Fathers’ Day : A Story

It’s Fathers’ day, and I guess like many people, my dad is someone who has variably inspired me, infuriated me, looked after me, annoyed me and… well, fatherhood is complicated, right? So instead of getting too deep into that, I’m going to tell you a story about the coolest thing my dad ever did.

It was some time in the late 80s – I don’t know the year, cos I’m not one of those people who keeps track of stuff like this… I could probably work it out if I knew where the photos were from that time, but I don’t, so we’ll stick with late-80s. At this point, neither my brother nor I had been on a plane – we’d be abroad on holiday, but only to France (I’d been on a French exchange trip, and my dad had taken us on a camping trip to Brittany when we were younger). 

We were down seeing my dad for a few days in one of the school holidays – at this point, we lived in Berwick On Tweed, and he lived in East London. Modern complex families being what they are, we made the best of it, and I learned how to get from Berwick to London on public transport at an age young enough to be deeply alarming in these times of stranger-danger and social media horror stories that lead us to believe that every human left alone below the age of 35 for more than 15 seconds will be immediately abducted and locked in a dungeon for 25 years. However, I think on this occasion we got a lift down to London with a friend from Berwick who also had family in London.

When we got to my dad’s, he told us that his friends were heading off on holiday for a week and we were going to go and take them to the airport. I can’t exactly remember how or why our bags ended up in the car too, but they did {EDIT see below for my sister’s recollections}. We got to (I think) Gatwick (I say ‘I think’ – I’ve not researched this for a thinkpiece in the Guardian, I’m just running on memory) and I started pretending that it was me that was off on a plane to Spain on my holidays. Having never been to Spain or on a plane, this was in no way ironic, and I was play-acting the height of perceived opulence and sophistication. I was swinging my camera around in a tourist-y way and towing a suitcase (come to think of it, our stuff may have actually been packed into a suitcase we didn’t know was ours, and we thought belonged to my dad’s friends) and talking about all the fun I was going to have in Spain.

As the time for my dad’s friends to check in approached, my dad turned to my brother and I and said, ‘come on then, we’d better go and get checked in’ with a big grin on his face. We laughed and were happy to wave goodbye to his friends. But then he said it again, ‘no, we need to go and get checked in, we’re off to Spain’. 

{EDIT} Right, here’s what I knew would happen! I posted this on FB and tagged my sister, knowing that she’d remember it better than me – here’s what she said:

“The story was you guys were going to Somerset to look after the house while [dad’s friend] Sandy and family went to Spain. Therefore you needed stuff for your holiday, so that’s the need for suitcases. Also as you were going to use Sandy’s car for the duration of your stay at his house. [dad’s neighbour] Elaine had to drive you to Gatwick to collect their car but you did not know where it was parked so you took your bags into the airport so you did not need to return to Elaine’s car once you discovered where Sandy’s car was. Oh the elaborate lies!! Anyway meet up with Sandy and family and [dad’s friend, wife of Sandy] Val gives you an envelope of house rules, what to feed the dog, where the car is parked, places to visit etc but when you open it it’s a flight ticket! Oops must be wrong envelope, we say. Whose name is on the ticket? Queue screaming, surprise, tears, (mainly mine!) and [brother] Kev asking if mum knows about this? Was a fantastic surprise to be a part of!!”

{/EDIT}

He’d managed – in collusion with my mum and sister, to get our passports smuggled to London, to get a bunch of holiday-in-the-sun stuff packed surreptitiously in our cases and got us as far as THE CHECK-IN DESK an hour before the flight before we knew we were going on Holiday, on a plane for the first time. It was utterly amazing, brilliantly planned and we went to Spain and had a fantastic time.

I still remember the overwhelming emotion and excitement of that moment of realisation. It was like the shit that happens at the end of dream-come-true TV shows, where something seemingly impossible is dreamed up by a production team and a massively elaborate plot is hatched by a full-scale TV crew with a budget to amplify and leverage someone’s emotions for money, and Cilla-Black-or-whover-is-Cilla-in-the-new-millennium gets in their faces and squeezes every ounce of TV-juice out of them. Except this was just my dad being awesome. He didn’t get anything out of it at all. He just liked doing cool shit like that.

Like I said, my relationship with my dad is complicated, but I 100% want to be the kind of dad that will spend months planning a surprise for his kids that will blow their tiny minds. Just because I can.

-o0o-

Happy fathers’ day. And peace to you if the memory of your dad is painful, if the word ‘father‘ actually conjures images of being unsafe, of being hurt, of something you needed to get away from. Being human is a complicated mess, and becoming a parent doesn’t make you a superhero. Terrible people have kids, amazing people have kids. Sometimes terrible people step up and parenthood is the making of them. Sometimes people who appeared amazing are brought down by the responsibilities of parenting. There are no givens in all of this, and we need to find ways to understand our own journeys that inspire us to be better people. As parents, we need to grab those moments of inspiration and replicate them, while taking note of the things that were negative and consciously avoid replicating them.

But srsly, go plan a surprise for your kids, if you have them. Surprises are amazing x

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