When I think back I’ve always been something of a late starter. I didn’t start talking till I was nearly four. At primary school I was so petrified of the teachers they thought I was ‘backward’ – the word to describe (back in the 50s), someone who wasn’t quite keeping up with everyone else. And so the pattern of my life was set. When it came to personal relationships, I kept thinking I’m not old enough, mature enough or sensible enough to settle down.
However I was eventually snared, by a beautiful dynamic young woman and found myself waiting at the altar for my bride-to-be. I was 44, she was 26.
Now of course anyone will tell you who has been single for a long time, living with another isn’t the easiest transition to make. My wife’s parents, who were only a decade older than me were the first to point this out.
The marriage lasted four years, but six years later we married again. This time it was going to be different and it was. On Valentine’s Day 2010, we became parents. I was 57 and a Dad for the first time. My own Dad was also born on Valentine’s Day so the phone call to say he had become a grandfather again at the age of 84 was a very special birthday present.
To be honest, I’d never had a hankering to be a Dad. I guess it was a combination of thinking I’d not be particularly good at it, and the selfishness of not wanting to have my orderly ‘designer’ life turned upside down. What type of Dad was I going to be?
My own Dad wasn’t exactly the stereotypical role model Dad. He didn’t do the things most Dads were meant to do. He was useless at DIY; he actually cooked; he didn’t take me to football matches at the weekend, he’d take me skydiving – I watched, as he threw himself out of aeroplanes. He was always the centre of attention telling funny ‘true’ stories, with friends gathered round; as I stood awkwardly, smiling on the sidelines, proud as punch that he was my Dad! And though he was born illegitimate into extreme poverty, and experienced the horrors of war as a young soldier entering Belsen in 1945, he remained the eternal optimist. But his greatest legacy was the belief he instilled in myself and my two sisters. We were all different personalities, with different skills, yet he found something in each of us to be proud of and encouraged us to go chase our dreams, however challenging some of them may have been. I’ve always felt sorry for people I know, who seem to spend huge chunks of their lives trying to please and make their parents proud.
The first two years as a parent tends to focus on your child eating, sleeping, learning to talk and go to the toilet, and things can be quite stressful, but we survived. On the morning of Valentine’s Day 2012 we celebrated our daughter’s second birthday with a party at a local garden centre. That afternoon I drove 300 miles up to Cumbria to celebrate my Dad’s 86th. Dad was in a hospice. He’d had three heart attacks in quick succession, all while in hospital while he waited for an angiogram. They say it was a miracle he survived the journey to the hospice from the hospital. He really believed he was going to walk out of there. Sadly a few days later he died.
Losing a parent is tough and reminds you of your own mortality. I kept doing sums in my head working out how old my Dad was at various stages of my life – the day I started Grammar School, my first pint with him down the pub, how old he was when I first got married. I then started to equate similar scenarios with my own daughter – I’d be 68 when she started secondary school, 75 when I shared a glass of wine with her in a bar, and would I ever walk down the aisle with her at her wedding…
I began to look at life from a totally new perspective. Being a Dad is a precious gift, when it happens to you at an age when most of your peers’ kids have grown up and left home, and the future doesn’t seem to stretch to infinity as does the life of a younger man – it’s even more special. And I was going to make the most of it.
I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to structure my life and work in a way that has enabled me to see a lot of my daughter during her formative years. I’ve been conscious to let her find her own way and not be too prescriptive in how she should do things – why should she have to colour-in between the lines, why shouldn’t ponies be purple. I’ve embraced Peppa Pig, CBeebies, and digital games featuring kittens and unicorns.
My daughter is now five going on fifteen! Her knowledge of the world (partly thanks to my old iPad she inherited), her schooling and her Mum’s gift of an extensive vocabulary, is phenomenal. She has transformed from a baby to a toddler to a young girl.
How the world has changed. I think back to when I was five – my experience was confined to walks in the park with my Mum, drawing, eating sweets, an hour of black and white television every day, and then bed.
Who knows what the future holds for my daughter, I’m just fortunate to be around to help her, guide her, have fun with her and love her. My Dad said he was the proudest Dad in the world, I’m happy to inherit that title. And in case you’re wondering, no-one so far has mistaken me for her grandfather!