My father often says, “The telephone is not a toy”. This is what they used to say when he was growing up, apparently. The passage of time has certainly worked to make him wrong on that one. When I was in primary school, my parents had a complex arrangement for dropping fish to my grandmother on Fridays. It often failed and my father would say to me, as we drove to school, “What did we forget, Anne?” “We forgot the fish, Daddy.” My grandmother would then telephone my mother and say these words only, “Helen, you forgot the fish.” She was not one for unnecessary chatting on the telephone and, in this regard, my father is very much her son.
My father is amazingly old. He was 93 on March 25. What is really quite extraordinary is that he is the same as he has always been. In all the time I have known him, he has been himself in, it seems to me, exactly the same way.
I have a picture of him with my aunt and grandparents as a very small boy. I am fascinated by this. It was taken when they lived in America, and I can’t help feeling that this is a very South Pasadena picture rather than an equivalent from Cork in 1929 (exciting times in America though). They all look so informal and relaxed.
Due to my brother’s (frankly insane) labours in clearing out the attic, I have this one of him and my aunt after his return to Cork.
There he is with a beautiful baby in 1969.
There he is with the beautiful baby in what was at the time a frightfully modern carrying device (could it have been called a papoose? Really?). My parents had taken me to a meeting of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. It is hard to know what benefit I derived from that particular meeting but at least I know from whence comes my propensity to bring my children to historical sites in which they have no interest.*
There we are in the front garden, while I was still the favourite child when neither of my sibling usurpers were born or thought of.**
My father used to enjoy sailing and mountaineering before his children were born and given that these were different times, he continued to do so happily after our arrival, leaving us in the care of our saintly mother for up to a month every summer while he was off in the Pyrenees or sailing off to French ports. He has beautiful albums of black and white pictures he developed himself showing French ports in the 50s and 60s.
We used to sometimes visit him at work and he would give us frogs from the vegetable tray in the fridge to play with.** I feel bad about the poor old frogs now.
I am so grateful that my father is the same man he always was – frail, yes, it’s been a while since he’s been up a mountain or even on a bike (although he happily cycled into his 80s), but in essence absolutely the same – well read, knowledgeable, funny, infuriating, conservative, stubborn and entertaining. As my mother’s dementia gets worse and worse, I miss her very much and I appreciate all the more how lucky I am to have my father so mentally well. I do wish, though, that he would, occasionally, be willing to chat on the telephone. I suppose he is unlikely to change the habits of a lifetime at this point.
*Please admire the verbal gymnastics which stopped this sentence from ending in a preposition while, admittedly, making it somewhat more difficult to understand.
**You can’t have everything.