This week I wanted to tell you about my amazing dad.
He hasn’t died or anything. I just thought I’d get in there with my panegyric quick while he’s still got most of his marbles and before he’s lying in a coffin quite deaf to all the nice stuff I’m about to say about him.
So: my dad. What prompted this was a chance remark he made the other day about having left school at 15. Fifteen? ‘Well I wasn’t enjoying it,’ he explained. ‘And Dad said he couldn’t afford the fees. So it made much more sense for me to come and work for the family firm as a lathe operator. I loved it. It gave me independence and I was earning money.’
Now if you were to meet my Dad, you wouldn’t guess his education was so basic. He’s uber well-informed on all sorts of subjects from contemporary China to the Battle of the Bulge to ancient Greece, and at 79 he must be one of the most dedicated silver surfers out there: spending as much as 15 hours a day trawling the internet, mainly for stories about one of our shared obsessions, environmental lunacy. If you had to hazard what he did for a living, you’d probably guess retired professor, rather than Midlands nut-and-bolt manufacturer. And that, for me, is both my dad’s tragedy and his triumph.
For most of our shared life, I didn’t give much thought to this. You know how it is with dads: at about 13, you move on from your adoring, hero-worship phase into thinking he’s a total loser embarrassment prat and please God let you never become like him; then later comes the resigned acceptance stage when you take your dad for granted, expecting him to remember the kids’ birthdays and help out in emergencies and be there on the phone for you when your life is falling apart.
But what you rarely ever do till much later is look at your dad as a person in his own right. You assume, by the time he’s hit 40, that his useful work is done. He probably doesn’t still have a sex life — at least, euugh, you hope he doesn’t — and the best of his career is behind him. His job, from now on, is to put you through university and to make sure there’s enough left in the kitty to give his grandchildren a reasonable inheritance.
Then you hit middle age yourself and — with your own kids viewing you rather as you used to view your dad — you begin to reassess the situation: ‘Hang on. I’m not dead yet and I’ve probably got a good four decades ahead of me. How do I deal with this? Is it going to be OK?’ So you look to your dad’s life for guidance.
Read the rest at The Spectator