Tomorrow, it will be 22 years since I last sent my dad a Father’s Day card.
Twenty-two years since the first Father’s Day after his death passed with a gut-wrenching sobbing and feeling of resentment towards children buying cards and gifts for their dads.
This year, as every other, those celebratory images in shop windows do not lose their impact. The Interflora phone service from which I once ordered flowers still reminds me every year to send something to Dad, despite my having told them, as the first Father’s Day approached after his death, how much their automated prompt had upset me. Even the online Apple Store suggests Father’s Day gifts. The iPad, for example, currently being touted as “The gift Dad won’t take his eyes off”. Everywhere, I see the promise of things one’s father is going to love.
The things my dad might have loved - but I doubt it. Because what my Dad loved most was his family. My mum, my brother Nigel and me. And now, every Father’s Day, I try to put aside the immense sadness I still feel at his not being here and celebrate the fact that I was blessed with such a kind, thoughtful, strong and loving man who, all these years on, continues to have such a huge, positive impact on my life.
The last birthday party he attended would be his last. I was 30, living in London and working as television critic on the London Evening Standard. I still went home regularly, and even more so when Dad first went into hospital in the January of 1987. I was used to him being ill; he had been a smoker and had always had a weak chest. But he had always come through and we expected him to again.
The moment I knew he would definitely not was the Christmas before he died, when a doctor at the hospital told me that he had suffered three “small” heart attacks that week. “But no one can survive that, can they?” I asked. “Well, no,” he said.
Until that moment, I had not thought of a life without Dad. Although I was very busy in my new job and having problems settling in an alien city, we were in constant touch, either through visits or on the phone. Then, as always, Dad was a huge part of my life, and even the thought of him not being there left a hole that left me gasping for breath.
This was what people meant when they talked of the parent becoming the child, and I felt ill equipped for my new role.
Feeding Dad his supper one night, when he was too weak to hold the fork, was a moment of grown-upness too far.
Both my mum and dad gave my brother and me a good, fulfilled and joyous childhood. There was not a vast amount of money, but we lived a comfortable life in which we felt no deprivation.
Our holidays were spent at Butlin’s, where we enjoyed late nights drinking hot milk and watching the doughnut-making machine sugar our supper. On summer weekends we went to the beach, where Dad really came into his own packing the car (and unpacking it at the other end) the essentials Mum deemed necessary for a day at the sea - wind-break, Lilo, Flotina, deck chairs, table and chairs, cold-box, hamper, sun umbrella, Tupperware for sandwiches and squash, flasks for tea and coffee, dog bowls, towels and swimming costumes, eight gallons of Calamine lotion.
By the time we left the house, dusk was falling and our day out became 40 minutes. But as with everything, Dad bore his lot with equanimity.
Dad’s calm nature was in stark contrast to that of Mum, Nigel and me, whose rather wacky humour put us in tune with each other in rather more obvious ways. Where Mum had me dressed in psychedelic dresses and wearing cowbells to school when I was 11, Dad practically needed oxygen when I wore my first pair of platform shoes with a bright red plastic heart on the sides. His views on fashion were, as his values, old-fashioned by today’s standards, but I remain grateful for them.
He taught me manners and respect; the importance of hard work and being driven, but not to the point of negating the people closest to you. Despite his intellect and enormous success in his work, his family came first, ambition second. I doubt he ever thought of it as a sacrifice, but it is one that I believe he made in order that his children might have better lives.
Mum still lives in Bristol and works as a therapist. Like my relationship with Dad, it is a very close one, and undoubtedly Dad’s goodness and love live on in the special relationship I have both with her and Nigel. Every year, on Father’s Day, we call each other.
In celebration of my dad, I this week uploaded a short book on Amazon Kindle called, simply, Dad (available in their store, £1.99). It is another reminder of how very lucky we were to have him.