When it was suggested that I write an article about my dad, and what he taught Me about being a father, it seemed like a good idea. Especially since he died a few years ago.. When someone’s died it makes the wise things they said seem a bit wiser. ..Yeah, this would be a good article.
But when I sat down to actually write the thing I had no idea where to start. I tried to remember all those conversations in which my old man had imparted a fathers wisdom. Those times when we’d share a beer, sat beneath a moonlit sky, as he shared some pearl of truth: “Son, always remember that…” etc. (before we chinked our bottles and stared off into the distance).
But that never happened. We didn’t talk like that. In fact, my dad? He barely talked at all.
He just didn’t say a lot. He never did. He hated small talk and hated big talk even more. And the idea that we could ever have had a long father/son conversation about feelings, and all that, is such a weird idea that it makes me shift uncomfortably just thinking about it. We just didn’t share that language.
So, after scratching my head and staring at a blank screen for an hour I was starting to think that what my dad taught me about being a father was… well, not a lot.
That afternoon I took Charlie out on his trike. It had started to bother me that those father/son conversations didn’t and never would exist for me and my old man. And I resolved to make sure that it wouldn’t be the case for me and Charlie. I’d make sure that we shared the language that me and my dad didn’t.. After all, I’ve read the parenting books and listened to the experts, this being open and talking is vital stuff. It’s the cornerstone of being a good dad. Communication is key…
Well, maybe not.
The thing is, despite the wisdom of parenting manuals, my dad was a great dad, he was kind and generous and I never doubted for a second how much he loved me and my brother and sister… He just wasn’t a talker. And in thinking about that, I remembered something from when I was a kid. Something that, once remembered, made me realise that my father was teaching me what it was to be a dad all the time. And he was teaching me without saying a word. And, in actual fact, words would have cheapened the lesson.
Here’s a story about a bike.
In 1985 it was the height of the BMX bike craze. Every kid on our estate was doing tricks off of drop kerbs on their BMX Burner. Every kid that is apart from two: Me and Martin Ogley.
Martin Ogley was the owner of a purple Raleigh Chopper and, whilst these may be considered retro- cool now, in 1985 to be seen riding one was proper embarrassing. The kids on the estate would mercilessly rip into Martin about his shit bike at every opportunity. And despite the fact that I didn’t own any kind of bike at all, I would join in. In fact, I did more than join in, I was the ringleader. I knew that by keeping the focus on Martin, I was less likely to be a target and so I harangued him cruelly. Especially when I discovered he had added a sticker to the handlebars that read ‘The Phantom Flyer’. What a f*cking loser.
When anyone asked where my own bike was I would lie and say that my BMX was so top-of-the -range that I didn’t ride it on the street and used it only in competition. I had been telling this lie for nearly a year and whilst I knew it wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny forever I wasn’t too worried. Because it was coming up to Christmas and after months of whining and incessant badgering of my dad I was confident that a BMX would appear on the big day.
On Christmas Day 1985, my family bundled into the back of our old Morris Minor and headed off to church. Whilst other kids got to tear into the presents first thing in the morning we could only have access to ours once we had been to morning service. On the drive back home I was disappointed to notice Martin Ogley playing on the end of our street on what was clearly a brand new BMX. Tits.
I had been hoping for a little Christmas Day Martin-bashing whilst showing off my new wheels to the estate that afternoon. Never mind.
On returning home me, my brother and my little sister lined up outside the living room door in age-order and, as we entered , my eyes were drawn to the armchair where my own presents were piled up neatly. There, leaning against that armchair was a bike bedecked with ribbon and tinsel. And not just any bike…
A Raleigh Chopper. And not just any Raleigh Chopper. A purple Raleigh Chopper. And not just any purple Raleigh Chopper. ..You see, in the week before Christmas my dad just happened to be drinking in the local Working Mens Club with Martin Ogley’s dad. A dad keen to get shut of an old bike after buying his son a new one.
Yeah. ..I was now the proud owner of The Phantom pissing Flyer.
For years I felt scarred by this experience. I knew we were broke, I knew we had to make do… but how the fuck did I end up with Martin Ogley’s Chopper?
To begin with I only took the Phantom Flyer out after dark, I hid in the shadows from the other kids on the estate. Unwilling to brave the verbal slings and arrows and peculiar cruelties that form the skillset of nine year old boys. But, soon enough The BMX craze passed and I survived.
Although it seemed catastrophic to my nine year old self. Over the years this incident just became an amusing anecdote, and the butt of the joke became my dad. He was just out of touch. To him a bike was a bike. He was clueless. He didn’t understand the ridicule, the harsh back and forth of bantering kids and the pressure of the latest trends.
Except, he did.
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that we were having a Sunday afternoon drink in that same Working Mens Club and I reminded my dad of that year, the year of Martin Ogley’s chopper. My dad listened to the story, the way that I told it, and the way I gently chided him for his complete obliviousness. I honestly thought he wouldn’t remember the whole thing but he did. And so I asked him the question: How the fuck did I end up with Martin Ogley’s chopper? And my dad smiled simply, took a sip of his pint and said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world:
“Well… Because you were mean to Martin”.
And that was my dad teaching me how to be a dad.