For Father’s Day, I want to write some nice things about my Dad.
The best place to start is sport because Dad is a massive, massive sports fan. A fan of all sports, especially if he’s involved. Now that he’s passed the 80-mark, he still competes in the odd cycle race!
At school and in his 20s, he was an excellent runner – the 800m and 1500m – who nearly made it to the Commonwealth Games. He was a demon cricket bowler, played rugby for the town team, could wield a squash racket when required, and he wanted this love of movement, athletics, team sports and the joys of taking part, as well as spectating, to be instilled in his three daughters.
Our stalwart on the sidelines
From tiny, he would make us train for Sports Day by running up and down the lawn while he timed us with a big, metal stopwatch.
Never mind rain, howling east coast winds, or the fact that he could be indoors watching the rugby with a beer, instead he would come to see us play in netball matches, hockey matches and tennis games. He was our 6’3” stalwart on the touchlines.
After we’d been gubbed 73-0 at netball, he’d sympathise and offer lots of team tactics for the next time. Like every good coach, he never over-egged winning or losing, he just wanted you to focus on how to raise your game. When my awesomely talented sister got into the Scottish hockey team, he travelled to Holland for a whole week of watching them being utterly trashed by seven-foot blonde warriors. But he buoyed her and the team up and urged them on in every single game.
He absolutely encouraged even the slightest interest in sport. He once made a four-hour round trip to see me get knocked out in the first round of the high jump at Sports Day.
An old-fashioned gent
Sports Day was an annual big day out for Dad. Even if you were only in one event, he was proud of you. He noted all the times, watched all the other races, had nice things to say about other competitors.
Despite being quite an old-fashioned gent, born in the 1940s, he never, ever made us think that girls’ sports or achievements were somehow lesser to boys’. He would cheer just as loudly for Jessica Ennis as for Andy Murray.
Now, when he turns up for his grandchildren’s sports days, you catch his sense of excitement at it all, from the sprints to the sack race, to the final big event of the day, the 800m. The race of heroes. The race where he once wowed the crowds and broke the school record – one of his many ‘finest’ hours.
The Olympics, the Wimbledon finals, the World Cup, the film Chariots of Fire, these were all huge events when we were growing up.
Passion for sport
Dad made sport cool for us. He conveyed the passion, the dedication of training, the self-sacrifice. And as we grew into teenagers, it was an important way for us to still connect and have something to talk about with this important man in our lives.
Because Dad had three teenage girls to deal with, a terrifying prospect for most Dads, but for an old-fashioned Scotsman… !
We sort of understood there was a whole arena of things he couldn’t possibly talk to us about. He backed away quietly. He got right behind that newspaper and buried his head in the motoring section.
So at least we could talk sport, and that would sort of make up for the lack of other conversations.
Part of a Dad’s role is to encourage you to take the right kind of risk. Girls can be a little programmed by society to play it safe. But Dad dared us all to try the breathtakingly high diving board and cheered our landings. He built a huge, icy, terrifying sledge run and encouraged us to race down.
Faith in us
On the night before my big solo rail trip across Europe, when I was almost puking with fear, he poured me a small brandy, ‘settles the stomach’ he said, and told me I’d be fine.
He installed faith in all three of us that we could do whatever we wanted to do, if like athletes, we were prepared to train for it.
Now aged 82, which I find hard to believe because I still picture him as the tall, film-star handsome man he was in his 40s, he still leads a packed life on the farm, and often cycles 20 miles a day, in full cycling gear, of course! Keep interested and keep moving, he’d advise anyone in their senior years.
Happy father day! Love you Dad and feel very grateful that you’re still around to inspire us.