowledge the only two books I ever actually saw you read were King Solomon’s Mines and The Readers Digest Book of Egyptian History.
Oh and I took up swimming! I know. I know I was a bit of a disappointment to you in the sporting stakes. You ate, slept and breathed sport. Family lore has it that you took your football boots to your own wedding just in case my mum didn’t turn up and you could squeeze in a match.
You won medals for running and rowing and swimming and football and golf and when you gave up football you immediately took up cricket and when you gave up cricket you immediately took up golf, which you played until you died, despite the fact you must have been in immense pain.
You never had the joy of seeing your daughter compete in team sports, though I know you would have loved nothing more. I wasn’t a team player. At my school you needed to be popular for that. Sorry Dad.
In my defence, you did get to see me sing (TWICE) at the Royal Festival Hall though. Remember when you fell asleep and snored during Belshazzar’s Feast? Anyway, I left it too long but I finally did it. I took up swimming. I taught myself (sort of) and I actually persevered with something (something I never did during your lifetime) and now I love it.
I’m really not one for nostalgia or regret (thanks for that, I think) but you should know that every single time I streak across the pool I think of the summers you missed being able to race me across Scottish rivers or teaching me how to do handstands in the water: your favourite thing ever, bar crabsticks, runny ice cream and farting. When I do the front crawl, it’s you I’m mentally trying to beat.
Other matters arising: You have two granddaughters now. I KNOW! I think you thought that was never happening. So did I. You’d fucking love them, though (sorry for swearing).
One of them is just like me in what I can now only imagine were quite trying ways. She LOVES being tickled (like I did). The other one, though she looks a lot like her paternal grandma, totally has your eyes and sense of humour. Like you, she loves a naff catchprase and, like you, she never ever misses an opportunity to crack a bad joke. They both really, really love farting.
Things kicking around that I think you wouldn’t like and am secretly glad you don’t have to see: reality TV, terrorism, UKIP, the public declines of Paul Gascoigne and Frank Bruno, the FIFA scandal and hipster beards.
PS. Mum’s still mad.
Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her “moreishly interesting”. @hazedavis2422 Views
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.