Good grief: go and open the door

As tender as father to child,

so gentle is God to believers.

Psalm 103 (ICEL version, 1994)

My dad died. I don’t know quite what to do with that.

When I was thirteen we moved from Brixworth, a village in Northamptonshire where we had been living, to just outside of Reading. For years my very sporty family had tried to discover the sport at which I would excel. Tennis. Table tennis. Snooker. Cricket lessons. Sailing. Finally, they got the message. Poetry, drama. Inevitably, as sports obsessives, they got it wrong and it had to become competitive. Poetry, plays, acting. Eisteddfods, certificates, competitions. I didn’t need the competition but I loved the people, the words, the reading.

When we moved to Reading dad realised how much those Friday nights meant to me. Rather than end them he drove me, at the end of his working week, every other Friday for four years. He sat in a car park somewhere while I attended my drama classes. And he drove me home. I loved those classes. But I wonder if he ever knew that the journey was much more important to me? Four hours alone with my dad. Four hours in the car. Talking, listening. I always read him the poems and the plays from my class. All the classics of the ‘western canon’.

It was an unlikely scene. Father and son reciting poetry and plays and listening to music. Dad’s favourite operas. The symphonies that he loved. The horn in the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s fifth.

Dad only ever gave me two books. The Music Lovers, Catherine Bowen’s account of Tchaikovsky’s life and Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape. We never talked about either of them but they were inspired gifts. He knew me through and through.

I didn’t see much of dad in his last year. Covid would not allow that. But I did see him a week before he died. In St James’ Hospital in Leeds. I played him his favourite scene from La Bohème. Che Gelida manina. I told him I loved him. He couldn’t speak. I fed him liquid food. Just as he must have fed me. In our beginning is our end.

The narrative in our family is that dad couldn’t express his emotions. He left the room when soppy stuff was on the television. He left the room when anyone mentioned David, my brother, who died when he was five.

Those years of driving, Reading to Northampton and back, that time was the most important imaginable for a father and son. My adolescence was formed by them, shaped by them, they are the rich seam, the deep mine that sustains me. A father’s love. I never doubted that love. Unconditional.

Dad loved romantic poets. The obvious, and the not so obvious. The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Then for one competition I had to recite Miroslav Holub’s The Door.

My dad was in touch with sadness. My brother dying. His own dad leaving the family when dad was a small child. Sadness, but freedom in that sadness. No shade of resentment.

My dad died. 

Go and open the door, even if there’s nothing there.

Go and open the door.

Even if there’s only

the darkness ticking,

even if there’s only

the hollow wind,

even if


is there,

go and open the door.


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