In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
It was a great shock, a shock made worse by being totally unexpected. It was, in male vernacular, a ball shatterer. It came, as I recall, on a wet Sunday afternoon when my wife and I were idly ignoring something forgettable on television. We both stared at my daughter, sitting on an armchair a few feet away in the lounge. She appeared quite composed and sounded quite rational. For my wife and myself, the world had just come to a crashing halt.
“What did you say?”
“Jim and I are engaged.”
I have two children, a son and a daughter, who arrived five years after her brother on the day Bobby Kennedy was killed. We have always been close, she and I, something that, over the years, has seriously affected my then wife, now ex wife. She used to say, “If you want to find Ben , look at Jenny’s little finger; he’ll be wrapped around it.” It was meant as a joke, but it was used too often to be one. Up to about the age of thirteen my daughter’s usual form of address for me was “Daddy Darling.” Impossible to resist.
In later life she confessed to me that her mother had always been jealous of the close relationship between her daughter and her daughter’s father. There was no need for any jealousy. There is perhaps nothing quite as pure as your love of your children, fierce and undemanding. Now thinking back at that time and reassessing, with more educated eyes, photographs of the family group where my daughter and I have been playing together, the look in my wife’s eyes seems one of pure malice, a malice not recognised at the time.
I am an old fashioned man and an old fashioned father, someone who has never really been comfortable outside the time warp of his own upbringing. I saw my role, not consciously perhaps, but certainly somewhere in my psyche, as helping my son to become a man and protecting my daughter.
“Oh! When did you decide this?”
At the time relations between the young lady and I were delicate. She was only sixteen and was growing into a woman with all the physical and emotional changes taking place which she didn’t understand. Clearly dads did not know or understand about periods or boyfriends or anything very much. Our relationship had still not recovered from my refusal to allow her to go off to Greece with a mixed bunch of girls and boys of the same age.
I resisted the urge to ask if she was pregnant as being unlikely to help. “Do Jim’s parents know about this?”
“No, we wanted to tell you first.” She appeared defiant as if expecting a fight.
“Congratulations. I am delighted.” Nothing was further from the truth, but it was obvious her heels were well prepared to be dug in.
“Me too, darling.” To her eternal credit my wife hid her horror at the prospect and we both hugged our daughter.
“You don’t think I’m too young? You aren’t going to object?”
“Why, do you think you are too young?”
“Nooooooo, but l thought …”
“There you are then. You are a grown woman. If you have thought this through, that’s fine with us.”
My daughter felt she was being conned, but couldn’t work out how. The problem, apart from her age was Jim. He was just about the last person on earth we would have wanted for a son in law. He was about the same age and was, well how do I put this? He was a total dick; long greasy hair, spotty faced, a fully paid up speaker of Estuary English and unemployed.
My wife was on the ball. “Right, let’s organise a party. We must celebrate.”
A crisis had been averted, but perhaps only for the present time.
About three weeks later I noticed she was not wearing the ring that Jim had given her and I enquired about it.
“Oh, we thought that we might be too young, and have postponed things.”
Needless to say, Jim disappeared from the scene not long afterwards. It would be pleasant to record that a fairy tale ensued. In real life, alas, fairy tales rarely happen. Marriage to Tom, a relationship with John and marriage again to Peter all followed and all failed. She is now awaiting her Decree Absolute from Peter. Those relationships all collapsed, as did my marriage. Our relationship, my daughter and mine endures. She will always be my little girl, whether it is chasing spiders from her bedroom, spraying mosquitoes, soothing cut knees, or being there when divorce occurs.
We joke together today about those distant times. She knows I was right about Jim, but who’s to say she might not have been better off with him than the others?
Written by my Father B.M