I never knew my father. I have the vaguest recollection when I was perhaps three years old of a dark-coloured waistcoat on a level with my face and that, as far as I can find out as I dig about in my memory, is my only recollection of him. My mother would never talk about him. She said it upset her. And I, an only child with no sibling with whom to share my curiosity, didn’t want to upset her, so for many years I pretended I was not interested in who my father was anyway. Other children at school would ask me, “Why haven’t you got a dad?” I’d shrug and say he’d gone away and I didn’t care anyway.
As I grew into adulthood however I felt his shadow at my shoulder. Who – I kept asking myself – was he? What did he look like? What did his voice sound like? We need to know these things – it’s part of who we are and where we come from. I’ll not go into the details of what turned out to be a very, very long search for him. Suffice it to say I know now how sorely I missed him and how much I would have benefited from his presence in my life. I have reason to suspect that some of the most important caring in my very early life came from him and that his leaving at that very young age left me quite bereft. There was a huge chasm in my soul and being as young as I was I had no idea what was causing the pain. All I knew was that something hurt. It was to hurt for many years.
Growing up I had no male role model. I wanted one. If any man came to the house, I’d hang around him like a moth round a candle flame, usually making a nuisance of myself. I, after all, was one of them. Despite the yawning age gap, we had an implicit understanding, that man and me – whoever he happened to be. And when my mother finally re-married, the touch of my new step-father’s morning stubble against my own face, apart from making me giggle, stirred some extraordinary, almost atavistic male memory in me. The household, the menage was whole now.
Sadly, my step-father and I, as time went on, became firm duelists. He was about as imaginative as a brick and poured scorn on all my early attempts at writing and painting and also as I grew into my later teens, on my attempts to get into the film business. He was an authoritarian. He was a real-life Mister Mannering. He knew it all. And when he met his end – many, many years later and two years after the death of my mother, I have to be honest and say I shed not one tear for him. My only fear, when they announced to me at the hospital that he had died, was that perhaps they had made a mistake and he hadn’t. But I went and checked. He had.
I never found my father. Not while he was alive anyway. What we found was a record of a death. Subsequent to that however I discovered I had a step-mother and a half sister. It was only when the latter gave me a photograph of my father taken in his late sixties that I had any idea what he looked like. The likeness between him and myself was quite unmistakable, a matter of enormous pleasure and pride to me.
What kept him from me all that time? I don’t know. I can have a few guesses. Did he make attempts to contact me? Again, who knows? Had he done so I doubt any of those attempts would have been made known to me. But all reports of him from those that knew him were that he was a lovely man. So I can now make the link between that un-fulfillable yearning I experienced in my childhood with the figure for whom I now have a face in a rather old photograph and who is the subject of memories recalled for me by my step-mother and my sister. At his discovery, even though only via a piece of paper and their secondhand memories, I felt calmed and grounded. It was a very strange feeling.
Fathers and the fact of fatherhood have, in recent years, been much maligned – dismissed sometimes as almost superfluous beyond the fertilization process. The universe however does not work that way. It is not some wayward chance that splits all living creatures – bar a very, very tiny few – into male and female. (Or female and male if you prefer it that way round). That is what life is and how it is, and the failure to abide by and give due consideration to that balance throws a thing out of true. And a thing out of true, sooner or later either staggers when it should walk proud, or it falls over.