It was one of those lovely post-roast moments on a cold Sunday. The remnants of the previous evening’s drunken shenanigans with friends had finally abated and the hangover hunger was sated by my mum’s Yorkshire puddings.
Settling on the sofa as an old film buzzed in the background, the idea of getting packed up and heading to the train station for the three-hour journey back to London from Liverpool was galling.
“I better start making tracks”, I announced to my audience of Mum, Dad and younger brother.
“Why don’t you stay for another night?” Dad piped up from under his paper. It was very cosy with the fire blazing whereas outside the wind was roaring.
“I wish, but I have work in the morning.”
Dad put the paper down and with stark sternness and authority stated simply:
This is one of the things I loved about my Dad. He truly meant it.
Nothing could have been more tempting. I was 24 and had recently been promoted to Features Editor at my weekly finance magazine. A role, to be fair, which was too large for me at that stage. The previous week my first supplement had to be pulped as someone forgot to link the images. What should have been an austere shot of the CEO of a European Conglomerate was actually a hilarious picture of his huge big eye.
How I was not sacked, God only knows. And the “I spy with my great big eye” jokes that followed were getting boring.
In my Dad’s head it was that simple. I was stressed out, I was not enjoying it. It was therefore time to walk away. Start again.
I didn’t obviously. But looking back he was right. I should have.
Growing up with a man that refused to conform to the norm has probably made me more straight-laced and cautious in regard to my work life.
He always worked for himself and spent a long spell in Johannesburg in his early twenties on a building gig slap bang in the middle of the thorny 1960s. He had a Del Boy “next year we will be millionaires” approach to life. It was a feast or famine existence. One minute would see holidays in Florida, the next he would have just enough to pay the bills.
The “experts” say that you should argue in front of your children as long as you let them see you making up and resolving the dispute. In the same way, witnessing Dad’s latest business endeavour crash and burn, but then watching him dust himself off and run full pelt at the next opportunity has been subconsciously ingrained in me in a good way.
Many times over the years when things have felt too chaotic or when it seemed impossible to juggle a job and three small children (one of whom is disabled), my husband would ask simply: “what would your Dad say about this?”
What would my Dad say? He would say: “F**k work.”
Each and every time it would give me much needed perspective on the situation.
Although quite strict, it wasn’t always a conventional upbringing.
My earliest memory was travelling around in his work van and five children squashed on an old leather settee in the back (seat belt rules obviously were not invented). This sofa was like a extra member of the family and even got dragged out a few times as a seating option when we went for picnics in country parks. Not for us rubbish old picnic blankets or sitting on your coat.
Mini groups of 11 year olds wanted to come to our house, fascinated by the liberal approach to swearing that we didn’t notice. Everyone was welcome. Always. Mine was the house that we all came back to after our first summer of clubbing and we sprawled away our Sundays watching The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.
Weekends were full of noise (so much so that my oldest sister invested early in ear plugs) and they seemed to have a wicked social life. Everything was celebrated. Everything. No matter how small.
My 21st birthday party was one of those groundhog days that I wanted to be stuck in forever. He sent his mate up to Leeds with a mini bus to bring back all my university mates and let them sleep all over the living room floor. Even made each and every one of them a sausage butty before he had them all transported back.
It was never dull. From the year we bunked into Butlins through the bushes (sorry Butlins) to the time we lived on a building site in three caravans (one solely for laundry) as he built his dream house from scratch. As a self conscious 15 year old, I obviously totally loved that Clampett-mode of living.
There were the football highs as he followed Liverpool Football Club around Europe and the heart breaking lows of the Heysel and Hillsbrough tragedies (each time we sat for long hours by the phone waiting for news of his safety; for the former it took more than 24 hours).
He was a popular man my Dad, but he was not perfect. One of his dearest friends once said:
“he would give you a thousand pounds, but fight you for a penny.”
This statement has always stayed with me. He felt it was important to be generous – with your time, your money and your actions. But take the mick and he’d fight you over that penny for the sheer principal of the matter.
He lived his life without a plan. Things were done on the spur of the moment. An element of leaving things to the hands of fate and letting the Gods have their say.
Perhaps not a bad way to live. Less sweating of the small stuff.
There was a serious side and after a few shandies, he liked nothing more than a natter about life.
I kick myself for all the times I rolled my eyes and sought an escape.
How much would I now give for one of his philosophical put-the-world-to-rights late night conversations.
You see he died 13 years ago after telling a group of teenagers off for throwing stones at a house. A spur of the moment decision that cost him his life.
And since that day everything I’ve done no matter how thrilling or exciting, has lost a little of its sparkle. There is no one I want to impress as much as I wanted to impress him.
I am not a rebel.
I probably won’t give you a thousand pounds.
And I’m equally unlikely to fight you for a penny.
As far as I know I am not bunking into Butlins any time soon.
But now, when the moment warrants it, I do announce quite loudly:
The principle works across all manner of things and never fails to make me smile.
It reminds me to stop being all things to all men.
To get a grip.
That most of the stuff I worry about, matters not a jot.
So you see growing up with a rebel for a father was an education in itself.
And learning how to dust myself off and get back up after a set back was the greatest gift we could have given me.