Dear Dad... Four celebs write the letters they would love their dads to read

Ahead of Father’s Day this Sunday, Ruth O’Connor asks an eclectic mix of Irish celebs to pen personal, heartfelt letters they would love their dads to read.

COMEDIAN KARL SPAIN

Dear Dad,

Despite having me as a son, two other sons and two daughters, I don’t think you ever showed favouritism.

We all think you chose well in marrying my mother; everyone said she was a very attractive lady and that I look very much like you.

Mum was a Housewife of the Year finalist. You were a sales rep for most of your career and, as I now go around the country, I’ll meet someone who’ll tell me a story of you getting them tickets to a match or going out of your way to drop home a hitchhiker.

When we were kids you’d sometimes come home and take us to the cinema. We’d often only know you were home when you’d call us to say ‘I’m not here’ just in case someone from work called to check your whereabouts.

Bernard and Geraldine Spain — parents of comedian Karl Spain (right) — on a night out in the early 1960s.

One of the cinema trips was to see Jaws when the eldest of us was about 10. You took us to the cinema alright; I’m not saying you let us pick the film.

You were always the parent who would collect us and the other kids and drop everybody home. I always thought it was generous of you to drop everyone home but it should be annoying, as I knew I’d be the last to get dropped home, even though we’d pass our own house.

You never drank or smoked — a pattern I’ve followed. You were a soccer referee and would be recognised a lot particularly as you were involved with the Limerick soccer team throughout the years.

You take great joy in me being recognised. Even if it’s someone who knows me from something other than comedy. It’s not a sign of how famous I am if I’m spotted by someone I went to school with.

Every mention of me in the paper gets cut out and put in a scrapbook: Memories of gigs and travels from around the world.

The one time I remember you so proudly pulling out the scrapbook was when Rachel, my girlfriend, visited the house for the first time. The very first cutting you showed her was me in the paper with a different girl I’d dated.

I genuinely think you don’t have a favourite amongst the five of us which makes no sense; I’m a comedian therefore I should be the favourite. The others just have normal jobs. No wonder I spend my nights seeking the approval of strangers.

Love,

Karl

ARTIST DOMINO WHISKER

Dear Dad,

You won’t remember the times that you dropped me to school on your Moto Guzzi. Insisting that my too-big-for-me helmet would fit into my too-small-for-it locker, I would carry it around school with me, all day hanging off my skinny nine-year-old arm, like a charm on a charm bracelet.

Too proud of you to let go of it, I would sit on the sidelines watching the cool girls play dodgeball with the cool boys. I didn’t need to play, I felt cool enough already, thanks to you. Later you would pick me up; your skater shoes steadying the bike as I scrambled up behind you screaming with excitement in my giant helmet as we took off, my school friends watching in disbelief.

Artist Domino Whisker receieved her sense of adventure from her father, artist Charlie Whisker.

I dreaded the never-ending walks you took me and my sister on. In the blistering heat, off the beaten track, over the gates that read: ‘DO NOT ENTER’. Through the tall grass to places most people had never ventured. Up big hills with grubby hands and scratched knees.

That sense of adventure, love for the unknown, thirst for danger that burned inside you now burns inside me. How the tables have turned. I steal you from the security of your nursing home to give you a taste of the life you once lived. I drag you up hills through trees and I tell you about our past, about the love of the wild that you have instilled in me and you remember. You remember the beauty of nature and you teach me about it still.

Sorting through your belongings before you moved to your new ‘home’, I tearfully decided which treasures would go with you and which would stay behind. Among your vast collection of books, poetry, art, literature and blues from the Deep South, I discovered your record collection.

Other than Billie Holiday, I didn’t know you were such a jazz enthusiast. Here before me lay the proof — dusty old beautiful jazz LPs. Oh Yeah looked the most friendly to me.

I place the needle onto the grooves of the wax, the record spins, Mingus explodes, as does my heart. I wonder where you might have been when you first heard it? I picture you smoking a cigarette, relaxing back as you look to the heavens, taking it all in. I try to listen to each note as you would have done, but it is beyond me. The complexity of jazz is almost as intricate and as brilliant as you are and the joy of deciphering its spontaneity, and your attraction to it, is another gift you have left me with.

I think of all the life lessons you had saved for my later years. The ones stored in the deepest caverns of your mind. Lessons you might have passed on to my imaginary children, perhaps even to my imaginary children’s children and I am broken-hearted that Alzheimer’s has robbed them from all of us.

I will treasure each precious artifact you have ever collected, that cluttered every house we ever lived in and now clutters every corner of mine. These memories are but a few in a whole galaxy of shining moments with you, some of them yet to come.

I am here for you, by your side forever, as you will be with me.

Love,

Domzer

DON O’NEILL, FASHION DESIGNER

Dear Dad,

Where would I be without the man upon whose shoulders I and my family have been carried since you were a very young man?

Losing your own father at the age of 14, you stepped into his shoes and had to grow up overnight. You learned quickly to be a provider — using your wits, common sense, and faith as your guiding compass.

Designer Don O’Neill with his father Donal O’Neill at Shannon Airport.

Love was an emotion that was expressed in a very different way as you were growing up, it was shown in abundance by providing and caring for your family and you became a wonderful provider. Fate had stifled your education. An innate mathematician, you could easily have gone on to be a brilliant engineer or architect. Life has dealt you some pretty hard knocks, but you are a survivor, and, as obstacles occurred in your life, you dealt with them head-on, working your way steadily through each one.

You lay awake at night figuring out every possible scenario in your head, until you arrived at the perfect solution, the one that made the most common sense. You found opportunity around you, and taught yourself to be a successful car mechanic, becoming the owner of your own garage at 18 years old. Your debonair, chiseled good looks, the coolest car in town, and being an amazing dancer won you the heart of the beautiful Mim Godley, whom you married on August 25, 1965. I promptly arrived a little over 10 months later, in June 1966.

You helped build the roof that went over our heads, the cliff-top home overlooking the beach and Ballyheigue Bay and soon we were three kids running around the house. Mom was the love of your life and you poured out your love upon her and in turn on us — providing a wonderful, secure, and safe home.

My earliest memories of you are on top of a ladder putting slate on the our newly built house, when I was, at most, two years old. From there a jumbled haze of warm memories: Warm summers with Texaco beach balls and exotic picnics with us all piled into the car that always seemed to involve a ride on the ferry from Tarbert to Kilimer.

Don O’Neill as a baby with his father Donal O’Neill.

Your faith in God was all-important and passed on to us with the family rosary prayed every night — a family of five, a decade each, mine being the third.

You are the man who held me afloat with your giant hands under my tummy as you taught me to swim on hot summer days — in whom I had complete trust as I knew you wouldn’t let me go until I could swim on my own.

You were a natural-born entrepreneur fuelled by the desire to provide and care for your family. With your businesses adjacent to our home, you were always present in our lives.

The prime position of our home was perfect for a bed & breakfast, which you helped Mom run, turning our home in to what seemed to me to be the fascinating centre of the universe. You soon opened a dry cleaners and laundrette to service the village and surrounding communities, and were a talented pioneer of wedding videography in the early-’80s taking me along as your assistant to shine the spotlight on the wedding gowns so that they would sparkle.

You supported each of my many career decisions — to be an Air Force cadet, an artist, a chef, a fashion designer; to travel to London, Paris, and New York — never questioning, always supporting, emotionally and financially.

When I struggled on my sexual journey and finally confided in you that I was gay, you embraced me and told me that you loved me no matter what.

Love had transcended providing and became the spoken word — now used often and freely. You embraced Pascal, the love of my life, welcoming him into our family, so much so that Pascal calls you ‘Dad’.

As my career took me across the world on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, you continued to support and advise, as well as reassure me, that our all-important home in Ballyheigue, our haven, will always be our home, as you continue to pour out your love and daily prayers to ensure a good life in this world and, more importantly, the next.

Dad, you are an extraordinary man and I love you with all my heart.

Happy Father’s Day.

Love always,

Don.

BROADCASTER AND AUTHOR TEENA GATES

Dear Dad,

Getting into my car after a night in the newsroom warning people about Hurricane Ophelia, my mind strays to my own garden and I realise I’ll have to get busy when I get home.

I’ve just finished voicing a National Weather Alert telling people to tie down anything that might blow around in the storm, and I cringe as I prepare to brave the dark and rain to secure my own belongings.

Teena Gates with her Dad Terence at his 90th birthday party at Luttrellstown Castle in Dublin three years ago.

You meet me at the door as I arrive home, and excitedly tell me that you ‘heard my warning on the radio’ and you’ve ‘done’ the garden. If that greeting wasn’t surreal enough, I step outside, bemused to see that you have single-handedly dragged my heavy iron patio set into a pile, with the rubbish bins and a kayak, and roped the whole lot down. How on earth did you manage that with arthritis and almost 93 years on the clock?

That’s you Dad. You’re solid, you’re a worker, you’re not given to flights of fancy — but occasionally out of the silence, those blue eyes will twinkle and you’ll surprise me with a sudden insight, a snippet of history from the family’s republican past.

Or I’ll suddenly realise you’re quite intentionally winding me up and teasing me. That doesn’t happen frequently, but often enough to send me into surprised giggles or an occasional growl before I spot the joke.

Growing up, I called you ‘The Quiet Man’. You were a traditional Irish dad of your time, not given to hugs or displays of emotion; apart from the time I left for London in my teens and you gave me a fiver as I boarded the bus.

In March 2010 Mum died just as I was heading off to trek to Everest Base Camp having lost 10 stone in weight. There was a degree of danger involved and I asked you if it was selfish of me to go at such a bad time.

After a short pause, you remarked that you’d ‘rather that I died living, than live dying’. I’ll never forget the words, and they’ve become a mantra for living. I never thought of you, the Quiet Man, as eloquent — until then.

I’m truly grateful that having you with me in your silver years has allowed me to learn so much more about you; and me. If I’d kept going when I left home at 17 there’s a chance I would never have come to know you.

You were a fast sprinter at school, you were hit by your teacher at school, you were reprimanded by your father for being hit by your teacher at school, you had a perfect attendance record at school, and you have stories about why my Grandad earned his 1916 War of Independence Medal (and many more you’ve still refused to tell).

Teena’s father Terence teaching her to swim on their first family trip to the sea at Tramore, Co Waterford.

You were the first among your friends to drive a ‘big’ Ford Consul car, you had blonde curls, blue eyes, were regarded as very pretty by the girls, and wore your hair slightly too long for the era. Mum threw out your wedding suit by mistake the week after your wedding.

Despite all I now know about you, sometimes I ‘lose’ you these days, as your blue eyes grow confused and your world slows then jolts and reboots. But the essence of you is so much stronger now than it was when I was a kid and so much more precious.

I always loved you and was proud of you. But these days, your blue eyes frequently twinkle with kindness and humour as you tell me that you love me and that you’re proud of me too.

Love,

Teena


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