Wedding Day, 27th April, 1942
Father's Day always brings a mixture of mirth and melancholy - but thankfully the happy memories of yesteryear compensate for the sense of loss.
My Dad died 24 years ago but occasionally I'll see a face on TV (Fraser from 'Dad's Army', for instance) or a turn of phrase or mention of a place will remind me of the wonderful father I had.
The more I think back and discover about him, the more a smile comes to my lips! He was one of those people who could turn his hand to most things around the home - mainly because the family budget would preclude getting in a 'professional' to do a job. (although he drew the line at more than the basics, where electricity and plumbing were concerned!)
As the youngest child (by several years) I was often left behind when my older siblings were allowed to go out and about with their friends, so I spent a lot of time following my Dad around and being his 'little helper'! Thus, even in my childhood, I learned to hang wallpaper, paint, do simple renovation jobs, etc. It still comes in useful, now, with the current recession and frugality!
Dad was the person from whom I mostly learned about sacrifice, duty and care; although I didn't realise this until much later in life. When I was just four years old my mother, who had apparently not really been well since my birth, was diagnosed with a wasting illness which at the time had the doctors bewildered. My father was told to take her home as there was nothing that could be done and their prognosis was that she had, at best, a year to live.
I never heard that tale, until the night before she died, fourteen years later. In the intervening years she had oscillated in and out of remission, from what was finally diagnosed to be Multiple Sclerosis. So, Dad had shouldered most of the household tasks as well as being main breadwinner for three children under twelve years of age. That didn't leave a lot of time for hobbies or pastimes - or any ambitions he might have had.
I never knew what it was like to grow up with an able-bodied Mum - in my recollection she always walked slowly and with at least one stick; she couldn't knit or play the piano as she had done in her youth, or play tennis and swim. But she never lost her sense of humour and was prone to playing the odd practical joke on my Dad, so I suppose one of the sounds that brings back memories of my Dad is laughter.
And although they weren't the sort to show a lot of affection in public, like hugs and kisses, an abiding image I have is of Dad helping my Mum to retain some semblance of femininity by dealing with leg-hair removal, or putting a colour rinse on her hair when he washed it for her.
It was only as my Dad's own life drew to a close, many years later, that I realised there were secrets he had hidden from us. A 'death bed' confession (while hospitalised and sinking fast) revealed he was not the man we had presumed!
It turned out he had been living under an assumed name for 40+ years and his imminent demise was pricking his conscience as he was worried if we three children were all legally married, given we'd also shared his 'false' identity by virtue of our erroneous birth certificates!
Apparently, as a youth in the 1930's, he and some friends had travelled into Glasgow to go to the cinema. Having used their return bus fare on fish and chips for their supper, one of the lads had found an 'unattended' truck which they'd all piled into and were just making their way home when they were stopped by a policemen. Having lined the lads up, said policeman proceeded to take down all their names. Dad, fearing his own father's wrath for bringing the family into disrepute, glanced up at the sign above the shop he was standing in front of and took the proprietor's surname as his new identity - he went from John Carson to Alan MacGregor in an instant. Unfortunately, it didn't end there!
At that time , in Scotland, the local police station also housed magistrate's powers so the lads were marched off to face the 'beak'! Their options were simple: admit the crime and gain a criminal record, or sign up for military service. Dad chose the latter and thus he was 'officially' registered with his newly acquired identity.
It wasn't until nearly 40-odd years later, after he retired, that he made plans to formally change his name legally by deed poll. We might never have known the tale, if he'd died suddenly, but he recovered from his illness and went on to live a further 18 months.
At the time, when I was told, I just burst out laughing! Less so my brother, who now realised he'd named his firstborn son after a fictitious character! After the hilarity of the situation had died down I felt a sense of sadness as I realised how my Dad had carried that secret all those years, unable to share it for fear it would disrupt the family. (and to this day, I'm not even sure my mother knew the whole truth; their marriage certificate bears Dad's and his own father's fraudulent names!)
But I don't dwell on the negative so much - it was just one of those funny tales that make up my Dad - too many to tell here, I'm afraid!
Happy Father's Day, Dad!
(and I'm still laffin'!)
(and maybe one day I'll have to see if there's any evidence of 'MacGregor's Ironmongers' in Glasgow - fancy walking into their shop with the tale I'd have to tell! ;-p)