Before he died, he had visited Greece for the first time where he chose an icon of St Anne for me. I had fixed it here, in my new house, which he generously helped me to buy, and where I had lived for only three weeks before the call came at six pm one evening that my father was dead. Just like that. A light going out. An absolutely random thing. But I was angry with him for a long time for exiting the stage like that. I had things to say to him still. Once, I said to him: 'When God made you, Pa, he broke the mould,' which made him gurgle with pleasure. But there were things I didn't say, also. Far too many unsaid things. Like how much I loved him.
Sunday, 15 June 2008
I've titled this Fathers', as opposed to Father's, day, because I have always thought of it as a plural sort of celebration; and, anyway, my father is dead, so he can't, strictly speaking, have a father's day anymore. But I have been thinking of him, especially after reading some very moving tributes to their fathers from, respectively, Kathy Lette, Richard Branson, and Gordon Brown in The Telegraph yesterday. Kathy Lette wrote about her 'undemonstrative' father, who showed his love in practical ways, like servicing her car for her. I used to criticise my father too for a certain emotional coldness; but now I see that that was absolutely not the case at all. My father once drove down to Cornwall with a gas cooker in the boot of his car for Cara, his first grandchild, and me. He stayed overnight, and I cooked him a huge fried breakfast, for which he was very grateful, before he drove back to Cheshire again (I don't quite know what the hurry was there - but he had to get back). He used to stop over and see me quite often when I lived in London and he was down on business. One night, as he was escorting me back to Primrose Hill on the Tube, he took my hand and commented how small and fragile my hands were. And, when I wrote to say I was giving up my law studies to write, he wrote back to say that he had always thought I would become a writer. He also wrote that he too might have had the energy once to follow his dream, but, as one (he) got older, responsibilites and the lull of a 'settled life' took over. When my grandma (his mother) died, and I was clearing her house in Truro for him, I found a long long letter from my father to his parents when he made a long business trip to Japan in the 1960s. I wish I had kept it since it recorded his vivid impressions of that very alien culture; but I still have the brilliantly painted kimono he brought me, and a shabby porcelain-faced geisha doll which sits on top of my piano. My mother recently commented that Pa had hated his business trips to the USA, but I remember his postcard to me from San Franscisco, where he had driven - alone - from Georgetown, Washington DC, through the Carolinas and westwards through New Mexico (Albaquerque) in a hired car: this shy, stooping man asking for sandwiches and gas in his quiet British accent. 'I am sitting on Fisherman's Wharf,' he wrote, 'before the biggest ice cream I have ever seen.' That did not sound like a man who did not value his trips abroad. That was a man who had tasted freedom.