Dear Dad: Thanks for everything from afar

Irish abroad share tributes to their dads and describe their long-distance relationships on Father’s Day

Dara Whelan: ‘I bear a close physical resemblance to my father - so much so that I’ve even been mistaken for him from a distance, on the phone, and unfortunately, dancing.’

Dara Whelan: ‘I bear a close physical resemblance to my father - so much so that I’ve even been mistaken for him from a distance, on the phone, and unfortunately, dancing.’


This week, we asked readers abroad to tell us about their long-distance relationships with their dads, in advance of Father’s Day today. Below are a selection of the tributes we received. You can add your own in the comments section below the article.

Suzie Blaney, New York
Having spent seven years in Australia and three in New York, I often lament the distance I have placed between myself and my father Frank. He feels closer now that I’m US-based but it’s hard at times, when you just want Daddy’s arms to envelop you in a warm hug, that you can only recall those feelings from your memory bank.

I speak with him regularly never far from what’s going on with him and make it home a couple of times a year. But I miss him every day, and wish often that I lived close. To know him now that I’m an adult, to enjoy life with him now that he has more time, these are all the things I’ve sacrificed by living away.

Karen Cannon, Tennessee
XMy dad James passed away three months, six days, two hours and 20 minutes ago. The 12th of March 2015 changed my life as I know it. That is the day I lost the most important man in my life.

Ireland never seemed so far away or unreachable until the day my brother Skyped to let me know Dad wouldn’t make it and life support would not be continued. It would be my third trip home in three months. Each time I returned to the States I felt so happy and relieved that he was going to make a full recovery. But that is not how it transpired in the end. My last trip home was the longest and most painful I have ever made.

My dad was the most constant, stable and secure entity in my life. I believed I could do anything, go anywhere, endure all life’s tribulations because he was always there, guiding and advising me all the way. I never really worried about the challenges life threw at me because I knew he worried enough for all of us.

Every Sunday morning, I got my trusty text from him “Ready to Skype?” Every call started with his usual comforting question about how my week had been. How was Caitlin (his beloved granddaughter)? How was work going? Do you need anything? Were you affected by the storm he saw on the news? Is your car running ok? And when he was reassured enough with all my answers he would finally relax and then we’d get down to the joking and funny updates on what was happening at home.

There was no greater time in my year than when Mam and Dad would come to visit every summer for six weeks. He had to arrive when Caitlin was close to her last day of school so we could pick her up. He loved Nashville, and he loved the people. He made so many friends here and there was nothing he loved more than to talk to them about Ireland. He became quite the celebrity among my community for his songs and stories.

He would inspect my apartment and do endless DIY repairs. My car would get the once over and I’ve lost count on how many times I’d come home from work to find a random new item like an iron or vacuum cleaner, or Caitlin in a new outfit. My two cats gained 10lbs during his six week visits from overfeeding. He loved us so much.

How do we recover from this? How do we go through our life without him? Who is going to love us this much again? Who are we going to turn to and look up to now?

Ian Tobin, Canada
X I made the big move to Canada in 2006, and it was my dad, Anthony Tobin, who encouraged me to go for it when I was having doubts. I guess he saw it as a way to live out his own dreams through me, as he was only 19 when he started his family with my mother.

I am still here happily married to a French Canadian girl, living a life that I always dreamed about when I was a kid. I live in the Canadian Rockies, rock climbing in the summer and skiing in the winter, fulfilling my passion for the mountains that was passed on to me by my dad.

I remember being just a small lad on a Sunday morning, all excited , packing the bags with the sandwiches, filling the flask with tea, jumping into the van and heading for the Comeragh Mountains. We would go hail rain or snow, because as my dad would say “we’ll go anyway, you’d never know” as I’d look out the window at the torrential downpour. We spent so many beautiful days up on those hills, appreciating the beauty of a small waterfall in a stream or the way the wind had formed the trees. We were always kindred spirits.

He taught me to see life in a light and fun-filled way, and for that I am grateful. We keep in touch regularly but I hope to make it home more often in the future, as none of us are getting any younger. He is turning 60 this year and I will fly to meet him and my brother in Chamonix, for a ten day tour du Mount Blanc through France, Italy and Switzerland. We will appreciate the mountains together and create new memories.

Yvonne Feehan, Melbourne
Like many Irish men, my dad is not inclined to show his emotions. He is the typical strong and silent type. While Mum sobbed at the airport when I left for Australia just seven weeks ago, reluctant to let go of me, it was a hug and a “Good luck” from Dad.

The time difference, cost of phone calls, and (I have to admit) my own laziness means I haven’t been in touch with home often since I arrived, but it’s something I should work on as I know it means a lot to them both. The occasional Skype conversation is not so much a conversation as my Dad commenting on what he sees: “You’re looking great” or “That’s a nice kitchen you’re in” and telling me important things such as “A letter from the bank came for you last week”, all while holding the iPad on his lap so I feel like I’m speaking to him from a tunnel.

Anne Marie Tarrant, Toronto
I’ve only seen my Dad cry four times, and three were my fault. Once when I went on a J1 to America for the summer, my first big trip; when I left for Canada in April 2014; and four weeks ago when I said goodbye to my parents after their 10-day visit to Toronto.

To an onlooker my father seems quiet and shy, sweet and maybe a little nervous. To me his smart, hilarious, opinionated, wise, and a lover of horseracing, reading and history. I give him an awfully hard time sometimes, challenging him, “Da you’re not listening…” before he repeats exactly what I’ve said, a trick he has perfected over the years.

When I was at home we’d walk together down the road or through the fields and he’d tell me the history of the area, who lived where, who owned what and point at fields with cows grazing where small buildings stood when he was a child. We would have lengthy discussions about school, college, jobs, life, current affairs and travel. Recently when he was here in Canada, we walked together through Chinatown and Kensington Market, and spoke similarly. It was a familiar activity in an unfamiliar place.

I wish I could freeze him and my mother while I’m not at home, just so I know they’re both ok and will be there when I get back. For now, I’ll have to settle for weekly calls while I look forward to next June when we can once again walk and talk together meaningfully, if only for a little while.

Mark O’Reilly, Edmonton, Canada
XMy father passed away after a very brief illness on the 14th of December 2014. I was due to fly home on the 16th, but upon hearing of his worsening condition I brought the flight time forward so I could say my final goodbyes. Arriving in London airport, I got a call from my brother to say he had passed away earlier that morning, while I was flying over the Atlantic.

My father was a very good and kind man, very popular, very chatty, and never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was devoted to his family. He was an avid reader; if his head wasn’t stuck in the daily newspaper it would be stuck in a book, usually a travel book. He must have read hundreds.

Nature was also his passion. Every Sunday as children, we would stick on our welly boots after dinner and wander with him down through the fields across ditches and fences. Before I emigrated to Canada in 2012, my brothers and sister would make our yearly trip to Lough Sheelin with him for a day’s fishing, with lunch and a big chat on one of the tiny islands in the lake.

We kept in regular contact after I left for Canada. Most weekends I would ring home and he was always first to pick up. We would have a quick chat about this and that, especially about the weather. He would wish me well and pass me on to my mum. I miss him answering the phone. The sound of his voice. But with all the sadness comes plenty of comfort. Comfort in the fact we had a great relationship. Comfort in the fact I have many great memories. Comfort in the fact he had a long and happy life. Comfort in the fact he loved us all.

Sandra Keenan, Australia
XAs the youngest of nine I grow up close to my dad. I could do no wrong in his eyes, nor he in mine. I will never forgot the treats he used to give me when my mam said no, or on a Saturday morning when we were out checking his car for oil, hoovering it and going to the car wash. He was my hero. He was a lot stricter than my mam, and we fought a lot in my teenage years, but now I realise I was just being stubborn.

I moved to Australia four years ago. I will never forget telling my dad; he said he wished he had done it when he was young, and to go and enjoy myself as I am only young once (my dad’s favourite saying). So I left my house in Dublin on a Tuesday morning. I had to wake him up to say goodbye. There were no tears or airport drop offs, just a hug, kiss and I love you from him. I was too excited and there were no tears from me either, as out the door I went, not knowing what to expect.

After arriving in Australia, I texted or talked to my mam every other day, but didn’t realise I never talked to my dad until a few months in. He’s an old-fashioned man, who is almost 80 now, and is not good with technology. I do ring him the odd time for a chat but he always says after a few minutes chatting that he has to go because he doesn’t want me wasting my money on him. I used to think he just didn’t miss me, and if it was one my brothers ringing he would answer and chat for ages.

After being away over a year I surprised my family with an unexpected visit home, and the joy on his face when I walked in was so visible. Throughout my holiday he kept saying “If you’re not happy, there is always a bed here for you, this will always be your home”. It’s those words that comfort me and make me realise he does miss me like I miss him.

It scares me when I look at pictures of him and see him ageing. Should I move home before he is too old?

Dara Whelan, Vienna
XI bear a close physical resemblance to my father - so much so that I’ve even been mistaken for him from a distance, on the phone, and unfortunately, dancing. We gradually grew apart throughout my teens and 20s, as I rebelled and spent more time with my friends than my family. But we’ve always bantered, even through the low points of our relationship, and more recently we’ve grown closer. I’ve stepped out of his shadow and become my own man. It’s not a competition. Our relationship is now grounded in mutual respect and admiration.

A healthy tradition of winding each other up to the point of outrageous slander has been passed down on both sides of my family. It’s part of who we are. And if slagging was an Olympic sport I reckon I’d on the top step. I learned from the best.

Dad sometimes texts me from his barstool in his local, where he often stops off on a Friday for a pint before dinner, to tell me he’s thinking of me. My own relationship with alcohol has changed, but I still look forward to the next time we have a pint together.

Thomas Kelly, US
It was Friday the 13th when my parents drove their second of two sons to Shannon airport 1985. It was the saddest goodbye I’ve ever said.

As an immigrant you are always asked where you are from. It defines you, and the place where you grew up, and the influence your parents had on you. You want to show off the love they’ve given you, wherever you have landed. I learned from my father to work hard, keep your nose clean and be proud, to show respect. Thanks, to all Irish dads, for making us who we are.

Sarah Kenny, Amsterdam
Living abroad, you miss the little things from home. I am very lucky to have a dad who keeps me well connected to life in Galway through several weekly emails. I read about who just popped into the shop to say hello, how Mum played last night at bridge, how my nephews and nieces are doing at school this week, what the weather is like in Galway. They are always beautifully written with lots of love and something to make me laugh.

I get regular packages to Amsterdam from him, of new books or an occasional copy of the Galway Advertiser with a letter - something that is very special and rare to receive nowadays and a tradition Dad has maintained with us all when we have been away from home.

Eiléan Hynes, Sydney
XSince my husband and I moved to Sydney eight years ago, my favourite moment of the year is walking through the arrivals hall in Dublin Airport and seeing Dad and knowing the biggest bear hug is in store for me. I love the journey down to Limerick together. Although we’ve been chatting regularly for the past year, we have to retell it all again in person. We always stop off in the Poitin Stil; a pint of Guinness for me, and tea and a toasted sandwich for Dad.

I help Dad around the house when I am home. One year I helped him put up a new shower door in the bathroom. Another year I helped plant some corn and got to taste it the following summer. Last year we built a pizza oven in the garden. The sense of pride when we tasted our first margherita out of it was amazing.

We are in contact almost daily on WhatsApp and talk at least once a week, about everything. Dad loves my stories of my work life in Australia and remarks how similar it is to work life at home. We have the same love of reading and regularly swap our thoughts on a book we’ve just read. Some of my friends have weekly Skype calls with both parents, but I tend to call mine separately for a catch up.

Siobhan Meehan, London
All three Meehan children live overseas. My eldest brother Michael is in Boston with his wife, Padraig lives in Spain, and now I’m in London since last year, after two years in Singapore. Moving away has had a positive impact on my relationship with Dad. The distance has helped me appreciate all the more what my parents did to give us the best opportunities in life.

Dad is more computer savvy than me and has all the latest apps, so he’s just a phonecall/text/Facebook/Snapchat away. I miss him most on my bad days; the days I need advice and a cuddle. I am blessed to have a dad who will make it a priority to answer my calls at any time of the day, especially when I need that advice and someone to listen to me cry irrationally down the phone. He continues to be my guiding light, my confidante and one of the people I aspire to be the most.

Share your own tribute to your father in the comments section below.

Read more: 'Dad, I miss you every time I come home on holidays and walk in our front door'

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