My Father, the Hero

It’s Father’s Day. As is traditional, I have bought my dad a bottle of Molton Brown shower gel.

It occurs to me as I wrap it up, that I have never, in the forty-lots years I’ve been his daughter, known him take a bath.

This is not to say he is a man who needs a good tubbing, as my mother would put it.

No, far from it.

My father is a man who showers.  He is obsessed with cleanliness and hygiene.

If he were to wear holsters, he’d be loaded with concealed-carry bleach bottles, ready to kill 99% of bacteria, dead.

I’ve never asked him what he has against taking baths, but I suspect he’d tell me that it’s far healthier to shower than to sit in your own diluted sweat and aqueous rectal bacteria.

I think he’d probably consider the time spent in a bath a waste, an unnecessary indulgence.

And lying down, you’re vulnerable. In a shower, he is standing up and could spring into action at any moment.

And there have been many such moments.

I have summoned my father from the shower countless times.

When I was little it would be to arbitrate a dispute with my brother; like the time he hit me in the eye with a box of Grape Nuts.

Or it would be to collect me at short notice when I’d missed the train or got on the wrong train and ended up at Liverpool Street. Again.

As I got older, he’d leap from the shower and drive to wherever it was my car had ground to a halt, jump leads and oily rag in hand.

When my heart was broken in 1989, he got out of the shower to tell me that, like all other parts of the human body, the heart would repair itself.

“It’s like when you break your arm,” he said, “it grows back stronger and you never break it in the same place twice.”

There’s probably more helpful advice, but I never forgot those lines.

My dad was my real life Action Man.

Alongside his day job, he ran a spit and sawdust gym at a YMCA where he coached weight training.

I grew up around it, breathing in the pungent scent of male pheromones as gigantic men worked out under his supervision.

This was the 1970s. There was no Lycra, no music. Just the sound of bar bells dropping, men grunting and swearing, poaching lightly in their own sweat.

Some of the men were disabled;  my dad introduced a programme of weightlifting for the disabled because ‘everyone can do something’.

The gym was a great equaliser.

I watched wheelchair athletes from an early age; it didn’t occur to me that their sporting endeavours were any different from any others. They seemed to sweat and swear every bit as much as the able bodied. Disability was a normal part of my landscape.

People arrived in the gym from all sorts of backgrounds. The Romford Y, situated where the East End of London merges with Essex, opened its doors to all ethnicities, all classes, the disadvantaged and the privileged alike. 

Working class biceps and middle class biceps, white biceps and black biceps all feel the same when you squeeze them.

It was a place of acceptance, tolerance and shared endeavour.

As I look back it was the ideal foundation for the construction of my world view.

At school, my dad was much bigger than the other dads. Not in height (at his tallest he was 5’9) but he was huge and solid.

He could bench press four hundred pounds.

Imagine being my boyfriend. The pressure!

He looked like he could knock you into next Thursday but he was more likely to engage you in a conversation about jazz (he’s an aficionado), French literature or the Times cryptic crossword.

He’s always been an unusual mix of Alpha masculinity and Radio 3. It’s good not to be quite what people expect.

My dad still works out three times a week in the gym. He is a much smaller version of the 16 stone muscle-bound colossus of my childhood but he is still a giant.

Happy Father’s Day!

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