Father's Day: A Love Letter To My Old Man

He's a hard bastard and an awful driver but he's been a great dad. I can't tell him I love him so I'll tell you instead
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He's a hard bastard and an awful driver but he's been a great dad. I can't tell him I love him so I'll tell you instead

Nick and his parents. Isle of Wight.

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Some Dads are disasters and disgraces, but mine never has been. He’s my role model for fatherhood, how I imagine Dads should be.

A decent Dad is a presence, a sense of support and good advice, that dwells in the back of the mind.

I’m married now, so my wife bears the brunt of my paranoia and concerns, but even into my late thirties I’d be ringing Dad up with my variously sized problems. Delving deep into his well of experiences, he’d always come up with the goods.

Take a look at that photo. My parents and me. I don’t need to work out where it was taken because we always holidayed in the same place, one week every summer: the Isle of Wight. A 22-mile car and ferry ride from home, which presumably felt adventurous back then.

See whose hands are holding me.

It’s fair, though a little embarrassing to say, that he doted on me. He made up stories for me at bedtime – though he read no books himself – which I’d look forward to every night. He supplied me with Airfix kits and fishing rods and the Johnny Seven One-Man Army. Whenever he comforted me, he’d always call me “boy”. “It’s alright, boy.”

Though I adored my Mum also, it was always Dad I’d defer to. I remember him washing my hair in the bath, and being conscious of how soft his hands were.

When he spoke, it was in this lulling, soothing tone; he so rarely lost his temper… I’m trying now to think of his faults, to break up this increasingly sentimental paean, and the best I can do off the top of my head is: he could be a f***ing awful driver.

It’s so difficult to picture our Dads as individuals with previous lives of their own, since parenthood dissociates them from such realities. But occasionally, when I was older, of an evening he’d open up about his past, and like a fool I’d only half listen.

He used to cycle to work, he’d tell me: a 60-mile round trip. Often there were stories of his mate from youth, the legendary “Niggles” Kemp, and their escapades, and occasionally he’d assure me that he used to be a “hard bastard”.

Dad being remotely aggressive feels anathema to me. Yet I do recall seeing in his top drawer of mementoes and treasures, through which I’d delve wide-eyed, a brass knuckle duster with spikes welded to its business side.

There are tales he has not told. Probably for the best.

I’ve only told him that I love him once, when I was p***ed on a New Year’s Eve.

I’m a father now, myself. To a 16-year-old son, who lives with his mother, and a two-year-old daughter, who lives with us in Cornwall. Even if subconsciously, I try to parent and inspire as my Dad did - the cycle of fatherhoods - too often, I fail.

Enos Norman Griffiths turns 95 next month. My Mum, his wife, died in 2008, of lung cancer, shortly after their 70th wedding anniversary. Though he’s practically blind he’d make his way to her Margate hospice from home in Ramsgate and sit by her bed every day, clutching fresh nightclothes in a bag she bought off QVC.

He never knew his own father, who survived the trenches of the Great War but succumbed to pneumonia in Abbeville, France, in 1917, when he was only one year old.

His widowed mother, a dairy farmer in the Midlands, moved the family to Croydon and married a copper, on whom my Dad doted. I can only imagine he was like my own father.

I’ve only told him that I love him once, when I was p***ed on a New Year’s Eve. My family never did overt affection. When news of Mum’s cancer broke, I went to hug Dad in the kitchen and he pushed me away. That’s his generation, I guess: stiff upper lip. I shan’t try again.

So this, for what its worth, is my love letter to him. I can write that, safe in the knowledge that he can’t use the internet and anyway can’t see to read.

We chatted on the phone yesterday, Dad and me. He joked that he’d come visit, riding a motorised wheelchair – he doesn’t have one – all the way from Kent to Cornwall. It made me think of the David Lynch film, The Straight Story. I cried at the end of that.

Nick Griffiths helped set up the new website for Dads, www.daddybegood.com, which launches today.

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