It was Father’s Day yesterday – traditionally a time to say thank you to dads everywhere and perhaps give them a token of appreciation. Mine isn’t here to do that, so I thought I’d write about the gifts he gave me instead.
My dad was old-school, in that he wasn’t present at the birth of his children and never changed a nappy – men didn’t much, at that time. Though come to think of it he wasn’t too hot at some of the masculine roles either – it was my mum who painted the house and wallpapered, and took charge of the finances (counting coins into carefully labelled envelopes in those pre-direct debit days). Nevertheless he was so delighted at my early-morning home birth that I seem to remember a tale about him jumping on a bicycle half-dressed and rushing off to tell my grandmother that he had a daughter at last (after three sons), ignoring the racing pedals cutting into his bare feet. Seems a little unlikely (surely it wouldn’t have taken a minute to put his shoes on?) so perhaps like all the best stories, not meant to be taken literally!
Thinking about some of the things that give me most pleasure in my life now, I realise it was thanks to my dad’s encouragement that I developed a taste for them. Music, for example; my dad had a lovely voice and sang often – folk ballads, wartime songs, music hall, operetta – his repertoire was extensive and eclectic. In addition he loved to play records (including old 78s) on a tinny little gramophone, singing along to the rich tenor voice of Mario Lanza or the plaintive Greek songs of Nana Mouskouri. He also put that voice to good use when telling stories as it held our attention completely – we would always beg him for one when travelling on long journeys in the car, and he was usually happy to oblige and avert the back-seat squabbles. However I remember having nightmares after one thrillingly macabre story about a woman who was buried alive by accident, so perhaps he didn’t always take into account the age of the listener!
Books and poetry were another great love of his and like the songs, he had many poems memorised word for word – no doubt a great resource when he was a prisoner-of-war for several years. I have a little copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which travelled in his pocket, as a souvenir. Our house was full of dusty old books and I had uncensored access to all of them no matter how unsuitable; I remember puzzling over the drawings in Victorian medical dictionaries at a tender age, as well as reading grisly accounts of true-life murderers. No doubt very character-building (if a little alien to modern child-rearing practices) and it never put me off reading.
We were also taken on regular ‘nature walks’ and learned to name the birds, animals, trees and plants that we saw on our rambles around the flat Lincolnshire fields, woods and marshlands. Many years later I found a postcard my father had sent from a rare visit to Ullswater, simply stating ‘This is the most beautiful place I have ever been’ – how I wish I could take him back there and share some of my favourite Lake District haunts with him. A reminder never to be complacent about my adopted home, even when the Cumbrian rain lashes the landscape . . .
Time for a moment of gratitude – what gifts did your father give you?
From The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his Vintage rolling Time hath prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.