My father was a hero who conquered all the earth.
Truth be told, he was a pretty ordinary guy, in the run of things. He grew up in an ordinary Irish farmish kind of town, on a middling farm, and was only middling heroic in performing his farmboy duties. He married a girl from not far away.
I’m vague on the details, at this point. He tried to tell me but got choked up every time.
He was ever so good on the other details, mind. I’m not exaggerating when I say he spent hours describing to me the smells of an Irish farmboy’s childhood, it’s literally so. I wasn’t bored with it either, hard as that may be to credit. Arthur Guinness deserves a bit of that credit, sure, but the most of it belongs to my Dad, who would pause… and think… and finally tell me, in a hollowed out voice, that his blanket smelled like every good and bad night’s sleep his older siblings had slept before him.
He told me about chickens, too. Apparently one used to scratch and peck around a tree he considered his own. It got killed and eaten, and tasted all right. I didn’t like that story all that much.
I’m pretty good at math, and history, and other academic subjects, and my Dad gave me due respect for all that, but in the end it never impressed him all that much. I understood why that was when he ran through his curriculum for me; his academic curriculum was frankly horrific to me, Latin and Greek and interminable Catholic catechisms… no subject which could be mastered with sheer memorization was ever going to gain my Dad’s respect.
Oddly enough, what did gain his respect was a poem I wrote. It wasn’t even a good poem – it sucked, in fact, as most poems written by 15 year olds do. He even told me it sucked (though not in those words).
The huge thing to me, the thing that seriously changed my life, was that he understood what I really wanted to say, understood that I had failed to say it, and pointed me toward the path to understanding how I could do it better, and most of all made me understand that he loved words the same way I did.
My Dad was never a poet. He might have been; he certainly had the seeds of a poet within him. He even had a girlfriend, in his youth, who responded to his poetry and wanted him to go on to be a poet; he swore me to secrecy as to her name, but the thing I will always remember her for (having never met her) is that she is the only woman ever who beat out my mother in any respect whatsoever; she appreciated my Dad’s poetry better. In every other respect bar none my Mum was the absolute love of his life. I speak with authority not only as his son but as the guy who held his head as he threw up in the urinal of the Irish Embassy, I know – my mother was the true love of his life.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think that any of my siblings shared this aspect of my Dad with me. (It’s kind of a win-win, because it would also be really cool if one of them did.) I know he and Eamon shared a love of Shakespeare, and that Dad was inordinately proud of Tara’s dramatic talent, but I think our glee over the flow of words was something we shared to a unique depth. He even chortled gleefully over a terrible terrible Christmas card I sent to a girl who misguidedly fell for me, just because of the pattern of the words. (He also thrashed my arse for it, make no mistake.)
My Dad was not a great man in the estimation of the world, but he was well and deeply loved by everyone who knew him. His funeral was well-nigh choked with well-wishers, including a nurse from the terminal care ward who’d only known him for weeks.
There’s no particular reason for my remembering him tonight – it’s not his birthday or the anniversary of his death or anything like that – but does there have to be?
My Dad was simply a cool guy. He wasn’t perfect by any means, drank too much and sometimes had a short temper, but I would challenge anybody to find anyone who knew him and did not like him. If I end up my life with that kind of score I shall count myself well ahead.
In the same vein, if anyone thinks this essay is rambling or otherwise unsatisfactory, just bear in mind that I had no end in mind when I started. I just miss my Dad tonight.
And I love him still.