I was a fortunate child: I had a wonderful father. I know many children are not so lucky. Indeed, many of my friends were not so lucky. My Dad took me out on his bike most Sundays to give mum a break, and he showed me flowers and trees, animal tracks and we would forage in season for blackberries and elderflower/berry, which he would make into wonderful things. He was gentle and kind, if he was cross with me he would look daggers at me, which made me cry, but he would never ever have smacked me. He was my refuge and my guide, but he also let me find out things for myself. He taught me I was worth something, and as a result I have always been able to stand up for myself, even when life was tough and bullies held sway.
I was only 24 when he died and he was never able to be a granddad to my beloved children, but I have been writing poems about him ever since. I thought I would share this one, from Hearth, for Father’s day.
Gave up milk and sugar in the war, long before I was born,
came to prefer his dark bitter brew. Couldn’t abide it weak:
if he could see white china at the bottom, he’d send it back
to the pot for further steeping. In vain I tried to get the spoon
standing up for him. The last one poured was always his.
We knew how to drink tea in our house. Countless cups of it
punctuated the day, from the early morning bedside one
to his enquiry every evening at nine: would you like a cup of tea?
before mother went to bed and he clocked off tea-making.
Tea was the reaction to every crisis, arrival and departure.
One evening, I listened to Under Milk Wood on the radio
in my room, wrapped in a blanket. He brought me tea,
a bowl of milky porridge, glistening with brown sugar.
Tea was the last thing he drank before he died:
I had carried a cup to him, strong and hot, rattling on its saucer.
Tea was the way we loved each other, the way he treated me,
and gentled my mother, with scones just out of the oven,
new bread and blackberry jam, apple pie. Easier than words
which made him trip and stumble since his childhood stammer.
Our tea cosy was stained brown where it snugged the spout.
from Hearth (Mother’s Milk Books 2015)