Friday, June 19, 2009


In honor of Father's Day, I wanted to write something about my dad, Brian. But where to start?

We didn't start out on the best of terms. I was born during an England v Scotland soccer international. Even worse, Scotland won. But I was soon forgiven. In fact, my dad has never mentioned it.

My dad has always been a giant. He left high school and became a builder. His calloused hands and huge muscles, with shaved blond head saw him mistaken for a German - especially when on vacation in the Med with his blond-haired, blue eyed children. But he is a gentle giant, with a rare wit, and a creature of habit and simple pleasures.

My mother was a night nurse, so every morning my dad would wake me with a cup of milky tea and take me to the neighbors (until I was about 7 - then I would stay home and head off to school myself) before heading off to work himself at about 6:30am. I asked him when I was about 19 why the tea he made always tasted better than my mom's. His reply: "I always put three sugars in it." That will do it. When he got home, 12 hours later, he would always ALWAYS greet me with a playful smack over the head with his rolled-up copy of The Sun.

(In a side note here, my son told me he doesn't want to grow up because then I wouldn't be able to give him playful smacks on the head. I wasn't even aware that I had been doing so.)

Being a builder meant his body was old before its time. I regret not being interested in football (soccer) until he was too beat up to go have a kick-around with me. When I was at my physical prime, his back was shot and both his knees were a mess. He was still 15 years from retirement.

His pleasure - still now - comes from sitting back and watching TV, particularly football/soccer. He will watch any game at any time. He also likes action movies ("silly films" he calls them.) One of my favorite stories is the time I came back from the pub to find him watching Robocop... in German (our satellite picked up European stations.) The following conversation went something like this:

Me: What's this?
Dad: Robocop.
Me: It's in German.
Dad: Yeah... bloody good film though.
Me: But it's in German.
Dad: ... it's Robocop.

When my passion for football/soccer (I'm going to stop that now and call it football) reached his and exceeded it, at a time in my life when the majority of my salary and vacation time was spent on following my team up and down the country, I would call him on the way home from a game. It went something like this:

Me: Great game today, Dad.
Dad: Yeah... I watched it on the telly. I'm home now with a cup of tea.
Me: It was great being there seeing it live...
Dad: But it's over now, and I'm home. See you in two hours.
Me: Hmmm...

Again, as a creature of habit he would make hamburgers for lunch every Saturday and we would eat them watching the wrestling on telly. Then, every Saturday night (and I'm sure this still happens now) he would make chips. Proper chips. Peeling the potatoes and cutting them up. I would stumble home from a game on a Saturday night to find him asleep in front of the TV, and he would wake up, throw my pan of chips on and then we would sit and watch Match Of The Day (or Robocop in German.)

He has very few vices. He likes full-strength Coke ("I don't like that diet shit. It's bloody awful.") and sometimes puts a scotch in it. In a pint glass with lots of ice. He likes a beer, usually mixed with 7Up (a shandy for those who didn't know.) He goes to the betting shop, but only ever bets pennies. He taught me how to read form and work out how many bets was in a Super Heinz as a 10-year-old.

And he couldn't do enough for us. He would come home from working on the site all day, six-and-a-half days a week and spend Sunday building a vegetable garden or a flower bed or a brick BBQ. He would spend his rare, rare days off taking me into central London, to Hamleys or some other crazy toy shop, to find elusive Star Wars figures or, later, Transformers. He enjoyed doing it, just like I enjoy doing stuff like that for my kids. Like him, there's not much I would rather do. The day he walked in with a pirated version of Return Of The Jedi, I was so scared for his obvious imminent arrest (that would never come, of course)... but I watched it months before it would appear in the cinemas.

When I see my dad now, I see the same man I have always seen. Yes, he's older, and I'm taller than him now, but he's strong as an ox and sharp as a tack. I wish I could see him more often, but there's an ocean between us. We talk on the phone once a week or so, still talking about football and silly films. Like with the best of friends, we pick up right where we left off, even if we see each other less than once a year.

Part of the reason for that is because I hear him in me. When I talk to the kids, singing stupid songs or giving them little nicknames (I was "Pinky" for the longest time, because when I was born I was the size of his little finger) I hear him doing to the same things to me. I get frustrated by little things, as he did, but enjoy the good times just as he did. I don't need Disneyland to have fun with my kids. And I'm certainly as proud of my kids as he was of me.

When I was 19 I was earning more money than him in my job as a video game reviewer. He wasn't mad, or sad, or melancholy. He was proud. Genuinely proud. The fact I didn't have to wash my hands after work, like he and his four brothers and most of my cousins all had to do, was a sign that I was doing well. That said, he still didn't understand what I was being paid for. "What is it you do?" he would ask. "I sit in an office, play games, and write about them." "OK... but what do you do?" Even when I announced I was moving to the United States from London, he wasn't sad and mad - at least, not overtly. He was proud: "You're doing the right thing," he said, even if it meant going from seeing me every day to seeing me once every 14 months or so.

Here I am, 35 years old and a few days before my sixth father's day and I will accept I am, in many ways, becoming my dad. And I'm very proud of that. Just as proud as he was and is of me.

Thanks, Brian.

1 comment:

Mary said...

It's a rare man who can write about his father with such wit and open admiration while his father is still around to read it (most puss out and wait until they're gone). I hope my husband and son have a connection like your and you father someday (including the smacks on the head).