Suzanne Harrington: My dad just died. He taught me about unconditional love, kindness, and acceptance

A staunch pro-lifer, my dad and I were diametrically opposed on so many things but the love never wavered 
Suzanne Harrington: My dad just died. He taught me about unconditional love, kindness, and acceptance

Pic: Denis Scannell

My dad just died. He was never one for making a fuss — he was from that generation, the ones who would rather chew their own arm off than draw attention to themselves. Self-effacing, unable to comprehend the digital narcissism of contemporary life; put it this way — he was not on Instagram. A few years back, when I vaguely mentioned his 80th on this page, resulting in a few old friends phoning him to wish him a happy birthday, he was morto.

But as it’s unlikely there are newspapers in the afterlife — not even digital versions — I doubt he’ll be reading this. In terms of an actual afterlife, well, my fingers are crossed for him because — unlike me — he genuinely believed in its existence. I hope, as we speak, he is settling in.

My dad and I were diametrically opposed on loads of things. He had an I Vote Pro-Life sticker in his car window the size of a pizza — not those little discreet ones you might mistake for a tax disc, but a full-sized unambiguous declaration. The kind that would make you slide onto the car floor if you were driving through a built-up area with him, for fear of being spotted with the kind of message you’d rather not be spotted with.

Suzanne Harrington and her father, Michael, who died this month.
Suzanne Harrington and her father, Michael, who died this month.

Despite regarding camping as an activity for the deranged, he once did car-camping; in 1979 he drove to Limerick — with me, aged 12 — to see the Pope. We slept in the car, which was like sleeping standing up, only less comfortable. Years later I bought him a t-shirt which said Jesus Loves You But I’m His Favourite; he wore it to the pub under his shirt — he felt it a bit much to wear it on the outside. As though Jesus might have popped in for a swift wine, and taken offence.

He thought that ladies shouldn’t drink pints, which he would say every time he bought me one — we drank 40 million pints together in 20 million bars, leading to lively discussions on the world around us and the meaning of life until I ruined it all by getting sober. He was the greatest drinking buddy, terrific company in any bar with any group, as long as you didn’t mention abortion, feminism, atheism, socialism, or trade unions. Or swear. Once, when he came close to losing a finger under a lawnmower, and there was more blood than a Tarantino outtake, all he shouted was "Fiddlesticks!"

What my dad taught me was that you could fundamentally disagree with someone on really core issues — loads of them, tons of them, almost all of them — and still love the person unconditionally. The saving grace was humour — there was always a funny side and he’d always see it, so long as no-one got him started on the reproductive rights of women, a topic we all avoided like it was triply infected with monkeypox. But underneath the differences was a humanity, a kindness, that was universal, and that shone through everything. That was my dad.

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