My dad trained for the priesthood; at 18, he dispatched himself from Blackrock College to Trinidad where he was a seminarian for three years with the Holy Ghost fathers.
Then he left the island for London, taking with him a love of god — and steel drums — or steel-pans as they’re called in Trinidad. He was weak for god and steel drum bands all his life.
In London, he shook off his single life and married my mum, but never shook off his faith. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Never wanted to. I’ve never known a faith like it.
And I’ve certainly never had it. It was a bone in his body. Mum used to wonder about this bone. How he had it. How it was so organic — as much a part of him as his heartbeat. I think she wondered, from time to time, whether, if she looked for it, she might suddenly find this religious bone in her body.
I think we, his six kids, all wondered too — and we looked for this bone in our bodies from time to time, though not with any sense of commitment at all. We gave up our search quickly, with no compunction, because that bone simply wasn’t there.
The thing about his faith, it strikes me now, is that you could always, throughout his life, have called it by another name. Because of what it felt like to be on the receiving end of it, you could have called it “love”. In fact, you know what, I might as well. It’s easier to call it that. More apt.
So, as I was saying, Dad never shook off his love. However much his six warring heathens tested it. Whatever we did, this love was constant. And elastic. It could stretch and wrap itself around all sorts of stuff without snapping.
Which was surprising because even though his heart was soft as butter, his will was strong as iron. And as for traditional family values — well — he was all for those. He was mad for those. Marriage meant husband, wife, children.
Marriage meant what he had. Because it was what he knew and it worked. He never said as much because the subject never really came up, but it’s what he thought, and that was that.
Then I only went and got myself knocked up by a boy I hardly knew. And Dad had to think about traditional family values for a bit. He sent me a card the day after my Mum told him. It had that Corinthians’ quote on the front: “Faith, hope, love,” and inside, he’d written, “and the greatest of these is love. I love you, Dad. xxx”.
I married the boy I hardly knew when I knew him better. And had the baby. But that’s beside the point; Dad had sent the card not knowing what would happen.
Then my sister only went and got herself a girlfriend.
“I don’t like boys, dad,” she said.
“Does this mean you’re a lesbian, love?” he said.
“Can you explain to me what a lesbian is?”
My sister explained.
“So this means you’re sexually attracted to women and you want to engage in a sexual relationships with women, not men?”
Then he told my sister that he loved her.
And that was that.
For all I know, he might have taken himself off to Quarr Abbey, a monastery on the Isle of Wight, where he went every year for a week’s silent retreat, to think about “being queer” perhaps, in greater depth, and square it off with God. I can’t remember. Mum would know. It wouldn’t surprise me. He thought a lot, did Dad. A lot, lot.
If my sister was to marry in June, and Dad was alive and Ireland had voted “yes” in the referendum he’d be able to witness his daughter’s civil marriage. And oh my God he’d love that.
I like to think of that; of him still being alive, not dead. And wearing a suit — he was always so dapper- and posing for wedding photos with his stiff, watch-the-birdie smile.
That won’t happen, though, because Dad can’t not be dead. But Ireland can vote yes. And if Ireland voted “yes” it would mean to me that this country is full of people like Dad; not exactly like him — not weak for God and steel drums and oxtail soup — but full of people who couldn’t shake off love even if they were to spent their whole lives trying.
People who can stretch their love around all sorts of stuff without it snapping. And for me, that’s a happy thought. It really, really is.
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