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Father's Day: Why our dads will always have a special place in our hearts

Ahead of Father’s Day tomorrow, Karen Ireland talks to four well-known local personalities about the unique, powerful bond between dads and their children

By Karen Ireland

TV presenter Zoe Salmon (37) lives in Newtownards with her husband, Will Corrie, a butcher. She says:

My dad is simply my hero. We do everything together and he is my partner in crime. I take him as my plus-one to loads of events and he loves the fun and the enjoyment of a night out.

He was with me recently at the Miss Northern Ireland final and he had a ball. Everyone knows him and it has got to the stage where my friends text him and ask him to go on nights out. He is so popular and the life and soul of the party.

I have two sisters and a brother - Lara (38), Naomi (35) and Julian (34) - and at one stage we were all under five years old.

I often say to my dad that we must have driven him crazy, but he always says we were all very well-behaved - we slept when we were supposed to and always did what we were told to do.

I think we were good children because of the way we were brought up. I wouldn't describe our upbringing as strict, but we knew we would get a slap if we stepped out of line.

That sort of thing is frowned on now, but it worked for us - we knew our place and we had a great childhood. We were very much old-school.

Dad and I have lots in common. We both love musicals and we are always playing songs and singing along, driving the rest of the family mad. I also used to do tap dance and the odd time dad and I will dance together.

Dad has been there throughout my entire career. Every decision I have made I have talked it over with him first. He is like my personal advisor.

I remember phoning him when I got the Blue Peter job and he was so proud but we couldn't tell anyone. I knew I could trust him to keep it secret - dad is completely confidential and I know that I can tell him anything and he will keep it to himself.

He always says the night I won Miss NI was one of the best nights of his life. He has also watched every TV show I have ever been in with pride and would make a point of phoning me up afterwards.

In fact, he has been there for me for everything - he flew over to London at weekends when I was in Fame Academy and on Dancing on Ice. He is my number one fan and biggest supporter.

We are so alike and on the same wavelength and have the same sort of analytical brain. We like to problem solve and work things out.

I really admire dad as he is very hard-working and when there is a problem or something goes wrong he will try to sort it out for himself.

Neighbours around where he lives constantly see him on the roof. He cleans the windows himself and does all the gardening.

I love that about him. He has a wonderful sense of humour and I think the fact that my friends invite him on nights out when I am not even there speaks volumes.

I was always very close to my mum who passed away last September and since then I feel I have grown even closer to my dad as we all look out for him and spend time with him,"

Joe Salmon (72), a retired managing director of a flooring company, lives in Bangor. His wife, Priscilla, passed away last year. He says:

Zoe and I have always been close. I am so proud of the career that she has had so far and I have loved being part of it.

I also enjoy all the events she takes me to and am honoured and proud to be alongside her.

We have great fun together and it has been an exciting few years following her career.

Her mum and I always supported her 100% in whatever she chose to do - and we were very happy to do so."

‘Having my sons is the best thing that I ever did’

  • Noel Thompson (61) is a BBC presenter and is married to Sharon, a yoga teacher. They live in Belfast and have two sons, Matthew (30) and Patrick (25). He says:

My boys were both born on Monday March 2, five years apart. I remember after Matthew was born walking down the street feeling like I was on a cloud. I couldn’t stop smiling and wondered why people weren’t smiling back at me.

It was the best feeling in the world.

We have always been a very close family and because there was five years between the boys we never had that sibling rivalry or squabbling.

Matthew thought he got an extra present on his birthday that year and that he had this younger brother he had to look out for, while Patrick always thought he had a cool older brother to keep an eye on him.

He looked up to him as his hero. We’ve been really lucky as the boys have always had a great relationship.

Matthew is a journalist and works for the BBC in London. I was always encouraging of whatever he wanted to do but it wasn’t something I pushed him into; he just found his own way.

I am exceptionally proud of him and his work and of Patrick, who works for the Halo Trust in Mozambique and the Ukraine.

I try not to worry about what he does as I know they are very well trained and have their protocols. I think Sharon worries about it more than I do.

I am an optimist and look for the good and positive in things.

When the boys were younger I used to take them on camping and hiking trips up the Mournes. We still go hiking when we get a chance.

We also travelled a lot when they were younger and had some amazing family holidays to Thailand, the United States and all over Europe.

I think the boys have both got wanderlust. Patrick certainly has.

Sharon always talked about giving them roots and wings. I think maybe we over did it on the wings bit.

I would love to have them closer and popping in from time to time and spending time together. I really miss that, but I am exceptionally proud of them getting on with their lives and carving out careers for themselves.

Matthew and I are similar and have a lot of similar interests. We talk a lot about politics and journalism. We can’t help it.

One Christmas they surprised me. I thought only Matthew was coming home, but I went to pick him up and Patrick had flown in too.

It was wonderful to have them both home together. That is one of my greatest joys.

I love that the boys are close and enjoy each other’s company.

They are always good about things like Father’s Day and will get together and organise something for me. A gift and a lovely card will arrive. As cliched as it sounds, the best thing I did in life was have my two boys and it is the thing I am most proud of.”

  • Matthew Thompson (30) lives in London. He is a BBC producer of Newsnight and politics programmes. He says:

Everyone thinks I followed Dad’s footsteps into journalism, but I actually got into it by default. After I graduated from Cambridge (where Dad also went) I applied for lots of different things. The only thing I was accepted for was the BBC trainee scheme.

It is down to him, though, that I got it as he had instilled an interest in politics and the news was always on in our house growing up, so I had a real interest in it.

I think as a family we are closer than most. We enjoy each other’s company.

We always went on lots of great holidays growing up and we travelled to some amazing places. Looking back, Dad was always the one who encouraged me to practise my saxophone for an hour every day and play the piano. I didn’t want to do it, but I am thankful now he did.

Dad has a rigorous work ethic and a real intellectual curiosity. Our house was always full of books growing up and we were encouraged to read.

He is a wonderful father and if I am half the father or half the journalist he is, I will know I am doing well.

He is also full of energy and never sits down at night. He will be like, ‘Help me cut this hedge or hold this ladder’. He is always doing something. We enjoy bike riding, hiking and golf together. We always have a great chat, which I love. He is an amazing man and I am so lucky he is my dad.”

  • Patrick Thompson (25) lives in eastern Ukraine and works for a mine clearance organisation called the Halo Trust. He says:

Growing up, we were a close family. Dad was never a workaholic — he always came home on time and was around on weekends. He taught me everything I know!

I used to play the trumpet for many years, which when you are a young adolescent is not the sexiest instrument to play. Dad would always make sure I had done at least 15 minutes practice every single day from when I was about nine years old until I was about 16. Getting braces put an end to my trumpet career — to my not inconsiderable relief. I now play a bit of guitar, which is considerably cooler.

When I think of my dad, my next thought is inevitably of the Mountains of Mourne. We have spent more Sundays than I could count trekking up Bloody Bridge or wading through bogs round the back of Wee Binnian. Anyone who knows Dad will tell you of his love for that part of the world, he made sure my brother and I got to experience it too.

I miss home a lot, but it helps that both Dad and Mum understand exactly why I’m doing what I do. I admire Dad’s sense of humour. Plus he has a cracking baritone.

‘He is one of the most thoughtful people I know’

  • Former MLA Jo-Anne Dobson (50) lives in Warringstown with her husband John. They have two sons, Mark (24) and Elliott (27). She says:

My dad is Eric Elliott (71) and he lives in Banbridge. We have always been extremely close. He was only 21 when he had me so he was always a young dad. Mum, Joan, was only 20. So they were a young couple starting a family.

There is just me and my sister Belinda who is two years younger than me. We grew up as a very close unit and our parents were more like friends, than father and daughter and mother and daughter. I know we were the envy of a lot of friends as our parents were so cool.

Dad was trying to build up a heating business at the same time and he worked long hours on that, but he always made time for me and my sister. The one thing we loved to do was shop and he would always promise us trips to Belfast. We would head off shopping which was really exciting and he would treat us to lovely things.

Dad always made whatever we did fun. He was, and still is, full of life and enthusiasm.

His parents were quite ill for a long time and he looked after them and attended to their needs. I think that shows the mark of a man in how well he cares for his own parents.

Dad is still a very good-looking man and he is young at heart. He loves spending time with my two boys and Belinda’s son Alex.

He takes them to Northern Ireland football matches all the time.

That is something the boys love and dad really enjoys that time with them. He turns up in all his gear ready to go. He even took them to Paris to the Euros.

Dad has always been supportive of my political career. I would often go to him for advice and trust his judgement and listen to his guidance. I admire his strong work ethic which I think he instilled in me and he is very compassionate. He is also one of the most thoughtful people I know.

He would be up in the middle of the night helping people with a plumbing emergency but who maybe couldn’t afford to pay. That’s the type of man he is.

Family holidays were a big thing for dad. He always enjoyed planning time away and when we were younger we had great holidays, including touring around France.

He still does some consulting in England from time to time and when he does he always make a point of meeting up with Elliott and taking him out to dinner.

He loves spending time with his grandchildren and they love it, too. Family is everything to dad.

I feel very blessed that I still have my parents and spend as much time with them as possible. No matter where we are in the world we will always stay in touch.”

  • Eric Elliott (71), a retired heating engineer, lives in Banbridge with his wife Joan. He says:

I am exceptionally proud of my daughter Jo-Anne. She worked hard and I think she is one of the best MLA’s we ever had. She did so much for the people. Jo-Anne works hard no matter what she does. She is consulting at the minute and is working extremely hard at that.

She used to manage my showroom and she did a great job. We have always been very close and she is extremely easy going and easy to get on with. Everyone likes Jo-Anne.

She has always been very poplar and had a great bunch of friends.

I have many great memories of her and her sister growing up. We had some fantastic family holidays and great adventures.

I always tried to make things fun for them growing up. I worked hard but I tried to be there when they needed me.

Jo-Anne has a very bubbly and engaging personality. She always made friends wherever we went. She did very well at school and made us proud of her. She never gave us any trouble or anything to worry about.

We are a very close family and I love spending time with my grandsons. I take them to all the Northern Ireland games and have even taken them to see Manchester United games.

Her mum and I got involved in politics many years ago and starting lobbying for David Trimble, who became a very good friend. Jo-Anne went along to a few meetings and got hooked. That is where her interest in politics started.

As a family, we love going out for meals together and that’s probably what we will do on Father’s Day — spend the day together and go out as a family for something to eat.”

‘It’s because of him that I got into sport ... he’s an exceptional dad’

  • Stephen Garrett (30) is education manager with the Heritage Centre at the Irish Football Association (IFA). He also plays for Cliftonville. He is married to Stephanie and lives in Dundonald. He says:

My dad had a huge influence on my career. It is thanks to him I got into sport at a young age. Apparently, I was kicking a ball about from I was very young.

My dad was a coach so he got me involved in junior clubs when I was under 16. He travelled to all my games and never missed a single match, no matter who I was playing for. He was there on the sidelines and I often heard him before I saw him. 

I am my own worst critic when it comes to how I played, but he was never critical. He is always encouraging and supportive.

I studied health and leisure studies, then did my master’s degree in sports management at Ulster University.

I think he as very proud of me that, as well as playing football, I have had a career in the industry. I have been with the IFA for three years now and I love it. Dad is intensely loyal; he is an exceptional father. He always gave me space to learn the game and time to find my way. He was never pushy, just supportive.

I think the world of him. When we are not at football matches, we play golf together or a game of snooker. It is always sports-orientated.”

  • Stephen Garrett (60) lives in Dundonald with his wife, Margaret. They have three children, Lisa (39), Gemma (34) and Stephen (30). He says:

Stephen and I have always been close and shared a love for sport and football in particular. I am a qualified coach and was also a scout for Arsenal for 15 years.

Stephen first started playing football when he was very young. He joined his first club in Dundonald when he was eight and he never looked back.

He used to stand in the line-up with some of the taller boys and say, “When is it my turn?”

After that he played football all the time. My back yard was like a football pitch.

I took him to every game and every training season. He took advice on board and listened and watched.

One year he got to the Milk Cup up in Coleraine, but a few days before the games I fell and broke my neck. I ended up in hospital for eight days.

I remember him coming to my bedside and crying because I wouldn’t be there to watch. I told him to go and do his best, and I got nightly updates on the news.

That’s the only time I have missed any of his matches. I’ve taken him to several FA Cup final matches, which was a fantastic experience for us. Real quality father and son time.

Stephen was a model son and never gave us any trouble or anything to worry about. I think because he got into sport early and was training two nights a week and had a match on Saturday, he was very disciplined.

He is strong-willed and knows what he wants and goes after it, but he is never angry. He is always pleasant and in good form. He also did well academically and we were very proud of his master’s and now his position at the IFA. I’ve enjoyed every step of this journey with him.”

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