Last Saturday was my dad's 80th birthday. This was one milestone I thought he might never reach after all the traumas of the past two years, including open heart surgery, two hip replacements, a stroke and being told by his GP to give up whiskey — possibly the worst trauma of them all.
But no-one was more surprised than dad himself, who had been jokingly predicting his imminent death for over 10 years.
Both his parents had passed away aged 70, so to him that was like the family sell-by date.
“If I make it that far we'll have something to celebrate ...” he had said so many times during his 69th year. And every birthday since.
But he had made it, thank God, and naturally we all felt like there was a lot to celebrate. So, one by one, my brothers and sisters all converged on the family home in Lancashire for a weekend of feasting and festivities.
One lesson we had all learnt over the years is that like many men of a certain age, my dad is very difficult to buy for. When he was 70 we had all clubbed together and bought him an expensive automatic watch to replace the old wind-up one he'd been wearing for decades with it's scratched face and dog-eared leather strap that was held together by Bostick.
Between us we had spent ages choosing it and then getting the back engraved with a lovely message from all of us. At the time he had seemed to be delighted. He put it on immediately at his birthday party, while assorted cameras whirred into action to capture the moment, and we all breathed a sigh of relief that we'd chosen well. But then, eventually, after the party was over, the fancy new watch went back into its fancy new box and his old battered leather one came back out ... and has stayed firmly in place to this day. All that has changed is the amount of Bostick holding it together.
So this time we all brought separate gifts. As I arrived back home I noticed a book of poetry on the kitchen table, a gift from one of my brothers.
“Aww dad, I didn't know you liked poetry!” I said. “What is your favourite?”
I was expecting something like If by Rudyard Kipling.
He turned to the chapter on Philip Larkin and began to read ...
“They f**k you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
“But they were f**ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
“Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.”
Then he roared with laughter, while pouring the first whiskey of the day.