Sometimes fathers can get pushed a little into the background. In families where the children are grown up and long gone, often they are not on the telephone front line, or adept at the small talk necessary to oil a mostly telephone-based relationship. Sometimes fathers need an extra bit of attention, just for themselves.
This is why I instigated an annual outing to the Chelsea Flower Show with my father, some years ago now, when I bought him a year's membership to the Royal Horticultural Society for his birthday so he was able to access advance tickets for members' days. I think it was for his 60th birthday. He kept up the membership and we have been going ever since. He's 75 now. So that's a lot of Chelsea Flower Shows.
One year - it must have been 13 years ago because it was just after Youngest was born - we went to the Hampton Court Flower show instead, because we were able to take the baby. You can't take babies to Chelsea. HCFS was okay, but we never went back. Too far away, and not rock and roll enough for us.
I'm not all that fussed about going to Chelsea anymore. I reckon if you've seen fourteen Chelsea Flower Shows you've probably seen them all, and if there was ever a world shortage of salvias, or alliums, the whole thing would have to shut down. But I do still cherish that one day out a year with my wonderful father all to myself. It's very special. More special than I can put into words.
We now have a routine. We go in the evening, grab a couple of Pimms, sit by the bandstand and listen the band. For the last few years it's been The Hound Dogs and they're really good, Middle One in particular would love them. Then we take a look at the show gardens, paying special attention to the little artisan ones in the lane round the back of the bandstand, where our favourites are usually the Japanese garden, always with all that extraordinary round moss, and the one from Yorkshire (land of my birth). Then we grab some tea and cake and chat, usually about writing - what he is writing, what I am writing - before tackling the Grand Marquee to look at the stands.
My favourites are foxgloves and all things cottage garden. My father favours ferns and hostas and vegetables. Like his father before him he's a keen and knowledgable gardener. He now runs a community orchard in his spare time, when he's not writing and teaching still (he's professor of sociology). I've learnt all I know about plants and gardening from either my father, or my grandfather before him.
I still associate the earthy warm smell of tomatoes with my paternal grandfather. I used trail around after him in his garden as a child. He would name all the plants, and the tour would always finish in the greenhouse, where red-green tomatoes and tall green beans grew in pots in regimented rows. Hence my memory of that closed-in, glass-warmed, smell.
I adored my grandfather, and he knew it, because a couple of years before he died I wrote him a detailed letter telling him so. Apparently he stormed up the road to my parents' house (my grandparents moved to Yorkshire to be near us in retirement), bursting in through the front door with the crumpled letter still clutched in his hand. "This is what makes life worth living!" he said.
For my father and me, gardening and gardens have continued to provide a similar meeting ground. I'm always happy pottering about with him as he cuts and prunes and weeds and I tidy up after. And so it has evolved in my own family that I am the garden person. I plan, I plant, I tend to it all, and I mow the lawn most weekends too, something traditionally regarded as a 'dad's job'. While Husband, the best father you could imagine to our three sons, who would walk on broken glass for those boys if it was asked of him, tends to do a lot of baking. Go figure.
My little bit of cottage garden in south London.
Last weekend, when it was Eldest's birthday and Husband was busy making a lavish chocolate cake for him as I was out in the garden cutting the grass, I stopped for a moment, resting my arms on the handle of the push mower, looking back toward the kitchen, and thought: this is an interesting reversal of roles.
One thing is certain, whether rustling up a chocolate cake for his eldest son, or taking his only daughter out for the evening to the Chelsea Flower Show, fathers everywhere are amazing, and they are to be valued and loved and admired.
So - Happy Father's Day to my father, to my Husband on behalf of his boys and, if it's allowed, to my grandfather's memory too. Here's a picture of him below.
Love E x
My grandparents, with my little brother and me, in the garden of their house in the Malvern hills.
P.S. My daddy really is cool.