“On our 21st birthday my twin sister organised a party. I had a few drinks with some friends, so I ended up arriving late. The party came to a pause and my father stood up to give a speech. He said, ‘This is my beautiful daughter! I’m so proud of her…’ He then turned and pointed at me, ‘…and believe it or not this is my son.’
“I’d just finished university with a first-class degree. I’d worked hard. I’d done very well, but I wasn’t what he wanted me to be. I was exploring writing and things he didn’t support and that was hard for him to accept,” says Andy, a popular British poet and a Professor at the University of Exeter.
“My dad was a working-class boy with little to no education. He left school at the age of 15. He started digging holes in roads, but he worked his way up through the business and became the managing director. He was always supportive financially, but he was completely dismissive of creativity, music and writing.
“When I was about 14, I got into punk music. I’d sneak out through the window to go to concerts or I’d tell my parents that I was going to things like Scout camp. The punk scene was political and closely connected to animal rights movements—I later became the vegetarian, ecologist that wanted to write poetry,” says Andy in his serene tone.
“When I was a poet semi-professionally and had become the director of one of Arvon’s writing centres— suddenly I seemed to become respectable to my father. I later moved to a position at the University of Exeter and that was the equivalent of getting a stamp of approval.
“My father and I used to go fishing together. We used to also play snooker and make models. He was good fun and attentive. My mother was the academic of the two. She was a teacher and she read books consistently. She adored my father and still talks about him all the time.”
“Once, when I already had children, and the joys of being a grandfather had somewhat smoothed my relationship with my father, my parents stayed with me before going on a trip to Barcelona. I told my father that I had a good guidebook for the city. He took it in his hands, skimmed through it and landed on a section titled, Gay Clubs. He completely lost it. ‘This book is a disgrace. Why did you give it to me?’ He exclaimed.
“His death happened very quickly. He went from being 65 and healthy, to suddenly not being able to move or speak due to motor neuron disease. It was quite shocking.
“To begin with I felt that he was just gone. It took me a few years to feel sad. After about five years I started coming to terms with both his life, and death; and realised I had so much to be grateful for: for the person he was, for how happy he made my mother and for all the things he did for me.
“My father was a very sentimental man. He was very emotional and cried a lot. My mother always says that he was very good with people and a great conversationalist, but unfortunately, I never got to see that side of him.”
“I don’t write a lot of autobiographical poems, but I’ve written a few about him and I think I’ll write a few more. One of my father’s features that I always remember is his eyes. He had smiley blue eyes.”