Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dear Dad... | What Father's Day Means to Me


Father’s Day. A stream of gushing Facebook posts dominate my feed, in heartfelt appreciation for fathers past and present. A pang of guilt washes over me as I realise I have neglected to send any kind of greeting to my own Dad, a feeling accompanied by a deeper sense of regret that I haven’t seen enough of him lately. Life is hectic, and since my kids’ father is away for the weekend, I’d not even clocked that this Hallmark Holiday was upon us. 

Aside from birthdays, I’ve never been much of a fan of the ‘appreciation day’ culture - Valentine’s, Father’s Day, National Doughnut Day (yes, it's a thing); as an adoptive parent, even Mother’s Day is a far from straightforward celebration in our family. But when everyone else is so publicly on the ‘yay dad’ bandwagon, it seems somewhat callous to abstain. I could have dashed out and bought a last minute card, but it is hard to find one whose sentiments accurately reflect my relationship with my dad, and frankly the football-and-beer-themed “best dad ever” selection is just not going to cut it. So I decided instead to attempt a more authentic exploration of what he means to me…

More than anything else I have inherited from him, it is Dad’s offbeat, mischievous sense of humour and love of comic poetry for which I am most grateful. I can remember him reading me Spike Milligan, quoting the Goons, and teaching me practical jokes at a young age, and those influences have stayed with me into my adult life. I like to think I also have something of Dad’s practical nature and problem-solving skills; I have always admired these qualities about him.

Christmas time at Dad's place in the 80s

Father’s Day sentiments are complicated for me and Dad, because I don’t actually remember a time when he was living at home. There are a few hazy memories - Christmas morning in Mum and Dad’s bed with the textured orange throw, and Dad’s retro dressing gown; the chaos of him redecorating the kitchen while mum was in hospital having my younger sister - but not much of the day-to-day. I am thankful that my parents stayed good friends when they split up, and Dad was around, if not a constant presence. Both he and mum were active CND members in those days, and I can recall being taken on protest marches as a child, and riding on the CND carnival float alongside a giant model missile that Dad had constructed - one of many such props that made our childhoods all the more interesting and eccentric. 


That CND carnival float

Having a stage manager for a father has definitely had its perks. As well as the intriguing theatrical cast-offs that made their way into our playroom, Dad could always be relied upon to fix things (albeit with gaffer tape and a prayer), build things and generally provide DIY support services. I have taken to heart his motto of “if it doesn’t work, use a bigger hammer”, and am never without several rolls of gaffer tape with which to tackle any domestic emergencies.

Mum and Dad met working in the theatre in the 60s, and it was Dad who persuaded me into my first summer job on followspots at the Hippodrome in 1992, when I was 15. This was undoubtedly an influential milestone in my life. I spent 10 or more summers working there, as well as pantomimes at the Devonshire Park, forging life-long friendships and learning a useful (?) repertoire of old songs from the various veteran acts who performed there. For some of that time, I was working alongside Dad as well as other Stanfields, and it is a time I remember as being one of the closest we have shared.

Backstage crew at the Hippodrome - early nineties (Dad 3rd from left)

Another of those times was when I was away at university, and Dad would come up and visit me from time to time. I will be forever thankful to him for helping extricate me from an awful shared housing situation, rocking up with his campervan while my house ‘mates’ (who had been systematically ganging up on me for months before) were away for the weekend, and helping me move, in stealth, to a little bedsit in Barnes where I stayed for my final year. Whereas mum has always provided (and still does provide) the emotional support and physical comfort, it is this type of practical gesture through which Dad has shown his love. 

As a younger man, my dad was partial to a jive. I have distinct memories of him busting some impressive moves at various family occasions, and although I have never mastered the genre myself (there is still time!), I have an enduringly fond association with its music. Just yesterday I was at Michelham Priory’s Home Front weekend, watching a Lindy Hop group give a demonstration, and thinking about Dad’s love of dancing, while tapping my feet to the infectious tunes. I can vividly picture his younger, rock-n-rolling self of the 1950s, based on the colourful anecdotes of his youth that he has painted over the years. He is a spirited raconteur, and has inspired me to try and continue the tradition, passing on the family folklore to my own children.

Dad, we may not have the most conventional or consistent of father-daughter relationships, but as you can see, you have influenced me, and I love you. Thank you for Spike, Elvis, Brubeck and gaffer tape.
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