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Why dad's so special to us: Ahead of Father's Day tomorrow, three well-known Northern Irish women tell of their remarkable bonds with their dads

By Una Brankin

Published 18/06/2016

Kerry Thompson at work presenting the news
Kerry Thompson at work presenting the news
Kerry, with her dad Trevor and family, has always had a special bond with her father
Champion: Aileen Reid is all set to head to Rio Games
Aileen, with her dad Micky
United: Aileen Reid with her family
Writer Leesa Harker
Proud parents: Leesa with her dad Big Gordy and mother Sandra

Kerry Thompson (40) is a broadcast journalist for BBC News NI. From Ballymoney, she now lives in Belfast with her husband Tim (39) and children, Elle (9), Finn (7) and Daisy (3). Kerry's parents now live in Ballycastle. Her father Trevor Magowan (70) is a retired Presbyterian minister. Her mum Maeve (69) is a former English teacher. Kerry has one brother Tim (44) and sister Jill (33).

I spent my first few years growing up in the lovely village of Loughbrickland, where dad was the local minister. In the Manse, there was a large green bedroom and I remember dad spending hours on his hands and knees playing with my brother and I. He was out working most evenings, at meetings or visiting members of the church, so before and after tea, he would always try to have fun with us - although under strict instruction from mum not to get us too hyper before bedtime!

My dad has always been a very positive and supportive parent, whether it was getting up in the early hours of the morning to try to make sense of my physics homework, or cheering me on as I struggled to swim 25 metres front crawl in my swimming gala when I was nine, or driving me to Glasgow to leave me to university and then driving straight home again - as I insisted that he had to leave so I could party!

My dad's parents died when he was very young (his mum died when he was two and his dad died when he was 12) and as an only child, he never had support bringing up a family from anyone else. It must have been so difficult for my parents at times.

My husband and I are very lucky to have both sets of grandparents, and even though they are at a distance in Ballycastle and Enniskillen, they have helped us with our three kids so much over the years. I have great admiration for dad raising a family while balancing it with such a demanding job.

I always thought that my dad took everything in his stride and did not get stressed, as he has a very calm nature, but since he has retired he is definitely more relaxed. Being a minister is more than just a nine-to-five role - when we were growing up dad was out every night and on a Sunday he may have had a couple of services. The hours would not suit many people with a young family.

He was accountable to a huge congregation and over the years I saw him being scrutinised when he was just trying to do his best. It is in my dad's nature to please everyone - after his own personal tragedies he wanted to help other people. I think that is one of the main reasons that he became a minister, to serve others.

He is still like that and that's what makes him very special and unique. Just recently, we were in a coffee shop and he offered to give up his table and chair for people who were waiting. Sometimes I wonder if we are actually related as my dad is such a good person!

There were many occasions when I was in trouble with dad, mostly to do with boys when I was a teenager, but I have blocked them out! If I did something wrong growing up, I never wanted my mum to know about it. As a teacher, she was definitely the strict one in the household. Dad would be calmer and talk through the issue. I was always relieved if dad was the one dealing with it and I have to admit that I probably could wrap him around my little finger - that's what daughters do, isn't it?

For instance, I hated practising for my weekly piano lesson when I was in my early teens. I remember once fearing the reaction of my piano teacher at my lack of practice, I got my best friend to forge a letter from my mum to excuse my bad playing. Unfortunately, she spelt the teacher's name wrong and the letter was written on very girly paper - a clear giveaway.

As soon as the teacher read the note, she took it and left me sitting on the piano stool in the music hall for the entire lesson - it was the longest 20 minutes of my life - it felt like hours.

When she eventually came back, she said she had called my parents and needless to say, I was dreading the consequences when I got home, but luckily for me it was dad who had taken the phone call, phew! He didn't shout - he was calm - and more importantly for me at the time, he didn't tell my mum, but I knew he was disappointed and I learnt a lesson that day.

Sometimes, as the minister's family, a lot would be expected of us, though not by my dad, by any means - he often said he felt bad that his profession dictated how we were expected to act.

In church, my mum would regularly have to sit between my sister and I in the pew as we had a tendency to giggle uncontrollably for no reason - it wasn't good when we were sitting at the front of a packed church and directly within full view of the choir. Jill and I still laugh when we are not supposed to.

Dad retired from St James's church in Ballymoney in 2010 after 40 years in the ministry. At his final service the church was absolutely packed. There was such an amazing atmosphere in the building, such love and support from the congregation he had served for more than 30 years.

My dad shared in so many personal moments in the lives of many people in the town. He had been there during the highs and the lows of people's lives; he visited new mums and their babies in hospital, he was there for the personal tragedies that life brings and the death of loved ones.

It was a very emotional service for dad and for all of us, as you realised in just how high esteem dad was held in. In true Presbyterian style, after a cup of tea and a tray bake in the church hall, people queued up for hours to thank dad for his support and wish him well. It's a very special person who can make such a difference in people's lives.

And in everything I have ever done, I have always felt like my dad is proud of me. I have probably taken his support for granted over the years. It's not every daughter who can say that their dad married them. Everyone always asks me how he did that. Quite simply, he walked me down the aisle and then turned to face the congregation. It all seemed very natural and simple. I think with all the mad preparations which inevitably happen before a wedding, I hadn't spent a great deal of time thinking about the actual service.

Looking back, that was my highlight of the day - the emotion of my dad giving me away to Tim and then conducting the service. Every line he said had such a resonance. The exchanging of the vows was made even more special, with dad being so involved, and Tim and I repeating the lines after him. I think Tim was more nervous than my dad, who was so calm.

My dad is an excellent speaker, so it was no surprise after the vows when he received a huge laugh and round of applause when he announced to Tim: "You may now kiss my daughter ... [pause]. And not for the first time!"

My dad always says you should have things to look forward to. I don't think I need much encouragement, but I make sure that I see my friends every week, which helps keep me sane. Dad is a very positive person and I also try to look on the bright side of life.

I think because in my work I am constantly hearing tragic news stories, I try to remain optimistic. My dad has a great sense of fun and sometimes the joke is that he has got something stronger in his glass than water as you would think he is on something. Dad is sometimes just high on life. We both aren't afraid to make fools of ourselves, although my two older kids are at the stage now where they don't appreciate me singing and dancing around the kitchen!

Dad's also is a bit of an insomniac - he has always been like that. Growing up, I remember he would be up finishing his sermon at five or six in the morning. Now, he doesn't have to get up at that time, but he still wakes up early. Sometimes I get a text after 4am when I get up for work to wish me well and tell me he is thinking of me, and I would often get a text after the first news bulletin at 6.26am.

My dad is so encouraging; I can't remember any time he has been critical. He has come into Broadcasting House to see me present the lunchtime news. Sometime I must get him in the hot seat to read the autocue - I am sure he would have loved autocue when he was delivering his sermons. It could have made his job a bit easier!

I'd describe my dad in five words as: selfless, empathetic, positive, generous and humble

Physically, I think our faces are quite similar. I have his eyes and cheeks. I see my dad in my kids, especially in my son Finn. My dad might be 70, but he is more like a fit 60-year-old. I hope that I am as youthful looking and as energetic as him when I am 70.

Personality-wise, I try to adopt his positive outlook. He definitely has a glass-half-full approach, which I aspire to. My dad also has a great sense of fun which I have - most of the time.

He is so energetic and he has more energy than me most of the time. He runs everywhere. If he is not cycling in Ballycastle, he is maybe on the golf course or on the tennis court. He has been very lucky with his health over the years. It would be a very rare occurrence if dad was ever off sick from work, so last year we all got a scare when he developed a pulmonary embolism after being on a long-haul flight.

He nearly fainted at Dublin airport, but in true dad style, he insisted that he continue on the train to Ballymoney. Fortunately, a family friend, who's a GP, was picking my parents up from the train station and insisted that dad go to A&E, where they discovered he had a clot in his leg. He stayed in hospital for a few days and has been on blood-thinning tablets for a year. He wasn't himself for a while as he didn't have much energy. It was hard seeing him like that, but he looks fantastic for a 70-year-old. I hope it is in the genes!

My kids adore their "papa", as they call dad. He is great at playing with them. My three-year-old daughter loves bouncing on the trampoline with him and my nine-year-old daughter shares rollerblade tips with him (yes, dad does have rollerblades), and my seven-year-old son just wants to play any type of ball game with him. The last time we visited my parents in Ballycastle, my poor dad didn't sit down the whole time as Finn wanted him to play football.

As for Father's Day, my dad always worked on a Sunday. He may have had a morning and an evening service, as well as a funeral or christening in the afternoon, so we didn't always have time to celebrate. But we have made up for it since. This year we did Father's Day a week early by going to see The Mikado at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, which brought back lots of lovely memories as I was in it at school when I was 17.

I think my dad probably attended every performance. I hope I can be just as supportive if my daughter is ever in a musical ... especially if, like me, she can't hit all the high notes!

Rio-bound triathlete and three-times world medallist Aileen Reid (34) is having a special Sunday lunch tomorrow in Londonderry with her dad Micky Morrison, a retired school technician, and her mum Una, a former teacher. Her older sister, Ruth, lives in Hong Kong and her older brother, Conall, lives in Donegal. Currently living in Lisburn with her husband David, Aileen is Electric Ireland's Team Ireland ambassador and is currently spearheading #ThePowerWithin campaign.

I always remember my dad taking us swimming at the weekends. I imagine he got us out of the house to give my mum a break. On Saturdays we would go to the local swimming pool for a couple of hours and we all loved it so much, he signed us up for swimming lessons, so my passion for sport started at an early age.

Dad's parenting style is firm and fair. As kids growing up we knew what was right and wrong. He wasn't that strict - but if we did something wrong we always knew as he would say he was disappointed. I do remember hiding under the bed when I was in trouble at one stage but I can't remember why! And I remember I stopped speaking to him for some reason and he bought me a bunch of flowers and we made amends.

From a very early age I always thought my dad was amazing. He has been a major influence in my life and his determination and motivation to succeed in all aspects of life has given me the power within to achieve my goals and dreams.

His passion for outdoor sports like canoeing and sailing during our summers in Malin Head helped drive me to get more involved in swimming from a very young age.

If it wasn't for my dad, I would never have been interested in swimming, cycling or running, and I wouldn't be a triathlete or an Olympic athlete. My dad has real self-belief and is driven to do things for himself - that is really inspiring.

My dad is proud of me at every race, particularly if I take the podium. He always tells me how proud he is. My parents won't be able to make it to the championships in Rio, but they will be supporting me throughout the whole journey. My dad watches as many of my races as possible and comes to some of the races in Europe. He doesn't say that I need to do anything different or better, but he is a huge support for me and his mellow and gentle nature keeps me calm.

The best piece of advice he ever gave me was to be happy and to look within yourself to find that happiness. It doesn't matter what job I have or where I live, as long as I am happy, then he will be happy.

I don't think that dad has changed all that much over the years, though he has mellowed a little. In five words, I'd describe him as: mellow, kind, generous, loving and happy.

I suppose we both have get-up-and-go and we don't sit around waiting for other people to do things. From my dad, I learned to trust my own instincts. Ultimately, if you believe in yourself, you can overcome any obstacle to achieve a personal goal.

Dad helped me to realise that I had the power within me to achieve success and make my dreams come true. Growing up, he was never a pushy parent, but I believe he helped me to tap into my inner strength to perform at my best.

Mum and dad are now both retired and in good health. They are making the most of their days off and enjoying retirement years. As a grandfather, he is pretty much the same - a caring and gentle man, imparting advice where he can and always lending a helping hand.

Writer Leesa Harker lives in the same street near Belfast city centre as her father, Big Gordy (65), mother Sandra (67) and sister Samantha Mason. Her family were behind her all the way when all the way when her career took off with the publication of her debut novel Fifty Shades Of Red, White And Blue - a spoof of the EL James' 50 Shades Of Grey trilogy. The hugely successful book, which introduced the 'tart with a heart' character Maggie Muff, was followed by Maggie's Feg Run and Dirty Dancing In Le Shebeen, which Leesa adapted into a smash-hit stage show. A single mother to daughters Lola (8) and Lexi (6), Leesa's new play, Maggie's Feg Run, the last of the trilogy, is running from Thurs July 28 to Sun August 14 at the Grand Opera House. Leesa says:

I remember I was about four years old and I had been stung by a bee in the garden. My mum had rang dad at work and he rushed home to see if I was ok. I was lying on the sofa with my arm in a sling that my mum had made, and a cool face cloth on my head. Drama queen in the making!

Dad wasn't really strict. My mum was the strict one. If I did something bad, my mum would have shouted, but my dad would have said, "I'm very disappointed." And he would have made me feel guilty! He is extremely laid back.

Yes, he got cross if we were bad but it was never a case of "wait until your dad gets home" - more like: "I'm telling your mother!" Me and my sister knew we would get away with murder if Dad was in charge.

One time, my friend and I said we were staying at each other's houses, packed a bag and got the train to Portrush to go to Kelly's disco. I was only 14 and she was 15. Her mum found out and rang my parents - they were actually out with my uncle from England, who had been staying with us. Her parents had to drive from Belfast to collect us so the closest we got to Kelly's was the entrance on the main road. Sad! My dad still calls me 'the Portrush Flyer' to this day.

Dad used to play a cornet in the Army band and I only found out recently that he was in the band when Vera Lynn sang with them. There is a record of this in his loft and his name is on the credits. He also fell off the cliffs in Dover but managed to pull himself up and to safety - and he was chased by a shark in Cyprus but managed to get away. It was a baby one, he said - but even so! He should write a book.

I think he was really proud of me when he went to my first play, 50 Shades of Red White and Blue, and saw how popular it was and how many people were actually there. He has been to all of my plays and has thoroughly enjoyed them - even though he is the biggest prude in north Belfast! And he always pops in to Easons to look at my books on the shelves.

When anything stressful has happened, Dad just says, "Keep it cool. Cool hand Luke," which makes me laugh. He also constantly reminds me to lock my car and keep my handbag zipped up - literally 50 times a day. He's very security-conscious, my dad.

In five words, I'd describe my dad as: happy, funny, gentlemanly, laid-back and loyal.

My mum says if you put a moustache on me, I could be Dad's twin! We have the same smile, for sure. I do have a laid-back attitude (at times) and I have inherited his dry sense of humour and his work ethic.

Dad has just recently retired so he is taking it easy as he worked hard all his life. He joined the Army at age 15. So, it's time he had a rest. But as we speak, he is re-tiling the bathroom. Some things never change.

He is a great grandad and the children love him. He lets my youngest daughter Lexi put his hair in clips and allows them to climb all over him. He does silly dances with them and sneaks them biscuits when I'm not looking. As a grandfather, he is everything he was as a dad but more. So, you can't get any better than that, can you?

Over the years, he hasn't really changed at all - or aged. Every time I put a photo of him on Facebook, my friends always say, "Your dad hasn't aged at all!"

I can't really think of any way that he has changed. I would say that he's older and wiser but then he dances to Gangnam Style. So maybe not!

For Father's Day, we usually either go out for dinner or I cook for my parents. We have no plans as yet for Sunday. He is happy with a roast and a few beers - he's easily pleased, Big Gordy!

Belfast Telegraph

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