One of my earliest memories is riding a horse through an Arcadian meadow with my father. I recall a deep feeling of happiness and safety in his presence, with his arms either side of me, holding the reins and keeping me safe. The scene was indescribably perfect, infused with a warm, golden light. It was only a dream, but one which was so vivid that I still remember it.
Another of my earliest memories explains the evident inspiration for that dream. As if it were yesterday, I remember being a preschooler sitting on the fuel tank of my father’s motorcycle, holding on to the handlebars as we rode along. My dad’s big, gloved hands were outside mine on the grips. I remember the glorious feeling of a warm morning breeze on my face as we rode the few hundred yards from home to my preschool.
The sight of a preschooler on a motorcycle – without a helmet, naturally – was fairly unremarkable in early 1980s Cork. Nowadays, the Guards would likely be called, as would social services – although it is little different to travelling on the back of a pushbike over a short distance. It is pleasingly ironic that my earliest dreamlike memory of feeling completely safe derives from sometime the more anxious might consider very risky.
I recently had cause to think back on such memories as my father turned 70. Not that you would think it, since he is as acute and active as any 40-year-old. He stayed with us around the time of his birthday, spending happy hours swimming by the sea and walking along the cliffs. Surrounded by four happy grandchildren, we had a fine meal in a restaurant by the sea to mark the occasion. Being by the sea seemed appropriate. He was at sea in the merchant navy as a radio officer when the siren call of my mother’s love lured him back to shore, and to marriage – and then working on things as varied as on robots, computers, management – and Rory Gallagher’s music equipment.
All kids think their fathers omniscient, with an uncanny ability to fix things. Yet when they grow up, the sheen usually wears off their fathers’ supposedly preternatural powers. People soon learn that there’s no great magic to replacing a fuse, or sticking a kite back together with duct tape. However, in our family, the magic never wore off, since Dad really can fix anything – and even my brother, with a PhD in engineering, often needs to call on his help.
As kids, on summers’ evenings when Dad to come home from work we would excitedly throw our togs and towels into the back of the car. Fifteen minutes later we would all be plunging into the icy brine. Or, if the mackerel were in, our fishing rods would be hauled out and we would return with fresh fish for supper.
Cliff walks were a Sunday tradition, and Dad knew every inch of the Cork coast. He would lead us along lonely, spectacular pathways overlooking the brooding, restless Atlantic. What I remember most about those long walks were the long rambling conversations, which imparted to me passion for science, history, technology and much else.
Then there were all those camping trips, adventurous boat and kayak trips, learning DIY skills, building Airfix models, and a million other things besides. All this combined to create a magical childhood, one which helped us boys to grow in to able, self-reliant men. Such a powerful example of fatherhood makes me determined to live up to it, and to always make time to give our own kids a similar childhood, full of activity, learning, nature, adventure and a love of ideas.
It was only later in life that I became aware that not all fathers spent so much time doing things with their kids, and what a truly amazing dad we had. The passing years have made it ever clearer how blessed we are to have a father so dedicated to his family. Even as adults, he remains always there to pick us up when we fall – and to fix things when they are broken.