Friday, June 19, 2009

The Father

In honor of Father's Day - a tribute to a remarkable and much loved man.


1910 the year,
the second eldest in a family of nine,
a quick, sharp brain
fascinated by all things mechanical,
math and science a breeze,
English and history, too,
a military career for him, of course,
following the tradition of years.
An officer he becomes,
listening to long tales of hunting
and shooting in the mess,
but these things do nothing
but bore him completely to death.
Eager to share his mechanical passion
the words pour forth in youthful naivety
about Aston Martins, Rovers,
engines, pistons,
motor bike racing, the lot...
But “Don’t you know, my dear chap,
that’s just not the done thing, what?”

A square peg in a round hole,
a nonconformist
rubbing superiors up the wrong way,
an army career dissolving,
a first marriage ending,
but then war — a reprieve,
distinguished service,
mentioned in dispatches,
family honor retrieved.
Part of the British occupation
on the shattered German soil,
encounter with a native woman
who’s fled her homeland in the East,
fifteen years the difference,
yet what of that?
Elegance and intelligence intriguing,
to joyful marriage vows finally leading...

A few months later a soldier no more,
a career in technical writing beckoning,
but money is tight
and work has to be found
be it north, south, east or west,
so lonely weeks spent away
from family and home
are the price he has to pay.
Yet delight he finds
with two daughters,
helping with homework,
encouraging, comforting,
supporting, teaching,
answers never failing
to satisfy the countless questions,
revealing nothing of financial worries
robbing his nights of sleep.

Insatiable curiosity driving him
to devour books galore
on history and science,
philosophy and war,
to ask all he encounters,
whether workmen in the road
or politicians in the street,
about their work and trade
and the knowledge he gains
is oh, so precious and so sweet!
Up with the lark is his habit,
preparing breakfast before the household stirs,
enjoying the early morning quietness
and the richness of coffee freshly ground,
turning the pages of the ever-present book
or allowing the beautiful notes
of arias and symphonies divine
to transport his soul
to the realm of the spiritual.
A daughter enters
and in companionable silence,
minds perfectly attuned,
a breakfast is shared.

Can’t be found?
In the study perhaps,
planning family holidays
with military precision,
or maybe the garage,
clamped under engine
hands black with oil and grime,
or glued to the workbench
cutting, shaving,
repairing, mending,
gifted fingers
weaving skillful patterns
with tools for this
and tools for that.
A call comes,
a friend in need
of his technical expertise,
or a daughter’s plea,
“Can you take me into town, please?”
No problem!
Requests fulfilled
with grace and speed,
a heart full of kindness
willingly performing
deed after deed.
In the kitchen, too,
a whiz of a chef,
roasting and stewing with admirable flair
and conjuring up delicious puddings
from ingredients plain, simple and bare.
What to do for relaxation and rest?
A book, of course,
(science fiction a favorite)
or a trip to the pub,
to converse with friends
and partake of a pint or two of best.

Yet the money worries of earlier years
have taken their toll
and blocked arteries around the heart
darken tomorrow’s goals.
An operation he wants,
not a body rattling with pills,
but the doctors aren’t sure;
he’s too old, they say, for an operation,
it’s too risky, they say, at seventy-three.
But he persists,
a second opinion he wants
and at last he finds a doctor to agree.
He waits for a hospital bed,
the call arrives,
the bags are packed,
and off he goes,
this man who thinks
his life doesn’t amount to much,
always dreaming of ideas
to make that fabulous fortune,
though it eludes him at every turn,
yet surely it must be there, it must —
if not now, then soon, very soon!
But look at the daughters he’s brought up,
teaching them right from wrong,
never failing or deserting them,
filling their memories
with endless happy hours
of warmth and affection.
Look at their pleasure,
their laughing, smiling faces
when he is near,
look how they listen
with eyes so eager and keen
to the words that fall from the mobile lips —
that’s a wonder to be seen!
How well he’s taught and loved them!
Isn’t that an accomplishment
more valuable than all the prizes
the world of men offers
and more precious than all
the gold and jewels we hide
in strongholds and coffers?

The surgeons await
and wield their instruments
with skill and care.
The operation’s a success,
but the body’s too weak
and the torrent of drugs is too forceful and strong,
the heart fails,
a minor collapse,
hours later a massive one...
The race begins to open the chest,
massage the heart,
it beats,
but too many minutes have passed,
imprisoning the brain in a vacuum too long.
The body seeks refuge in coma;
organs fail as the days tick by
and hands switch off machines —
a flick here, a click there,
that’s all it takes,
not much,
to enable the soul to pass
to its existence beyond,
accompanied by the love
and gratitude of hearts
enriched by its touch.

Copyright © 2008 Helena Harper

(Excerpt from my book Family and More - Enemies or Friends? )


  1. An outstanding poem which was very enjoyable to read.


  2. Thank you, Yvonne, for stopping by and for the compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.

    All the best