Andy Richardson: Time to celebrate your own superhero
He’s still got it, somewhere. My old man kept a scrappy essay, written 40 years ago, by his youngest son.
I’d taken it home to show him after a teacher had asked us to write about our hero. Rather than eulogise Kenny Dalglish, Noddy Holder, Dr Who or Spider-Man, I’d written about my dad. Who needs fantasy or platform heels when you’ve been nurtured by your very own superhero? Who needs Europe’s best footballer when you can play keepy uppy in the garden with a fella who rushes home from work because he wants to spend time with you, your brother and sister?
My teacher was surprised. She hadn’t anticipated a bunch of six-year-olds would display emotional intelligence or, more to the point, write honestly.
“Has your dad seen this?” she said.
He hadn’t. My handwritten essay had been avowedly unsentimental. I’d not been trying to curry favour – far from it. I’d simply been asked to perhaps a task and I’d stayed true, a train riding straight rails. She sent me home and told me to give it him. Dutifully, I obeyed.
My view hasn’t changed in the past four decades. Dad’s still number one. The sage. The protector. The conciliator. The rock upon which our lives have been built. I love him unashamedly. I always have and always will. There’s nothing wrong with men displaying emotions; letting people know what they mean.
Dad’s been my finest teacher and he’ll continue to counsel me long after he’s gone. If I reach the age that he is now – seventysomething-years-young – I’ll still hear his voice telling me when to step up and when to step down, when to go into battle and when to retreat. My conscience is called Stuart. And I’m fortunate that it is.
I’m not alone in loving my father. Though relationships between young guns and old hands can be fraught, the most important bond in a son’s life is that with his father. It’s the one that sets you on the right path and lasts the course. It’s the bond that teaches us the difference between right and wrong. It’s the relationship where we look another person in the eye and come face to face with the truth. There’s never a place to hide – whether we’re in the right or in the wrong.
He’s been the fulcrum of my life; the one who engendered an interest in sport and, unwittingly and without intent, led me towards a creative life. He’s the one who’s cheered the loudest when I’ve won, who’s offered the broadest shoulder in defeat. He’s offered the most sensible advice in times of difficultly – and, I know, when he reads this, he’ll be the one who laughs loudest and says: ‘What a load of twaddle’.
I have another friend whose affection for his father matches mine. And though Michael lost his dad many years ago, he’s still in his thoughts each day. The picture on his desk serves as a reminder, but it’s his actions and deeds that are a truer remembrance. IThe decisions he takes and the way he lives his life are the most fitting homage. His dad, for want of a better phrase, is the better part of him. He is ever-there.
Philip Larkin wrote memorably about mothers and fathers. With humour and wit, he wrote of them passing on their faults – and creating a few extra. But I’m not sure he was right. Because although we might pick up the casual disdain for rival football clubs or inexplicable indifference to cups of tea, tomato sauce and rubbish gravy, we also become the best of what has gone before. The lessons we learn from our fathers that shape our lives.
The best relationship in my life is the one I have with my son. Life changed the moment he was born. A friend told me, wisely, that becoming a parent was the first time we realise that we’re not the most important people on Earth; that other lives are more important than our own. And his is more important. It will always be. I have the tattoos – and battle scars – to prove it.
Not that my son will be sending cards tomorrow. He’ll be busy playing, which is as things should be when you’re three years old. And that’ll be good enough for me. It’s enough to know he’s happy and content, in his own world. He has two parents who’ll catch him when he falls, who’ve been there – and will stay there – through thick and thin.
I’m sure Amazon will do a bomb on classic rock and golf caps tomorrow as people honour fatherhood, paternal bonds and the influence of dads. Not that I’m buying. I don’t need to. I’m humble enough to know how lucky I’ve been and I’ll find another way of paying my dues.
Father’s Day is tomorrow. It’s time to show respect.