Father revisited

When you died

I could not cry

My heart it heaved

My soul was crushed

I vowed to you

Sitting at your

Side

That I’d carry you

Onwards

Upwards

To another

Place And that

Would be my joy

So I stood up

Bold

Your first born

And told

Your tale

To others that

You loved

My hands they

Shook

And I could not

Look

As your casket

Entered the

Crimson fire

Now seven years

Have passed

You are with me still

And the tears have

Flowed

Too often

Sometimes too freely

Drowning

Memories

Of what was

And what never

Became

Among the weeds

Of Yesterday

My Father’s House

dad

IN so many ways I really hate Father’s Day, as much for what I have lost with my own children, as for what might have been.

It is six and half years since my beloved father Ray died.

My dad was part of me and I part of him in every way. He is never far from my thoughts and often inhabits my dreams regularly.

He was not the perfect father, but he was my father and the best there ever was. He taught me so much about optimism, overcoming setbacks and being myself… and much more about living.

His own life was full of obstacles. At four years old, he was knocked down by a car – one of only a few on the road in 1934 – suffered severe head injuries and had his left ear sewn back on. After three months in hospital he then had to learn to eat, read, write and talk again.

Later in life, he ruptured a kidney in a motorbike accident, came close to death with hepatitis in Egypt, was rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy while working in Munich and suffered osteoarthritis, glaucoma, temporal arteritis, cancer and a series of mini strokes. His later years were plagued by health problems… but he never complained, even when he was dying with Parkinson’s Disease.

On the counter-side, he enjoyed so many successes. He was one of the junior designers of Concorde, helped design many other aeroplanes too; he rebuilt windmills, worked on the earliest electronics for rechargeable batteries and later the development of ground-breaking microwave engineering.

At home, he made several small fortunes renovating houses and lost small fortunes with his obsession with buying and selling some perverse motorcars.

He took risks, made mistakes, won and lost and won again… he never gave up.

And I now hold to his example when my Dark Passenger of depression clings too close.

As an adult, I had to wait until I was battling cancer at the age of 31 to really understand my dad more fully. Apparently he cried himself to sleep the night before my first major operation …. I never saw my dad cry. And over those months, we bonded as father and son and shared many emotions. He was always there for me.

I will never forget the day, about eight years later, when I won my first major press award. At the awards dinner in Edinburgh, dad and mum shared a table with me. After I received my award I returned to our table and dad was the first to stand and hug me and say “well done, son”. That moment always stays with me.

Ironically, I could only repay him after he had passed away. The proudest moment of my life was conducting his funeral service in front of our family and friends.

Some of the words from my eulogy to him I recall now:

“When I think of Dad I think of a man of no compromise yet someone who would do anything and compromise for anyone. And if ever there were regrets in his life, he rarely if ever voiced them.

He always had time to live, laugh, love and work so incredibly hard for his home and his family, whom he adored.

Dad was, at times, the most annoyingly anti-social man you could meet.

With a vengeance he hated Bob Monkhouse, Bruce Forsyth, Margaret Thatcher, the man across the road with a twitch, those bloody long-haired pop singers, the guy with the beer belly who had more hair than him, the happy next door neighbour who would ask after his health, David Beckham, Eastenders, Terry Wogan, Prince Charles… the list could go on and on.

But he also had heroes, golfer Jack Nicklaus, Nat King Cole and Doris Day, and probably his biggest hero heavyweight boxing champion Mohammed Ali – so it is sadly ironic that this magnificent sportsman too is fading with the same disease that took Dad.

Ain’t life a great leveller.

But despite dad’s pretence at anti-social behaviour, he was the most sociable and likeable man anyone could ever meet. In fact anyone who met him was immediately touched by him and loved him.

Count how many thousands of times we caught him happily chatting at the garden fence with a complete stranger, or the times he made a bird table for a neighbour or helped someone decorate or do their garden, or the dozens of times he helped us kids move house, knock down a chimney, lay a carpet, fix a roof, mend a car, drive us to a date, cover for our indiscretions … again the list goes on and on.

And now dad…. as we say goodbye, we will always remember you with love and so much affection… love and affection which we tried to bestow on you whenever we could.”

And we played out his coffin with Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”

He is gone and I miss him. Especially today.

But he left his mark on this Earth and, yes, he lived.

Poem: From a Distance

The day it dawned in darkness
The door it was slammed shut
The candle which was burning
Had all but been snuffed out
I fought with all my senses
Against the hope that was so clear
I hear a young dove crying 3,000 miles from here

I waited for 4,000 days
At times it seemed much more
I looked up to the evening sky
Counted shooting stars by the score
Your own flame shone quite brightly
And my hope it was so clear
I hear a young dove crying 3,000 miles from here

An asteroid exploded
On a Sunday back in June
A father’s love rekindled
But someone blew it out too soon
I waited for each message
My heart still swelled quite clear
I hear a young dove crying 3,000 miles from here

(with thanks to local singer/songwriter Ian Hunter for borrowing the last line refrain)

Poem: Father

When I was small
And you were tall
You held my hand
When I was wed
And words left unsaid
You held my hand
When I was in court
You gave your support
You held my hand
When I fought the big C
You never left me
You held my hand
When I lost my daughters
We sat by still waters
You held my hand
When I faced divorce
You were my guiding force
You held my hand
When you died
By your side I cried
I held your hand

Love

THIS is the fourth and final part of my Back from the Edge series. It is entitled: Love

The Bigger Picture
I may have missed the bigger picture you know I never had a clue
Till you gave me all these wondrous things when I stood next to you
I could take care of the details every minute every day
But I couldn’t read the crystal ball or learn from past mistakes
Or learn from past mistakes
You gave to me my little girl she thinks her Daddy’s cool
But wait till boys come sniffing round and she’s home late from school
Vin says I’ll find another pocket it’ll come out of the blue
You will never have to share this love there will be enough for two – there will be enough for two
Now I’ve reached the big five zero not everything works well
But then it’s been a busy life and I’ve got some tales to tell
But I wish I listened harder and cherished what I found
I wish I kept more photographs and written more things down
And written more things down
But I wouldn’t change a single day well maybe one or two
But we can’t go back and start again that’s not what I would do
(Kieran Halpin, 2007)

AT 45 years old I never expected to become a father again, but there it was, I was a daddy for the fifth time.
In summer 2001 Ruth and I had been together for two years and we had both agreed to put parenthood to one side, at least until we were settled in our new home on Tyneside.
But after her visit to the local family planning clinic to have a contraceptive implant fitted, she came back with the totally unexpected news that she was pregnant.
The pregnancy was complicated with pre-eclampsia and Nathan was born four weeks prematurely by emergency caesarian section on Christmas Eve. He was a tiny mite, weighing in at just 4lb 11 ounces, but he was healthy and within weeks was thriving.
The early months put pressures on our relationship, but we pushed on and grew closer together. In May 2003 Ruth and I married, and later that summer moved into our big family home on South Tyneside.
We seemed to thrive as a family and made our home a real nest and retreat for ourselves and our extended families and friends.
So when I caught Ruth cheating with another man in the autumn of 2005 it was a hammer blow.
By Christmas I had initiated divorce proceedings and in January 2006 moved to North Wales to be close to my sisters and my parents… particularly for my father who was terminally ill with Parkinson’s Disease.
It was an attempt to find sanity and comfort from a world gone horribly wrong, yet again.
Suddenly I was again bereft of a child.
Then the unexpected happened…
Late in March, during one of my regular weekly trips back to Tyneside, Ruth asked me to meet her for a coffee. I reluctantly agreed as I felt intense emotional pain and wanted any divorce discussions to be exclusively between our solicitors. But she said it was important and was to do with Nathan.
So we sat down for coffee in a small bistro in Corbridge.
I was left open-mouthed when she suddenly told me that she thought Nathan should live with me.
She gave many reasons, including the fact that she thought I was the ‘better parent’, but that did not matter… here was my chance to be a real father at last!
I am forever grateful for her trust and bravery.
I discussed Ruth’s proposal with my youngest sister and my parents who all agreed that I should accept the offer.
My sister – who had been a single parent herself some years earlier – warned me that single parenthood was at times a struggle, but its rewards were many.
Nathan had only just celebrated his fourth birthday and I knew immediately that the task was going to be hard for a working man to raise a child, but I was determined to succeed.
So after a successful weeklong trial stay at Easter, Nathan moved to Wales to live with me.
That was eight years ago and I have never looked back.
He was – and still is – my joy, delight and pride.
From the early days of attending his every need such as wiping his bottom, cleaning his teeth and dressing him every morning, life has eased into the current state of pre-teen sulks and a sometimes ‘Kevin and Perry’ personality.
Along the way we have moved house four times, sat together and watched movies on the sofa, had friends for sleepovers and even lay on the lawn one evening to watch bats fly from their roosts.
He has also cared for me when I have been in bed with flu and sat by me in A&E holding my hand following an assault which left a temporal artery gushing blood from my forehead… he was only six years old and told me not to worry because “the doctors will make you better”.
In return I have taken him on bike rides in the local country park, played football and rugby in the garden, gone for walks in the forest and a week long holiday exploring caves and castles in the north of Scotland.
The highlights are too many to recount but top of them has to be him standing by my side last February as my Best Man at my wedding to my wife, Gill.
The pride and smile on his face will stay with me for the rest of my life.
My pride in him is manifold.
At primary school he excelled at almost every subject. He even wrote his first book! I beamed with delight when two teachers told me he was one of the most polite and well-mannered children they had taught.
His personality and confidence blossomed and was capped when he performed in the lead role of Prospero at his school’s production of the Tempest.
On leaving primary school his class teacher said: “I don’t know what I will do without him. I will miss him.”
He carried his enthusiasm for learning on to high school. He was placed in the top set for all his subjects based on his attainment. In his first half term in Year Seven he gained more merit points than any other pupil. He was rewarded by later being made a School Ambassador and given an Oscar at the Christmas award ceremony for being the highest achiever.
He continues to excel and has already gained three Platinum awards for his project work and continues as the top boy in school merit awards.
Outside school he has practised the Korean martial art of Taekwondo for the past four years and is now just two belts away from gaining the coveted Black Belt.
He has recently taken up rugby. In freezing rain and wind I smile and squirm when I see his small body throw itself to tackle boys who are six inches taller and a stone heavier than him. But he loves it.
Now if I can tear him away from his X-Box long enough I need to thank him for being such a wonderful son, thank him for accepting that his parents are divorced and his mum is 200 miles away and finally thank him for loving his step mum Gill.
I also need to tell him I am so proud of him, I love him and he has saved my life by proving I am a good dad and giving me a purpose once more.
The words of Kieran Halpin at the top of this piece ring so true… with each of my children I simply find another pocket of love.
Your pocket, Nathan, is right here by my side.

Poem: Don’t Look Away

Sionnan I love you dearly

Don’t look away

I never left you

Sionnan I long to see you

Don’t look away

I am still waiting

Sionnan I long to hear you

Don’t look away

I still need you

Sionnan I long to hold you

Don’t look away

I am not leaving

Sionnan I long to kiss you

Don’t look away

I am not running

Sionnan I long to sense you

Don’t look away

I am still pleading

Sionnan I will not leave you

Don’t look away

This is your father.

 

There’s danger on the battlefield where the shells of bullets fly

grenade

MY life should have ended in the summer of 1966 in a mess of blood spatter and body parts.

Come to that, my best friend Johnny should also have perished.

But a simple twist of fate and my father’s quick thinking saved us both.

I spent six idyllic early years of my life with my family in a spacious bungalow in the new village of Mile Oak nestled on the South Downs, near Hove. These were my growing up and playing-till-the-sun-went-down years. They were blissfully happy in their innocence and the summers were never ending. The warmth of those years will always stay with me, locked into my memories like scenes from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

My mother gave me freedom to roam on the wide open hills that surrounded us, and play at soldiers, cowboys, Wild West frontier explorers or whatever fancy captured our childish imaginations.

I had three close friends at the time, the brothers Mark and Michael, and my next door neighbour, the aforementioned Johnny. We rarely played indoors and even when the weather was wet, we ventured forth either as a group or in pairs onto our natural playground. I guess in hindsight our mothers harboured few fears for our safety, as long as we were back for lunch and tea… and definitely before it got dark.

So nothing stopped us exploring a disused isolation hospital, a chalk quarry, a tumble down witch’s cottage or a former army training ground. It was real time adventure and unbridled fun for nine and ten-year-old boys.

But it was the military training ground which took Johnny’s and my fancy this warm August day in 1966.

My dad and I had discovered the site one year earlier. It was a vast area of down land once used to train soldiers during the 1st and 2nd World Wars. There was a sand-faced firing range, some dry trenches and shooting positions and acres of other terrain, still littered with rusty bullet cartridges. Most of the land had been cultivated for farming, but eagle-eyed boys and visitors could still unearth a treasure trove of old military finds.

By the time Johnny and I ventured forth on that ominous day, I had already accrued a collection of 303 rifle bullets, smaller pistol cases, machine gun shells and noses, a few old smoke bombs and three heavy artillery casings. All had been lovingly cleaned and polished with Brasso and stored in an old chest of drawers in my father’s shed.

So, with the sun on our backs, Johnny and I walked the leisurely mile to the training ground, climbing barbed wire fences and rickety five-bar wooden gates along the way.

The field before the military area had been freshly ploughed – for the first time in our childhood memories – and we chuckled with anticipation at what the newly-turned earth might reveal. There were no bullet shells (those tended to be found nearer to the firing range) but loads of heavy artillery casings and other unfamiliar iron clad artefacts, which we inspected before deciding whether to discard, hide for later, or take home.

After half an hour of searching, we were both excited by a new and very unusual discovery. We kicked the caked earth from a metal object that could have been dropped by a flying saucer. Johnny picked it up first and we both inspected it with awe. It was a grey metal oval object the size of a cricket ball with a small saucer shaped base, a handle down one side and a looped piece of wire on top. Once we had scraped away the earth, we realised it was in almost perfect condition, except for some rusting to the wire loop.

We whooped with excitement… we had found an army radio and we had to get home to clean it and make it work!

Such was our excitement, we ran back home, taking turns to carry the new find and went straight into my dad’s asbestos garage at the end of my garden.

Quickly I opened the jaws on my dad’s bench vice and gently clamped the ‘radio’ in place. Then with a can of lubricating oil and a wire brush, Johnny and I took turns cleaning the object of our affection.

After five minutes we could make out some numbers stamped onto the base. It was then that Johnny suggested we should try and extend the aerial loop at the top and look for a switch to turn the radio on. I found a pair of my dad’s pliers and began the job.

Then it happened…

I suddenly felt the iron grip of my father as he lifted me off my feet and ran me out of the garage while simultaneously shouting in a panicked voice: “Bloody hell, what have you got here, you stupid, stupid boy!” (in actuality his expletives were a lot stronger than ‘bloody’). He threw me onto the lawn of our garden before running back into the garage to grab Johnny and repeat his rantings.

Johnny and I were both crying as my dad yelled at us to get into the house quickly and not come out until he told us. As we ran up the garden path to the kitchen door, I looked over my shoulder to see dad gingerly venture back into the garage. He wasn’t there long before joining us in the kitchen.

“I hope you realise that is a bloody hand grenade you have there in our garage!” he barked at us. “And by the looks of it you have half-taken the pin out!”

Gobsmacked, we were told to go and play in my bedroom, while dad rang 999 for the police.

Within 20 minutes two police officers arrived, chatted to my dad and to me before visiting our garage. They didn’t stay long in the asbestos building before using our telephone to call for assistance.

About two hours later, around tea-time, a khaki coloured army truck arrived and two soldiers removed the grenade from my father’s industrial vice.

Later I was told they had taken the grenade – which was indeed still live – and detonated it in a safe place.

No doubt if my father had not stepped into the garage at that precise time on that August day in 1966, I would not be writing this piece now, some 47 years later. Two young lives would have ended; it would have made a hell of a mess of my dad’s garage and with the tins of paint, petrol and paraffin stored in the building, the explosion would probably have taken out half of our street.

Thanks, Dad!

Note: The old military training ground was later fenced off and cleared of any remaining dangerous hardware. Johnny and I were banned from ever visiting it again.