A PAEN TO MY FATHER
“Ask yourself, if there was to be no blame, and if there was to be no praise, who would I be then? Quentin Crisp
I have no starting point for my life without my father as he has always been there. I have met people who remember being babies but for me the age of three was the start of memory, about the time my first sibling was born.
I thought my father was superman and from the beginning I was told by everyone “You are just like him”
Was I just like him?
Raven haired and with green eyes and Frida Kahlo eyebrows I think I must have looked like him.
In my teens I hated my eyebrows because left unchecked they could do a passible impersonation of those that belonged to the nineteen seventies politician Dennis Healey.
My first memory of my father Murray was him pushing me on my brand new red bicycle by a long grey metal handle that folded into the shopping cart on the back. He never knew his own strength and one Sunday pushed me too hard on the park’s downward slope and with my mother screeching in the background I landed head first in the brambles.
He was strong in those years because he did a manual job and cycled twenty miles to work and back every single day. He was also very keen on keep fit and did Canadian Air Force exercises every single day.
He always had something of the peacock about him even in his twenties and was never seen dressed in anything other than fashionable and immaculate clothes.
Our tiny little council flat had so many rules it was very difficult for a small girl to take them in.
The saying that “The children of lovers are orphans” was true in our house and that marital bond was where the rules began and ended.
“Never disobey or argue with your Mother, as she is delicate” were his primary orders. He would finish with “She must be cherished at all times as she is very fragile and cannot bear stress”
.“However the bell that finally tolled in my heart and meant I kept secrets as a matter of course was,
“Never, ever tell your mother your troubles.”
Those authoritative and potent words kept me as silent as a frightened four year old as much as they did years later when I was a confused and naive teenager walking down the aisle to my wedding with so many unanswered questions in my mind.
“Never disobey or argue with your Father, as he earns the money that comes into the house” was my Mother’s mantra. Every morning his clothes were laid out and his socks warmed by the coal fire. A perfect packed lunch was waiting in his knapsack before her got on his bike to cycle to his job.
There was a little frisson of fear that stalked a 1950s childhood, certainly in our little home.
To disobey the rules was a cardinal sin however there were times of fun and laughter to be had with Father as well. Sitting on the crossbar of his bike going to collect gladioli corms from the garden cooperative was just heaven. I felt that my eight year heart had wings as I flew through the neighbourhood balanced precariously held fast in his arms.
He was a wonderful father to my sister and I when we were small. He always put us to bed with amazing stories that seemed to tumble out of his fertile imagination.
He could spend hours with us making shapes of animals on the bedroom wall and then he would fall asleep only to be rescued by our Mother on her way to bed at their regular time of a quarter past nine.
He was a marvellous gardener and he and I spent hours rain or shine outdoors tending the vegetable patch and flower garden where he grew multi colours dahlias, carnations that were known as “pinks” and alarmingly bright orange montbretias.
My mother hated blue flag iris with a passion and was forever throwing them on the compost heap if they had the temerity to raise their navy and yellow pointed heads in her garden.
The trouble was that the place she threw them was extremely fertile ground and the more she threw them out the stronger they came back up again.
My sister Gillian and I used to laugh watching our slender mother in her flowery apron standing high up on the compost heap heaving with all her might and offering expletives under her breath.
However I never heard my lady like mother swear in all her life except to say “Flipping Kippers, Blinking Heck, Dearie Me and Oh Dash it!”