After the invitation to the civil ceremony arrived the conflict really came to the fore. And although I have lived for six decades I must acknowledge that I was as ever 'slower than wet dynamite' to catch on, as my wife for nearly four out of the six so eloquently phrased it!
Plus too a case of matre pulchra filia pulchrior into the bargain I fear.
The birth of our daughter Paula twenty-two years ago became a cause of untold joy. I don't mind admitting that, whatever the outmoded rules about men not revealing emotions have to say. After the miscarriages and then the still birth Paula became the chief reason for living. A purpose, a legacy if you like, to pass on to the world. As her parents Helen and I were united in that view I believe.
Balance; that is what parenting is about. You are entrusted with this tiny, precious, infinitely vulnerable thing, and for a time you become its custodian. To nurture, guard and protect, yet also to allow it to grow and bloom as it should. Then the day arrives, and sooner than you were expecting, when this long legged, confident young lady leaves home for a university many hundreds of miles away. Yet you readily adjust, for so you must. We visited the Hall of Residence a couple of times during Paula's first two years, Helen and I, not as often as we would have preferred but you have to respect your adult child's wish for perceived independence. Even when you do find yourself counting off the days until each end of term. Then, at the start of her final year, Paula was obliged to move out of Hall as seniors are required to, and find her own lodgings.
It was a ramshackle old terraced house on four floors owned by an aged Pole whom the student tenants all referred to as Boris. Paula had informed us that her particular group, four girls and three lads, had taken over the top floor. The shared kitchen and bathroom were apparently both located in the basement! Conveniently however, it was situated within a few minutes drive of the Headingley cricket ground, and so under the pretext of an end of season friendly between Yorkshire and Sussex Helen and I wheedled an 'inspection' visit the first weekend of term. After an early start and a bit of searching we arrived mid morning.
“Yo! Hello!” Such was the greeting of the shirtless young man who answered our knock. But we were expected apparently, and directed up two shabby staircases to a bare wood floored landing. Helen however, with a mother's concerns about such things, instead took herself off in the downward direction to where the subterranean kitchen supposedly lay. Up top a couple of those little candle things, tea lights I think they are called, stood outside a door marked: 'PRIVATE !!!' A long haired lad stepped out of one of the other bedrooms, flashed me a toothy grin, then rapped on the 'private' door before hollering: “Hey, Paula! Looks like your visitors have arrived!”
A moment later the tea lights were kicked aside as the cream painted door swung back and Paula emerged looking flustered and wearing only her Japanese dressing gown. She's a big girl is Paula, five-eleven and plays women's rugby. Her maternal granddad was a formidable scrum half. Since her fourteenth birthday she has worn her hair collar length. “It's a style she's comfortable with,” her mother said at the time. “Leave her be ...”
“Dad! God, I hadn't realised the time! We'd booked the Private Room ...”
And of course I immediately put two and two together and came up with three! Well, we had always realised it would happen sooner rather than later to a girl possessing Paula's looks, and as her loving father I had long since prepared myself for the moment. So I'm sure I must have smiled.
Paula quickly pulled the door to again behind her. The two little diamond ear studs we had given her for her twenty-first briefly caught the light.
“Well, it's nothing to be embarrassed about! You might find the concept next to impossible to imagine, but even your dad was young once, you know!”
“It's not what you think.”
Paula gets her athlete's legs from her mother, only more so. Her eyes however, always undecided between green and blue, are her grandmother's, my late mother's. Now they fixed onto my own. So I sought to bring her understandable discomfort to the swiftest conclusion.
“Well, whatever you've been getting up to it's a perfectly natural and normal part of life.”
My daughter's gaze never wavered. “I've been nailing Sam. All night and then some.”
I confess, I was just a little disconcerted by such filial frankness. “Sam?”
She nodded warily. Heavy beat music drifted up from below.
Well, the circle of life and all that! Grandchildren. A little sooner than we might have expected maybe, but no matter that. And a lucky fella, this Sam! Although the allusion to joinery would not perhaps be the ideal choice when explaining to her mother.
I vaguely recalled a number of passing mentions about a Sam and the student's union bar during the summer vacation recently finished. Did I smile tactfully? I truly can't remember. “Well, Mum's downstairs somewhere. Get dressed then perhaps we can meet ...”
“No! It's still ... early days yet. Please don't say anything, Dad. Not until after you get home. Promise me you won't!”
And after Sam? Where do I begin? Following our visit, and to our greatest delight, a never before requested term time trip home was arranged for the following month. Paula wanted us to meet Sam. We were advised that Sam was vegetarian, so Helen busied herself with recipe books and conducted several culinary experiments. She was in agreement with me that it was better by far that we should properly meet Sam for the first time at the family home, rather than in the all ways around awkward circumstances (as I described them to her) which had so nearly come about up in Headingley. Well, that's what we thought.
Helen was out walking our neighbour's Scots terrier Rory when a white saloon car - Sam's - drew up in front of the house. All too easy to blame that damned dog or his hospitalised mistress, but as Paula explained to me a good while later, Sam had been incredibly nervous and she had wanted only to reassure her. Which was precisely when Helen walked in the driveway. I mean, I remember all those years ago Helen favouring me with an encouraging kiss or two at the end of her road the night I was to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Same difference, surely?
Sadly Helen didn't think so. The visit was over before it had even begun. “My daughter is dead to me!” That was Helen's verdict and there was to be no appealing it. “You must have realised, you must have!” Not to mention wet dynamite.
But I truly had not.
In May the invitation for the civil ceremony arrived. Luckily I opened the post that day. In the evening I called Paula from Rory's mistress' house. I tried once again as Paula had asked, but Helen responded with threats of divorce. “If you support this ... sham ... then you and I are finished! Why can't you be a proper father?”
I bought a new suit from Burton's, and travelled down to Dorset by public transport. In the end Helen and I agreed we would no longer talk about it. A uneasy truce called! Sam's extended family were wonderful, her parents' hospitality boundless. And when I finally came to meet Sam herself, a smiley little blonde slip of a thing with sparklingly blue eyes behind designer specs and an engaging shyness rare indeed in a young person of today, I understood at once how Paula had fallen head over heels in love.
At the ceremony which was held in a hotel function room, I got to give my daughter away. Not in the circumstances nor surroundings I might have expected maybe - and wishing for all the world that Helen could be present to share the moment - but when I caught the look on Paula's face as she turned to face her newly avowed partner I knew then that my judgment had been sound all along.
Now I have to work some more on Helen. We have been together for forty years after all. Life is too valuable to waste on prejudices, however entrenched they may be. I just need to be the one to do the convincing on that point. As for Paula and Sam, if I have anything to do with it theirs will be the perfect ending - Happy Ever After!
Published on writebuzz®:
> Stories & Scripts