I did it! I got my MA. More amazingly I passed with Distinction. I was at work when I received the email with my results. I had to print it off and look at the hard copy. Somehow the words on the computer screen didn’t feel real. I went into the Professor’s office clutching the paper.
‘I got my results.’
‘And….’ He swivelled round in his chair.
‘I passed,’ I said, bursting into tears. ‘With Distinction.’
He sat me down, congratulated me, and told me I was in shock. I think he was right – partly. Shock or relief maybe. I finally had the results which I had been so strung out waiting for.
But if I am honest there was a little more to the tears. There is one person above all else I wanted to call with my news, my father or Pops as I called him. But no matter how many times I pick up the phone and dial, he won’t answer.
Growing up my father was a very traditional man, conservative with a small and large ‘c’. I think he was a little bewildered when I came along. Not at first. I was quite a sweet child, all rosy cheeks and blonde curls but as I knocked on the door of my teenage years, a young girl emerged who decided to question life.
My father believed that family was at the heart of society. I remember him as a guest on ‘Question Time’ on the radio, asking the panel was society breaking up because women were going out to work. My jaw dropped and so did that of my friends. I was of an age where I had put the School Chaplain into a head spin when I questioned the role of women in the bible. And marriage – what was that all about? One man walks you up the aisle and hands you over to another man? And now my father was saying on live radio women should stay in the home. After it was broadcast he said he was playing devil’s advocate and encouraging a lively debate. But I know at that stage in his life, a small part of him believed it to be true.
However, as I grew up, he in his own way grew, and although I tested him over the years, he was always the gentleman and always a gentle man.
When I was at University, dressed all in black, smoking Marlborough lights and living off vodka, I never really spoke about my father, especially as at that time he was standing to be the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) for Cheltenham.
I was a leftie lurvie, studying Drama, far too cool, and like Oregon out of ‘Fresh Meat’, the last thing I wanted to admit to was the fact I went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College and my rather comfortable upper middle class background.
But then my father was splashed all over the papers. He had decided to stand down as the PPC. The opposition at the time battling for the post was John Taylor. Like my father, John Taylor was a brilliant and successful lawyer, but unlike my father, he was black. The racial slurs that came out of Gloucestershire at that time were hateful. My father refused to join a fight where people were judged on their appearance and not on their ideals. I had never felt prouder of him. Several years later, he did go on to re-join the election fight to become an MP, but I will never forget that time he was prepared to put his dream on hold for fairness and equality.
Although I was not on paper what my father expected, he did accept me. Every Sunday we all sat down to a roast dinner after which my father, as a thank you to my mother, would briefly dip his hands into domesticity and a pair of marigold gloves. One time as he was washing up and I was on drying up duty, Gloria Gaynor played on the dodgy old cassette player. The song was ‘I am what I am’.
He turned to me and smiled. ‘This is your song.’
I picked up a plate from the draining board. ‘Not that it matters if I was,’ I said, wiping the flower-patterned china, ‘but you do know I am not gay?’
‘Yes, I know,’ he said turning on the tap so hard we both got sprayed with water. ‘But you are living life your way. You are who you are.’
I never set out to break any norms. I just had a lot of questions about it all. I still do. I think he knew then it was unlikely his daughter was going to get married, live in suburbia and be an integral member of the PTA.
I pushed Pops on many occasions. Over the years he was always the man I wanted to call, to share the good news and the bad. Although when I was in my twenties, he took too many late night phone calls from me. It was a strange decade for me, fuelled by a lifestyle of pubs and clubs, my anxieties spiralled. But my father was always there, picking up the phone at 1am, and patiently listening to my ramblings. He never bit back, he never told me to sort myself out. He just listened and told me he loved me. He gave me unconditional love.
And now, again, I want to call him. I want to pick up a phone and dial. I want to tell him something that he could be proud of. I got my M.A. and I have written my first book. But I can’t because in 2005 he died of cancer.
Pops was always a reader but, towards the end of his life, he discovered a renewed interest in books. During his last couple of years, as he was battling the disease, I would come back from London and spend the weekends with him. We would sit together in the conservatory and read, neither of us needing to say too much.
He wasn’t a religious man. When he was discussing his funeral arrangements with my mother she told him she would like to bury his ashes and put down a headstone. She needed somewhere she could go to visit him. Pops agreed but said he couldn’t guarantee he would always be in.
I would like to think he is somewhere close by and in his calm and quiet way he is watching the family he loved so much but had to leave behind.
Pops if you’re listening – yes I did it, I passed my Masters.