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Sunday, 15 June 2014

In Praise of Fathers

Dads get a bad rap a lot of  the time. They are absent, distant, lazy, unhelpful, stingy etc etc. I had a difficult relationship with my dad. Until I was about 7 he was my world but my parents had a bad marriage and we witnessed some horrible scenes between them. They split up and got back together many many times and finally divorced when I was in my teens. It took me a long  time to forgive him for everything we had been put  through and I was an adult before I recognised that he was just a man with problems who married  the wrong woman.

I have no doubt that my parents loved each other, and they both loved us, but  they drove each other crazy. My dad worked his way up from national service commando to a sergeant in the Royal Marines but when he left the service and returned with wife and kids to Belfast in the mid 1960's he found he was qualified for very little. My mum was very active in her church and very clear about her purpose in life. She was driven and ambitious and wanted a perfect family to match her own image of herself. My dad worked in several companies in lots of different roles but found it really difficult  to settle. I think these differences led to fighting and mum left him for  the first time in about 1974.

It's father's day today and I have been thinking about my dad. It's easy  to think about all of  the bad stuff and when my dad died  when I was 21 I mourned not what I had lost but what I'd never really had. I was jealous of  friends who had dads who were around, who looked out  for  them and who didn't have a shadow of fear and mistrust with men. Today I have been remembering some of  the good stuff too.

Dad was a very keen camper and because of  his Marine training was very good at it. In 1976, during  the longest heatwave on record, mum was at a church event New York and Boston. Dad loaded up his old orange Mazda with all our supplies, 4 kids between 6 and 14 and a trailer tent. We drove from Belfast to Southern Cornwall. It took a couple of days and by  the time we got there there was a rust patch up  the side of  the car from my brother's constant puking. We had  to all get out every time  there was a big hill, and walk up, the car couldn't support the tent and  all of us. When we were travelling over Exmoor we spent more time on foot than in the car, but it was hot and sunny, and  there were ponies!
We spent two weeks in Cornwall, playing with new friends and eating beans and sausages outdoors. It was a brilliant holiday. We even saw Noel Edmonds going past the campsite with the Radio 1 Roadshow. When I think about it  now I am proud , my dad was a modern man. He looked after all of us for 2 weeks. He fed us, made sure we were clean, kept us  safe, and  enjoyed being  with us. He drove all that way with 4 kids, at least one throwing up regularly, no doubt fighting and bickering and "when will we be there" every five minutes. he did all of  that alone. I wouldn't fancy taking 4 kids on holiday on my own, would you?

My dad had  his demons, and I don't  condone how he behaved towards our mum, or us as we were growing up, but I have forgiven him. I forgave him before he died and was with him in the night when he passed away. I am thankful to him too. I am grateful that I have his courage, I am afraid of very little and will stand up for those I love without worrying about my safety. His courage gave me the strength to walk out on a bully when I was expecting  my first child, and that experience made me  realise how fortunate I am  now to be in a relationship with a man who is a consistent and loving father and stepfather.