Father’s Day is bittersweet.
Sweet, because my wife and daughter are blessings past compare, proof if any were needed that God, fate or the universe can forgive our failings and give us a life far better than we deserve.
And bitter because I no longer have a father to celebrate.
I lost him on 27 September 2014. I remember our last day together just the two of us, in late May that year: as we trod the West Sussex countryside, the limp from his 2012 stroke present but no longer dominant, talking and walking as we had so many times, ending on a bench outside his village’s church as we watched the birds swoop overhead. I remember our last phone call a few days before it happened, his voice a whisper, drained as he was by six weeks of radiotherapy. I remember his funeral in the cathedral in Winchester, whose bishop he’d been for 15 years, struggling to keep my voice clear and level as I read from the book of Ephesians (the end of Chapter 3 and the start of Chapter 4).
Almost six years on, the loss has long passed into normality. And aside from an ache that he never got to see his grand-daughter grow into the amazing person she’s becoming, mostly it doesn’t hurt too bad.
But one thing still stabs home. His death came just as I was considering – very late in life – becoming a lawyer. It was four months later that I started studying law. Two years later I started bar school. Four years later I became a pupil at Outer Temple. And five years later that I became a tenant.
And it hurts that he wasn’t a part of that decision. Because before every one of my significant, life-changing career calls till then, I’d always sought him out. And we’d walked. And talked. And asked and answered questions. And pondered in silence, the only sound our footfalls and nature around us. It was a part of my process. And it was gone.
He’d have loved the vicarious thrill of me becoming a barrister. Every millimetre of it, through GDL, BPTC, pupillage and tenancy. He’d have found it fascinating. Asked thoughtful questions. Wanted genuinely to understand the how and the why. And, I can’t but think, that having him do so would probably would have made me a better lawyer.
Perhaps that’s why, in fact, I didn’t really talk about the experience with my family (other than my wife and daughter, of course), until the BPTC results came through and I knew pupillage lay ahead. The thought of doing so without my dad being there was just – wrong, somehow.
So here I am. I made it. I love it. But every so often, as I encounter some abstruse but fascinating legal point and my face breaks into a smile as I ponder the sheer beauty of the reasoning around it, just for a split second, I think: you know who’d have loved to talk this one through? And the smile flickers.
Still, in some ways he’s at my shoulder. If I consider an argument that isn’t properly grounded, or a tactic that isn’t honourable, I can almost hear him gently asking me why I’m going that way. Not always, but sometimes. And that voice is usually right. And takes me back to that bit of Ephesians, which tells us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received”. Yes, I know it’s talking about another kind of calling altogether. But still, it rings true.
So here’s to you, my father. Rest in peace. Rise in glory. Be blessed. I know I am.
One thought on “Being a father without a father: the pleasure and pain of Father’s Day.”
[…] really need to get round to reading… Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande. Given it several years ago, after my dad died. Haven’t yet been able to read it. (I’m not sure if that’s causative or not.) Gawande is just […]