Posts Tagged ‘birthday party’

“The advantage of being eighty years old is that one has many people to love.”

– Jean Renoir (1894-1979)

My father has reached his “fourscore years and ten”.  As I watch him trudge grudgingly into his elder years, I struggle to remember that he was, at one time, a man of twenty.

I struggle to remember that he was a young lad who, like thousands of others, embarked upon one of the many ships to cross the seas in the late 1940s; riding a prolonged wave of post-war, Irish emigration to Australia, America and England.  He chose England because it was closer to home and family.

I struggle to remember that he had a separate existence before my brothers and I were born; that he was a person unto himself.  I would like to have known him then. Not in a daughterly fashion, but as a friend: sharing a guinness, a joke, a good story, a song. But, no matter how many times I gaze at the cracked and tattered photographs, I seem to look beyond the fresh-faced, handsome young man setting out on his life’s odyssey.  I see always, the weathered, mature features of the man I can only ever know as my father.  This man of eighty, this man of few words, this man whose eloquence lies in the faint cock of an eyebrow, a tilt of the head.


(O’Connell Bridge, Dublin – 1948)

Born and raised on a farm in County Tipperary, the great city of London must have come as quite a shock, but he was an astute and practical young fellow: “I learned how to make the city suit me, not the other way around.”  He met and married my mother several years later and, as is the way of things, they settled in to raise a family, always with hearts and minds firmly fixed on a return to the home country; when the time was right.  In the summer of 1972, with three additional small heads in the backseat of the old Hillman Minx and another ‘in utero’, my father ferried his family back to Ireland.

(Highgate, London – 1959)

Fast forward thirty seven years, to a time of reminiscences and gatherings.  From far and wide, immediate and extended family made the trip to the west coast of Ireland, to celebrate the life and health of this wonderful man.  The second youngest of five, his three elder siblings did not live to see eighty, a poignancy which was not lost on all who were present.

My three brothers and I reunited with long lost first and second cousins, aunts and uncle. In the space of an evening we tried to catch up with each other’s lives. We harked back to tales of shared childhoods, commiserated with losses and disappointments, and discussed the merits of good gun dogs for the pheasant season. We indulged in a kind of giddy relief that we were together for a party and not another funeral.  Then, towards the evening’s end, when whiskey and cognac had mellowed throats and inhibitions, the old dining-room hummed along to the songs which hushed it.

Five noisy grandchildren were ecstatic to be all together again with Grandad. They were psychedelically fueled, long into the night, by the chocolate fountain, birthday cake, and (it being Oíche Shamhna), bags of sweets . Additional glee came in the form of coins and notes furtively stuffed into little pockets – “Mama, I am SO rich now!”  Indeed.

It is a continual joy for me to observe the easy and loving relationship which my  children have with their Grandad.  They delight in hearing stories of “long years times ago” and being gently teased by him.  When he visits, they squirrel their way into his chest for a hug as he tousles their hair before bed.  Then, when he says to them, “Grandad loves you”, I feel a restriction in my throat.  It’s a deep, childish, emotional cauldron of pride and envy.  It’s the sixteen year old me wanting to blurt out, “Why can’t I remember you telling me that you loved me when I was small?”  It’s the adult, mother me, saying, “Thanks, Dad, they love to hear that the most.”

And it’s absurd of course.  I have known very few men of my father’s generation who were comfortable expressing their feelings in words.  That was always the mother’s role.  The love he felt for us was demonstrated in a non-wordy manner.  The nighttime routine of peeping into our bedrooms, to check if a stray arm or leg needed to be tucked in, while kissing our foreheads.  The way he had to quickly walk out of the living room one Christmas Day morning, when he opened his gift from us, and saw a magnificent pair of suede, fur lined slippers, for which we had sacrificed our pocket money for months.  The way he would let us tag along on fishing excursions, when they were his only escape from the constant tumult in the house.  The way he simply said, “God bless you”.

(Regent’s Park, London – 1963)

On the night of the party, Dad walked into the room with a look of stunned bemusement.  I was struck by how long it had been since I had seen him look so happy, the recurring bouts of painful rheumatism and sciatica taking an increasingly longer time to ease.  Always a dapper dresser, he still easily outshone many of the younger, male assembly; I thought he looked resplendent.

It took him quite a while to move through the crowd of well wishers.  As he came closer to where I stood, I could see his brimmed eyes and trembling hands.  I hugged him very, very hard:

“Happy Birthday, Dad.”

This man of eighty, with tears sliding down his cheeks, hugged me back, very hard:

“God bless you, love.  Thank you. I love you.”