Today, my father reaches the grand age of 67. Yes, he’s an April Fool’s Day baby. Yes, we remind him of this regularly…
I had been contemplating what to get him as a present this year. For the record, I am a pretty rubbish gift choser; if I’m not able to buy someone a book (and there have been stretches where I’ve effectively been banned from buying my family any more books) then I’m pretty much at a loss. Dad’s been reading a lot recently, so this year’s gift presented me with great difficulty.
So rather than buy him another possession, I figured I would take the opportunity to tell everyone, and therefore him (there’s a URL for this post in his birthday card), about why he’s the best dad I could have hoped for.
There’s a host of memories of my dad that I could share with you (building forts out of cardboard boxes when we were kids, the day I graduated, the first time he took me on a walk to a stone circle in North Wales, attending the 24 hour race at Le Mans together for several years, his battle against the Pembrokeshire planning authorities that saw me end up in a windy field holding bamboo canes taped together to show the height of the proposed development, the time he told an entire church congregation off), but I’ll tell you about my favourite of them.
After about 40 years of service, dad retired from his job as a Methodist minister two years ago. It’s a demanding job – you have to deal with everything from the emotional wellbeing of your congregation to the church finances – and it’s not really a job you can ‘turn off’ from. So when, in about ’96, he took a six-month sabbatical it was an opportunity for him to take stock, recharge his batteries, shave his beard off, and attend a lot of sporting fixtures that just happened to take place on a Sunday. At the time we had a holiday home just outside Saundersfoot in south west Wales and summer holidays were usually spent in their entirety down there, and that summer was no different. Me, my mum and my dad, decided to head down to Pendine Sands beach one afternoon; the beach is incredibly long and flat so the water is very shallow, so swimming is quite pleasant because the water warms up in the sun. So we were swimming around and dad and I were messing about and mum, who’d just been to the hair salon, turned around to tell us off for splashing her at the exact moment that a wave went straight over the top of her…
And I heard my dad laugh in a way I’d never heard before. Because it was carefree. I hadn’t realised it, but for so long dad had been carrying such a burden that I’d never actually seen him relax properly. And here he was, admittedly taking the mickey out of mum, but nonetheless laughing. It completely changed the way I saw my dad, and now whenever he laughs I’m reminded of that moment, which I think is the moment I got to know him as more than just my father.
I’ve not always been the easiest of children to drag up – there’s been times that we’ve not got on and had our disagreements (I’ve usually been right, by the way), but he and mum have always been there for my sister and I, never failing to support us even when we’ve done some insanely stupid things. I’ve always understood that I owe my sense of right and wrong, my hatred of hypocrisy and injustice, my faith in something better, my trust in the idea that people should be cared for and loved, thanks to the example my father set me. And if I ever get to be half the man he is then I’ll have done well.
A couple of years ago he told me how proud he was of me and I felt a little bad because I didn’t tell him how proud I am to be his son.
So, happy birthday dad. I’m sorry I didn’t get you a book.
Oh, and it was mum and Jennie who dug out these photos – blame them. Also: nice neck scarf 😉