No Father Day

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that Father’s Day is getting a bit OTT? Once it was more low key than Mother’s Day, but it has now become yet another overblown and over-commercialised calendar event. It seems as though those promoting Dad-Day-related wares are not just chasing after Mother’s Day to try and keep up. No, they are actually trying to create a BIGGER celebration of dads (and related sales) than for mums. This must be excrutiatingly painful for anyone whose dad has recently died.

I don’t have to look far for evidence: a programme devoted to Father’s Day on the telly!! On the night before the big Day itself (a Saturday no less), BBC4 aired Fathers and Songs – Music for Father’s Day . They’ve never made a TV programme devoted to music for mums! Apart from the fact that this was lazy programme making – basically a radio show on the telly – I did wonder exactly who the target audience was supposed to be.

And then it clicked. This was a programme made for people, like me, who no longer had a dad to buy a card for, or take out for a slap up meal on his special day. It was a collection of songs to help people like me to revive dad memories: the bad, good and indifferent times, the laugh out loud and/or dying of embarrassment moments. We were supposed to sing along wistfully to lyrics about (mainly) father/son relationships and have a good cry if we needed one. Although it could have been thought of as insensitive by those whose loss was still raw and painful, it was, I’ve decided, well intentioned. But, I don’t think I could ever watch such a programme (if ever repeated) as it would encourage my maudlin tendency. As my mum is also dead, the same applies to any similar programme devoted to songs about mothers.

My dad was killed in an industrial accident at work 42 years ago. The manner and suddenness of his death, at age 49, was a total shock for everyone. He left behind a widow in her forties and six children aged between 24 (me) and 11 years old. I’m always grateful that I had been able to start to get to know him as an adult myself, unlike my younger, school age siblings. I’m sorry that he never saw them grow up, only gave one daughter’s hand away in marriage, that he missed so much to celebrate with each of us over the years.

I was deeply shaken by the funeral and cremation services, in particular the latter which was over in a trice. About a month afterwards, I chose to focus on that day in a poem as a way of trying to capture something about my feelings and my dad’s life and death, to remind me, and to remember him by. I’m so glad that I did, because every year I get it out and re-read it at least once – Father’s Day or the anniversary of his death or a day when he has randomly popped into my thoughts. I’ve revised the poem a number of times over the years, trying to improve the way in which I convey feeling, truth, imagery – its essence – through rhyme, rhythm and metre. I revisited the poem again the other night and tinkered with it, even changing the title. I think it’s about there now, and I might not have to tinker with it again.

For years, as a means of coping, I thought of Father’s Day as nothing to do with me. But, my dad’s been dead a long time, and I can deal with it. I hope everyone found an opportunity to celebrate their dad, dead or alive, in an appropriate way. This poem is for all of the Father’s Days my dad has never seen and will never see.

The Last Goodbye
The curtains were drawn on the sunny day.
The carpet was worn where funeral wreaths lay.
The doorbell chimed like a death-knell.
My mother caught her grieved heart swell.
We sat closed in by sleek black dread.
I looked beyond the chauffeur’s head.
Before us went our father.

The coffin looked too small to hold a man,
Under the vaulted ceiling, height and span.
One brother’s voice rang out. Too loud.
Another squeezed back tears. Too proud.
Mourners I only knew by sight.
The family group suddenly knit tight.
We followed behind father.

The curtains soon closed around his remains,
Conveyed so smoothly to the furnace flames.
A working man on his last day,
He hoped to get his pension pay.
But the workplace betrayed his trust.
Now roses grow beneath his dust.
Our father went before us.

Christine Ingall July 1977, revised15 June 2019