I first came across Ted Kessler’s My Old Man in July 2013 when my friend Jude Rogers was asked to write about her father. It seemed like something I’d be interested in doing. Those of you who read this blog are mostly people who know me, and know about my dad. Know how it’s shaped me. Know how it informs a lot of what I write.
I contacted Ted who replied that I should send something whenever I was ready. ‘Just make it honest and clear,’ he wrote to me.
In December 2014, prompted by Jude’s lovely piece about her own dad, I finally got around to it. ‘If you think it’s got potential,’ I wrote to Ted, ‘let me know and I can edit it. If not, at least I’ve written it for myself, and that’s a good thing.’ It was stuff I’d written about before, anyway, in various guises, both fictional and non-fictional, but it felt good to focus on him again.
Ted’s reply was swift and encouraging: ‘Good things come to those who wait. That’s tremendous. Not a dry eye in the house. No changes or edits required, of course. I’d be very glad to run it.’
When it appeared it made me gasp, laugh and then have a little weep at my desk. My dad died well before the age of the Internet. Seeing his face so large on a computer screen, smiling in that ridiculous bonnet, was both joyful and moving.
Within hours of it going up, Ted was telling me that his followers on Twitter were commenting on it, that the editor of Time Out New York, herself the author of a tremendous entry on the site, had tweeted, ‘I can’t really breathe after reading this piece’, and that comment was followed by others, all flattering and positive. Even a Guardian journalist was tweeting about it. Ted’s Facebook page, where he posted a link to the site, was accompanied by compliments that made me catch my breath. Strangers from across the world were reading about my dad, were moved by my dad’s story, were saying lovely things about him and my writing. ‘They’re all heartfelt,’ Ted assured me. ‘These people don’t always comment. And two of them are writers.’
Writers know how much that means to other writers.
It’s bittersweet, that feeling of pride about my dad and my work, knowing that the only reason I could write what I wrote in the way that I did was because he left my life when I was so young. So Ted’s site is an amazing gift to people like me. It offers a place for people to share their memories of their fathers: absent fathers, lost fathers, dead fathers, present fathers. Fathers in all their glory and all their bad behaviour. Fathers who tried and failed, or tried and succeeded. Fathers who didn’t try at all. Fathers who are loved or hated, celebrated or condemned. We’ve all got one or had one, even if we didn’t know him; even if he didn’t deserve being called a dad.
My dad did deserve the title, and if you read what I wrote I hope you can see that shining through. It was tempting to make a point at the end about how I try not to back out of emotional relationships because of fear of loss, how I’ve struggled with that, how he managed to keep putting himself back out there despite what he went through and so should I. But I knew that would make it all about me, and it’s not all about me.
It’s his story. I just told it, is all.