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Karen English: I long to throw my arms around my dad, especially in these scary times

BBC NI journalist and radio producer Karen English believes nothing beats the magic and power of a simple hug - something she can't give her dad Billy this Father's Day due to the coronavirus threat. Here, she pays tribute to her 'darling daddy' who turned 80 this year


Close relationship: Karen English and dad Billy

Close relationship: Karen English and dad Billy

Close relationship: Karen English and dad Billy

In a world dominated and altered by wretched Covid-19, this Father's Day is quite like no other.

Not only are hugs and kisses on hold but for the first time that I can remember, dad won't be surrounded by all those he loves most.

There will be no bunching up round the dinner table and no clinking of glasses to mark his special day.

Nor will there be any tasting of each other's desserts - a delicious treat we revel in.

And there won't be the traditional group photo to bring memories flooding back in years to come.

For in the face of this ever present danger, keeping dad safe by curbing close physical contact is our number one priority.

Fortunately, my darling daddy is practised in low-key celebrations via Zoom now. In May the coronavirus cataclysm laid waste surprise party plans to mark his landmark 80th birthday with razzmatazz and popping champagne corks.

Like millions in the UK he had to retreat behind his own front door when the crisis exploded in March. His age coupled with diabetes put him in the high-risk bracket.

Being confined to barracks for weeks on end was not an easy transition to make for a sociable man, who although undeniably in late life, is spry and active. He enjoys swimming, gymming, eating out, going to his local cinema and to Belfast for rock concerts.

The abrupt shutdown of schools also impacted on him. A popular lollipop man for 25 years, he so loved chatting with children and their parents as he safely saw them across one of Bangor's busiest stretches of road.

But what he misses most of all is joining us every evening for dinner and chit-chat - his house just a short hop from ours.

For me this global disaster put into horribly sharp focus that my beloved dad, a widower for nearly 30 years, fits the vulnerable profile. With his elan, joi de vivre and lust for life he is a poster boy for ageing well.

A paragon of paternal dependability he has always been my sheltering wing. With the arrival of this stealthy and silent killer the tables were swiftly turned and dad was the one who needed shielding.

In June we heaved a sigh of relief when Stormont relaxed the stay-at-home orders for shielders, allowing dad to go outside. Though thankful that the risk of exposure has reduced, he's accepting that he has to be ultra-careful because this aggressive foe hasn't gone away.

We've all been forced to see life through a different lens now.

This Sunday will be especially difficult for many families who have lost fathers and grandfathers to this cruel virus.

For other dads and grandads there will be sadness and despair as they grapple with the devastating economic impact of the outbreak with countless jobs and livelihoods wiped out.

Of course my own dad, an octogenarian, has lived through many tumultuous times - a world war, the threat of nuclear annihilation during the 1970s and 80s, 9/11 and its aftermath and Northern Ireland's Troubles which claimed thousands of lives.

And he's been hit by some devastating personal curveballs, the toughest losing mum to cancer in 1993. Mum's death, at just 52, also changed our family dynamic with dad practically moving in with me to create a happy three generation unit.

We've always been close, treasuring togetherness, and through the bad times dad's stoicism and resilience have been instructive.

For me, if there is a chink of light during this disquieting present it is that the manic pace of my everyday life has been slowed, giving me the headspace to reflect on what really matters.

Time to appreciate how incredibly fortunate I am that the story threaded through my life is one rooted in family with dad at its core.

Schooled in good manners, he is a loving and giving soul whose gentle and supportive ways have always been a primary influence. He is also someone who inspires me though his ineffable generosity of spirit and unfailing ability to see the best in people and every situation. A man of quiet faith and standards of rectitude and probity, I'm so lucky that he is still keen of mind and sharp witted even in the midst of a pandemic.

With lockdown restrictions easing there's a sense that a corner is being turned. Still it's worth reflecting that the world is still upended making this the strangest of Father's Days.

For my dad there will be the usual cards, presents and cake but no affectionate embrace.

As a self-confessed hugger this goes against my instinct and I long to throw my arms around him especially in these scary times.

I'd also be lying if I said that when the reality of his age cuts in it doesn't upset me that precious time spent together in the truest sense is slipping away.

But, as my dad always advises, cede nothing to despair because in life there is no certainty and we have to navigate around change, making the best of right now.

With scientists across the world working round the clock we're both keeping our fingers crossed that coronavirus will soon be vanquished definitively.

Then when the ordinary rhythms of pre-pandemic life and the freedoms we used to take for granted come back we'll revel in the small joys of sitting side by side and a full on hug.

Belfast Telegraph