‘Dad, I miss you every time I come home on holidays and walk in our front door’
Mary McDonagh, who lives in the UK, lost her dad five years ago, just before Father’s Day
June is a bittersweet month. Memories of long summer evenings when the light never leaves the night sky. Trips to the bog with flasks of tea. Hours spent splashing in the sea. Bonfire night, the Irish one, your Saint’s night. The fraught trip home from England when I got the call you were sick. A tense 12 days in the relatives’ room of Richmond ICU in Beaumont before they told us there was nothing more they could do. The sand hitting your coffin and the birds singing in the still island air. The haunting tune played on the accordion at your graveside.
The whitethorn was in bloom when we raced across country following the ambulance that carried you. By the time we were making our way home following the hearse westwards, the flowers had died away, like you had slipped away from us that early June evening. Father’s Day cards haunted us in the week after we buried you. Five years later I still avert my eyes and ignore the incessant advertising. I’ll go to my local church, light a candle and say a prayer.
I can’t rightly remember whether it was your birthday or Father’s Day but it was a Sunday. You came home from early morning mass looking sheepish. Standing in your usual spot at the back of the church you’d leaned a little too close to the votive candles and they had burned through your jacket and your present of new shirt and jumper. Needless to say Mum was not impressed. Luckily you weren’t hurt but were the talk of the parish for a couple of weeks, which characteristically you hated.
Always so modest, you were a gifted craftsman, in wood and stone. And the most intelligent, wise, kind-hearted man. Education meant a lot to you, as you had left it after primary school. You were proud of me but thought it was a disgrace that I had to leave my country to do my postgraduate diploma. It was the beginning of the end of the Celtic Tiger but I couldn’t tell you that I wanted to go to England. I’d spent a year back in Ireland after almost two years in Australia and was excited to get away again.
In Australia we’d chatted every week or so and you’d loved my stories of faraway places you’d never dreamed of going to, of outback farms of unfathomable size and sandy islands that reminded me of Omey. England was more familiar to you, having spent 12 years there yourself. We compared notes; England in the 70s was a different place to my England.
You loved hearing about the work I was doing and the patients I met. The conversations were always the same on your part, a comprehensive weather report from the west of Ireland, yarns about work, the cattle, who you’d met that had been asking after me, and often a commentary on whatever wildlife programme that was on when I’d happened to ring.
I remember the last time I saw you. Knock airport. I’d had an extra three days at home courtesy of the volcanic ash cloud. We were typically early for the flight and had eaten our sandwiches and drank the flask of tea in the car park. We hugged awkwardly in the departure hall and I had an overwhelming urge to tell you I loved you. But I didn’t. We didn’t do that.
I went through security and became very emotional among the souvenirs, berating myself for having come through early when I could have spent another half an hour in the car with you. I was a bit weepy during the flight and on the train back to the town where I was studying, which was unusual. I think some part of me knew.
In less than three weeks I got the phone call telling me to “come home quickly, Dad’s had a stroke”. Every emigrant’s nightmare. Though you never woke up from your coma I know you heard me when I told you every day that I loved you, how special you were to me, my hero.
I miss you every day. Not just Father’s Day and Christmas and birthdays. I can still see you in the viewing area of Knock airport, waving at me as I disembark the plane and hurry along the tarmac. I miss you every time I come home on holidays and walk in our front door. I miss you every time I drive across the strand to Omey. I miss you whenever I get on a plane back to England.
But you’ll be happy this Father’s Day Dad, because I’m coming home. After seven years in the UK, studying, working, exploring, meeting new people, losing myself in grief, and finding myself in love. I’m ready, I’m coming home.
Read more tributes written by emigrants to their fathers: Dear Dad: Thanks for everything from afar