Can it really be that long?
Ten years ago today, my father died surrounded by his wife and daughters in a local hospice. He’d been living with cancer for nine months – and left this earth just three months shy of his 60th birthday.
I have many memories of my father, and in honour of his tenth anniversary, there are a few that I’d like to share with you.
My father was kind, courteous, modest, a little formal, good-humoured, patient, and eccentric. He was also very tolerant, a quality that must have come in handy as the patriarch of a predominantly female family of four.
Together with my mother he made creative alchemy – from ties to quirky trompe d’oeil furniture and homeware to flying bird mobiles – although finance was his main profession. He worked long hours in the City for many years, so he’d make his presence felt at the weekend or on Friday nights, when he’d bring home a giant bar of chocolate for all the family.
(When I went to boarding school he continued the tradition to an extent, sending me 100g bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk or Bournville in the post every now and then up to age 15.)
The long working week – and of course that reticence – meant that my father never seemed to go much beyond a supporting role in my life. He was very good at it though; never took over anything I did as a child, but instead worked hard to foster my own budding creative exploits, be it film-making, visual art, or writing.
I probably inherited some of my idiosyncrasies from my father. I certainly got my Slavonic looks and thick hair from him. Aged seven I watched him filling a skip with discarded pieces of wood from a DIY job on the tiles, fascinated by the distressed pastel paint tones some came in.
Reader, I am ashamed to say that the next day, I asked my father for a pink plank as a birthday present. It can’t have been lost on him that painting one specially for me was cheaper than buying a Sindy doll. (Mind you, he did make a wooden replica of the family home for me at Christmas in the same year – one of his most meticulous pieces of craftsmanship.)
“You are your own woman,” my father would say, the vocal affection reflected on his face. He wasn’t making it up.
Of course we had differences when I became a teenager. I didn’t agree with my father’s Catholic principles, although I could see that he was simply bringing to everyday family life a sense of morality that had been honed over generations of close-knit Mostyns. He was certainly dedicated to his family. On some level I think he rather liked that I could be incredibly stubborn, just like him. Whenever I expressed adolescent defiance, he’d smile and interject, “You will always be my little Melissa.”
That was just one of many terms of endearment my father had for me.
“You are my favourite middle daughter,” he’d say on other occasions.
“But you only have one middle daughter!”
“Quite right,” came the assured reply.
As a child of the ’70s I was lucky enough to have witnessed what has been called the UK’s golden age of children’s television, enjoying programmes like Take Hart, The Adventures of Morph, Tiswas and Multi-coloured Swap Shop.
One programme I’d make time for was Screen Test, memorable mostly for Michael Rodd’s bouncy hair and the short films or animations made by children selected for national TV broadcast as part of a weekly competition. I’d watch week after week, envying those young auteurs and wondering if I’d ever get a chance.
My father cottoned onto my new enthusiasm and bought a Super-8 camera which I used for various animated experiments, usually featuring Plasticine models, paper collages and hand-drawn sketches. He even built a wooden film-making workshop in my bedroom, complete with a light-box and basic splicing equipment.
Excited though I was by the prospect of making my own shorts, I found the production of stop-motion animation agonizingly slow. So the rest of the family had a go with the camera, and my father even took it on our holiday travels to France and Italy – which probably explains why some of my clearest memories of him are in fuzzy Super-8.
I keep rewinding to that comb-over, again and again and again. Following his marriage my father never saw a barber again, choosing instead to rely on my mother for his haircuts and laugh off others’ teases about his retreating hairline. Those manoeuvres he used to do in the wind, to try and avoid that piece of hair flying up! Once when my father was having an informal photo taken in the garden, a sudden breeze sifted it back ever so slightly.
Upon seeing the developed print, my father’s luxuriant eyebrows took the form of praying hands. “The camera CAN lie,” he quipped.
However eccentric he was, my father introduced me to strong behavioural values that I always find helpful to remember in troubled times. He was a steadfast man with steadfast beliefs, and I have him to thank for my portfolio career in the arts and media.
Ten years may have passed, but those fuzzy clips I have in my mind will never stutter or bubble to a crisp in an overheated Super-8 film projector. Here’s to you, Daddy.