Paul S. Gifford
I must confess that my father and I have had a strange relationship over the years. Circumstances happened as such that my father had to raise me alone and as he needed to work not only his day job, but also one in the evening for us to get by. So I was usually left to my own devises. As a quiet boy this resulted in most of my childhood being spent within the pages of books. For you see within those pages I found that I could travel the world, go to the bottom of the ocean, do amazing stunts, and even be part of the perfect family. Times got hard for many workers in England at that time and my father was made redundant. We ultimately emigrated from England to California in the 1980’s. I understand now how difficult it must have been for my father, a man in his fifties, to move to a foreign country far away from all he knew to attempt to make a new life for the two of us. But attempt it he did, and what is more he succeeded beyond what he ever considered and soon found that he was living the American dream to the fullest.
My father was born into a working class family in England in 1927. His father passed away when he was just eight of lung cancer caused no doubt from his short lifetime of working with coal. This left his mother all by herself to raise him and his older brother and sister. A hard task even in thee enlightened time, but far harder back in those days when women were still often regarded as second class citizens. This meant my father had an incredibly tough childhood for even the basics were hard to come by. There were many times he went to bed hungry and cold in their small council home. Yet, I appreciate as he relays these memories that this created a tremendous fire and ambition inside of him. By the age of fourteen he and his older brother were working full time and supporting the family.
My father is a private man and much of his love of the written word was a secret to me up until a few years back. A few years back we had a man-to-man conversation. It appears that he is proud beyond compare of my success at writing. (And I use the word success in the broadest of terms.) He, with tears in his eyes, explained that he too spent his childhood lost in books, going to the library several times a week. I also discovered another secret he had never before shared; that he too had a great passion for writing at a young age. However unfortunately in a poor working class family in 1930’s Britain this was frowned upon for writing was not deemed an appropriate interest and certainly not an appropriate career choice. A few years later he finally found music as a way to express himself – and had some great success at it-alongside his full time engineering career.
As we chatted, like we had never done before, I asked him what books he enjoyed as a child… He told me that his earliest memories were the Just William series by Richard Crompton. He explained also how later on in life he became enamored with the Welsh working class hero Thomas Dylan. I nodded to myself thoughtfully as he spoke. I was definitely my father’s son.
Several weeks ago I realized that father’s day was fast approaching and I wondered what on Earth I could buy this self made man who now had everything. Then I had a beautiful idea.
Yesterday, as my eleven year old son and I watched with great interest, my seventy-seven year old father unwrapped his Gifts… The first present he pulled from the gift bag was as you might have guessed; a book. In fact it was a magnificently illustrated compilation of poetry with a father /son theme… His eyes seemed to sparkle as he opened it and he gleefully read aloud the first poem that he caught his attention…
I then prompted him to delve further into the gift bag. Several seconds later he retrieved a second book, clumsily wrapped in gold tissue. My son and I watched on in anticipation as a look of curiosity washed over his face. Then with still strong hands he gently tore away the paper. It was a beautiful moment when he comprehended what he was holding – a 1926 first edition of Just William which I had discovered over the internet at an English bookstore. I have to admit I suspected that he would appreciate the gift. Yet I had no idea just how moved he would be. The incredible, albeit faded, book even contained advertisements on the back pages. My father, with an almost childlike laugh informed me that he would have held the identical book in his hands almost seventy years ago…
Yes, it was a very special and memorable of father’s days.
I wrote this five years ago – here it is warts and all. These days my father and I are closer than ever – he is also in remarkable good health for a man of 82. And yes, he is coming over tomorrow night and I shall cook him dinner and I have another book for him.
©Copyright June 20, 2009 by Paul S. Gifford