(The article below has an NSFW advisory for language.)
Ah, Father’s Day again. Always a tricky time of year since Dad passed, back in November 2007. I’ve paid tribute to Dad before, when I was still writing and drawing my web comic, but this time, I wanted to write a few things.
Goodness knows, he was no saint – but then, few of us are. And he wasn’t that demonstrative with his emotions, as far as expressing love for his children went. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a loving father. He loved all three of us kids, equally, and even when we were grown-up, he’d still be willing to give us a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. Anyway, as I understand it, his own father was also rather restrained when it came to that sort of thing. Me? I’m way more emotional.
For most of my life with Dad, I was closer to Mum than to him, and I do feel bad about that. Thankfully, that did change to an extent when I reached adulthood. The biggest thing I remember about that period was when Mum, Dad, my sister Vicki and I went on days out (my brother Patrick had a family of his own, by then). In past years, the five of us would all traipse around together. But in my adulthood, Mum and Vicki would go off together, and Dad and I would do the same. Dad seemed to take more of an interest in arcade games than I recall him having done previously, and a particularly fond memory of mine was the two of us playing Time Crisis. Even though neither of us were skilled at the game in the slightest, we still had a whale of a time, playing through the rounds together, Dad pounding in the credits one after another, to ensure that we could keep shooting.
Dad had a smile that I’ve never been able to replicate: the cheeky, schoolboy grin. You could look at that face and easily imagine him being chased away from an apple orchard for scrumping1. Or hanging about with his friends, fishing in a pond that clearly had “NO FISHING” signs posted every few yards. I don’t know if he actually did either of those things in his youth, but when you’re looking at that face, the possibility doesn’t seem far-fetched.
He did love fishing, though, and I accompanied him on a few occasions. As far as baiting the hook was concerned, it was fine if he was using little chunks of that canned pork luncheon meat – I could handle that. If he was using maggots, however, I’d always have to get him to pick up the nasty, wriggling thing and impale it on the hook. I don’t think I was much given to profundity of thought during those years (my teens), and I was usually watching the float like a hawk, so although the time spent was enjoyable enough, it perhaps wasn’t as relaxing for me as it was for Dad. But then, he was a veteran at the activity.
There was one memorable time when, in celebration of having achieved good enough grades to get into Hull University, Dad took me jet-skiing – which neither of us had done before. I’d got it into my head that we were going to be using the sit-down variety… but no. It was the stand-up sort. Neither of us managed to achieve an upright position, although Dad managed to get to his knees on the thing. I achieved getting a shitload of pondweed into the water intake, and rendering the jet-ski useless. Astoundingly, the nice jet-ski people allowed me to use another – although Patrick felt, rather vocally, that he should take my place, because he would be better at it.2 At any rate, despite spending rather more time swimming after the jet-ski than riding on it, I did have a good time.
Mum occasionally had to be a little… sneaky with him, especially when it came to food. There were certain things he just wouldn’t eat, such as garlic. I don’t know if it was the stereotypical British aversion to “foreign muck” (Mum would know), but he shied away from those things. Well, in the late Nineties, I became especially fond of colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage and onion), and Mum decided to make her own version, adding more ingredients – namely leek and garlic. I loved the changes Mum had made, as did Dad… but then, Mum hadn’t told him about the garlic, had she?
On the subject of food, Dad had one habit that was particularly exasperating – for Mum. Every now and then, he would put down his eating utensils, and declare in tones of semi-disgust, “I can’t eat this.” Problem was, “I can’t eat this” could actually mean “I don’t like the taste of this”, or “This is too hot for me to eat”, or “My dentures broke – I can’t physically eat it”, or other possibilities which don’t spring to mind at this time. It would be up to my long-suffering mother to attempt to extract from him which variant of the well-worn phrase was being used and, if possible, propose a solution.
Oh, and Dad would never read instruction manuals. This was exasperating to us (grown-up) children, because it would inevitably lead to, “How do I do (such-and-such)”. And you can hardly tell your own dad to “read the fucking manual”, can you? Well, actually, I think we might have actually done so, from sheer frustration…
But Father’s Day is meant to be a time to celebrate fathers, so I shan’t dwell on the less-palatable aspects of Dad’s personality any longer. For all his faults (and he had many, as do I), I loved him very much, and still do. He didn’t just play a part in bringing us kids into existence; he also loved us, in his way.
And so I respectfully request that, if your father loves you, please show him so love today – even if you hate his guts for the other 360-odd days of the year. My own dad died far too young, at 62; you never know when the ones you love will be taken from you.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad, and rest in peace.
John Michael Cooper
June 22, 1945 – November 24, 2007
UPDATE: Mum’s read my blog post, and also had some recollections to share, starting with another food anecdote:
“Once, when I was giving your dad some freshly-baked apple pie, with ice cream, he dug in, tried to eat a mouthful, and promptly declared, ‘You never told me the pie would be hot, and the ice cream too cold!’ Well, he had known that I’d be cooking the bugger…”
Mum also points out that, even in his early twenties, Dad would steal apples. But that wasn’t all…
“Your dad also stole mushrooms from a local field, that the farmer was growing himself. The farmer saw him once, and chased him away, accompanied by the proverbial fist-shaking! John used to collect the mushrooms for my dad to eat – John would come from work to Fishlake [the village where Mum grew up – Mark] to take me to work in his car. As he was early, he would scour the fields for mushrooms, so that was good of him…”
I didn’t know that about Dad, and I’m certain there are many, many more anecdotes I’m still to hear of! Here are more examples of his good-heartedness.
“Sometimes, it would be raining, and I had to cycle to Moorends [about 4½ miles] to work. On occasion, John would take me to work, with the intention of then going to his mam’s house (as we were not wed then), sleep, and then wake up early enough to bring me home to Fishlake. But if he slept in, I would have to walk back home to Fishlake. But it was all well-meant.
“He used to feed you or Patrick with bottles during the night, because if I’d had a bad day with any of you three, he would do his best to help. When Patrick had gastroenteritis, your dad walked the bedroom with him over his shoulder so that I could sleep – and then have to wake up early to go work the day shift at the mine.
“That’s why, when he was laying dying at the hospital, I used to hold his hands in mine, to make sure he wasn’t alone. When he saw me crying, he said, ‘You look pale, love.’ As it was difficult for him to speak, it meant a lot to me that he’d said anything at all.”
Thank you for sharing those, Mum – and for giving me permission to include them here.
1 After being told what some Americans mean by “scrumping”, I feel I should point out that in British English, it simply means stealing apples…
2 Actually, now I come to think about it, he’s quite probably correct. Patrick has more balls than I do, and that’s intended as a compliment – timidity is not a quality that serves you well when trying to control a jet-ski.