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Father to son

18 Jun

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

My father died over 30 years ago.. he simply fell off his bike and died from a heart attack on the way to work one day. So although he was at my wedding, he missed the divorce – and he never saw his grandchildren, or saw what a success they would be. But I know he would have loved them, fiercely and passionately.

He was a conflicted, loopy, crazy guy – we didn’t have phrases like PTSD to describe it, but he came back from serving with the Royal Engineers in the Tunisia campaign of WWII isolated and introverted. His first wife left him while he was away fighting for his country, which hurt him deeply. He was a great engineer, the son of a mining engineer also tragically killed in a mining accident in the coal mines of Merthyr Tydfil. And I suspect that’s why I became an engineer too. It’s in the blood, you see.

My brother and I will live with the image of a man with a tousled comb over (wildly out of control in the seaside breeze) dancing (we assume, it wasn’t obvious) in bright orange swimming trunks – or floating peacefully in the local swimming baths (which, it has to be said, is a bit of a shock if you’re not expecting it).

I remember clearing out the attic to discover he had been hoarding used beer cans in case they became valuable. And clearing out the shed, where I discovered a small stash of offcuts of copper that he’d been saving to take to the scrap merchants.

I remember the day that he went visibly pale when I came home and announced who I was dating… it’s always a high risk scenario when your son dates the boss’s daughter.

I remember the day we spent together rivetting a new floor pan onto the clunker of a car that I had just bought.. and the look of shock and horror that barely disguised his laughter when I drove the car through the front fence and into the front garden.

And I remember with fondness and thanks the day that I put my head on his shoulder and said ‘thankyou’ to him. It was the last time I saw him alive.

He failed, completely, to teach me any form of sports… those genes had to wait to be passed to my brother… but I was content to watch him play for his local cricket team, or to play a little bit of ‘whack the ball with the bat’ in the local park.

He cheerfully cycled 2 miles to work and 2 miles back every day.. and when, aged five, I decided I didn’t like school dinners, he cheerfully cycled the 4 mile round trip back home again every lunch time to make me lunch. I had no doubt that my father loved me.

He wasn’t keen on change – we suspect that he’d seen enough change in the war to see him through – and quickly discovered that ‘that was a nice meal for a change, dear’ meant ‘please never cook this for me ever again’. We would holiday in the same place every year until the hotel closed or changed hands, or something happened to cause him to fall out of love with the place.. and perhaps in his sense of keeping things the same was born my own desire to change things up – in his desire for uniformity was born my rebel cry to make things different, to yearn for adventure.

Only recently have we discovered the love letters he wrote back home to my mother excitedly looking forward to coming home and being together – letters full of tenderness and anticipation.

Like most men, my father had his faults, his inconsistencies, his weaknesses and his addictions. But he also had his strengths, his wisdom, his authority – and I knew I could rely on him to back me up, to be there when I needed him – and I knew I could rely on his love.

I hope I can bring my sons everything my father brought me – and then to surpass him – to build on the shoulders of a giant to be an even better example to my children as to what a real man is, and what a real father is. And already I see that they will be even better than I.

I wanted to post a song here. Cat Steven’s ‘Father and Son’ is for some reason too raw and painful for me to love. Its inclusion in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy II’ nearly leading me to walk out early, it’s that uncomfortable!

Peter Gabriel’s ‘Father Son’ is perhaps too gentle for the fierce love I feel towards my father – and towards my sons. Queen’s ‘Father to Son’ has more of the bite and energy that I feel – that sense that I will carry on where my father left off – and a rallying cry for my sons to become greater, better, more powerful, kinder, more loving, more successful and even better human beings than I am. Each of us carry the torch for a while, and we pass it on to the next generation for them to build a better, kinder future for themselves, and for those around them, and so for the world.

But I think I will leave you with one of my all time favourite moments in concert – worth listening to for Ged Lynch’s amazing ‘falling through the drumkit’ drumming – worth thinking about to consider what better world we might have if we would just talk to each other – but definitely worth the beautiful interaction between Peter Gabriel and his daughter Melanie in the song ‘Talk to Me’ – skip to 4:46 if you must.

 

 

Find out more at www.timhodgson.org

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