Family, Family Matters, Love

Dear Dad

Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters, there is something which there are no words to express.

So said Joseph Addison, seventeenth-century essayist, playwright, and politician who, alongside his friend Richard Steele, founded the first Spectator magazine in 1711.  Pretty smart for such an old-timer.  Although I don’t believe he had any daughters of his own, he was a keen observer of others, and as with many of his time, there’s wisdom in much of what he wrote.

Happy Father’s Day to Dads here and everywhere.  Treasure each other, hug each other, love each other.

If you’ve mucked things up, and if one or the other or both of you are in a bad place, find a way through, and fix it, toot sweet.  Life is short and unpredictable.  Regret is forever.  Don’t be that guy.  Or that gal. (This goes for any and all relationships with those you care for or about.)

When I’m at my best, I’m my father’s daughter–Anonymous

I wrote the following “letter” to Dad as a Ricochet post on September 30, 2017, the tenth anniversary of his death:

Dear Dad,

Ten years ago today I got the phone call that I’d been expecting for several months, but kept on hoping would never come. My sister told me that you were gone. I don’t think I’ve ever completely recovered. Oh, I’ve moved on and come to terms with it. But hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of you, and what you meant, and still mean, to me.

I’m lucky, I guess, because I spent a good bit of time with you the last year of your life. And, for the rest of my own, I’ll be grateful that Mr. Right spent six weeks with you in the Spring of 2007, helping with your recovery from a broken hip. After twenty years of radio silence (thanks, Mum), that was a blessing and a gift.

But I had my own chances, in May and July of 2007, to tell you, over and over, how much I loved you. So, no regrets there.

However, all these years on, as folks will, I’ve found a new reason to feel sorry for myself. Because I don’t think I ever told you, in all that time, what an unutterable joy, and blast, it was to have you for a father. That, when the “Dads” were handed out on September 20, 1954, I think I won the jackpot. The greatest prize. The most eccentric, bombastic, self-confident, loudest, kindest, and loyal, Dad that there could ever be. The Dad who never felt sorry for himself. Whose face was blown apart during the War, and repaired with large skin grafts from his bottom, causing him to say, “Well, when people tell me I’m talking out of my arse, they’re not wrong!” The Dad who knew the words to more rude songs than anyone I’ve ever known, except, possibly, my mother. The kite-making and kite-flying Dad. The fishing Dad. The fun-loving Dad. The home improvement Dad. The Bible-quoting Dad. The ham-curing, sausage making, and Christmas pudding boiling, Dad. The story-telling Dad. The Kipling-loving Dad. The scholarly Dad. The cheater-at-crossword-puzzles Dad. The Shakespeare-quoting Dad. The history-loving Dad. And, the Dad who, no matter how dire family circumstances were never said anything but “Oh, just gettin’ older” when his oldest child asked how he was doing. The Dad who lived his regimental motto, “Loyauté M’Oblige,” (My Loyalty Binds Me) all his life. The Dad who never failed. No. Matter. What.

As is happening more often as I get older, when I get maudlin, this got me looking back at life, and at some signature photos that I love. Today, I thought I’d share them with some dear friends. So, off we go.

*First off, that photo above. I call it “My Dad, the Conservative Party candidate.” It was taken outside a pub in your electoral district during your long, post-retirement career as a Worcestershire County Councillor, much beloved of your constituents, and elected with thumping great majorities that only increased after you renounced your Conservative Party membership and started running as an Independent. Now, for some more:

Here you are, on a childhood holiday in Pwllheli, Wales. The back of the photo reads “David’s First Catch!” You must have been about eight. Auntie Pat is in the background. She’s 94 now, may she live forever. Many years later, you resumed your love of trout fishing, in PEI, and then, after you retired to the UK, you took it up again, in between and during your political gigs. I’m so glad you had the chance to get back to doing something you loved so much.

Look at you in 1931! You were about eleven, and already the star of the show with your arm stretched out on the windshield, taking charge. You were probably already telling the photographer how to do his job, too.

My favorite photo of you, from the War. So young. So hopeful. Off to Anzio. North Africa. Monte Cassino. Rome. You never talked about the rough parts of it, until a few months before you died.

My favorite photo of you, from the War (oh, wait . . . ). I call this one, “My Dad, the Movie Star.” Thanks for doing everything you could to save the world. More than once.

And, here you are with Mum, on the boat to Nigeria. Not long after you got married, I should think. One of my favorite photos of the two of you, at what was probably the happiest time of your life. This must have been the very early 1950’s–so long ago I wasn’t even born yet.

The young Assistant District Officer. (Truth be told, I always felt rather sorry for the horse, but I think it’s your good pal Argosy. Hope you and he have run into each other again, somewhere. Yes, I know that’s very unorthodox of me, but I do believe that’s possible.) You’re mentioned several times in Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith’s excellent memoir, But Always as Friends: Northern Nigeria and the Cameroons 1921-1957, and never more truthfully than when he says about you, “Watching them from a point of vantage there towered the gigantic figure of David Muffett, an awe-inspiring sight on a horse at any time.”

And there you are, sticking out like a sore thumb, but, I suspect happier and more at home than you were at any other time in your life.

Oh, so proud to be a Daughter of the Raj. (Or whatever the West African equivalent is.) The chappie on the right with the feathers (at one point, you had a hat like that. Sadly, I don’t know what happened to it) is Sir Percy Wyn Harris, the bloke who found Malory’s (or perhaps Irvine’s) ice axe on Mount Everest in 1929. When this photo was taken, he was Senior Administrator in the British Cameroons. You didn’t think much of him, I do remember that. I think the chappie on the left is Derek Mountain. Don’t quote me, though. I would not be surprised if this photo was taken on June 1, 1961, the date that the Northern Cameroons became a part of Nigeria.

You and your older daughter, setting off for commencement in June of 1976. You’d translated your colonial administrative expertise into a fellowship at Harvard, written a book, become an instructor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and (because, while doing all this, you had no “formal” education beyond high school) acquired an MA and a PhD by going to the University of Pittsburgh in the evenings. Thanks for teaching me the value of stick-to-it-iveness and that almost nothing is impossible if you’re willing to work at it.

Those summers in PEI that I mentioned? You enjoyed those, too. Thanks for giving your kids the gift of those wonderful memories. I’ll never forget the 4AM jaunts to pull the lobster traps and cod lines. And thanks for teaching me that there’s no disgrace (and often some redemption to be found) in manual labor and that paper degrees and the circumstances of one’s birth are, essentially, meaningless when it comes to what’s important in life.

You, Auntie Pat, and Uncle Arthur, late 1990’s. This was taken not long after the three of you spent a very enjoyable year scouring the Shires for details on the family history (I have no doubt that numerous local functionaries and parish vicars are still reeling from the encounter), and you compiled the results of your labors into a 100-page book. Thanks for the stories about Aunty Issy having her tonsils removed on the kitchen table; Great Grandpa Reuben loaning Joe Lucas (The Prince of Darkness) fifty gold sovereigns to start his business; Grandma Wells, the hatmaker to “ladies of quality;” and so many more. I’ve already passed along quite a few of them to the next generation.

And here you are at Uncle Arthur’s 100th birthday party, in July 2007, only two months before you died. With almost your whole “sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” Never giving up. Never giving in. Never sitting it out. Never taking a knee. And, best of all, still a twinkle in your eye. And a glass in your hand. Cheers!

Thanks for being my Daddy. I’ll never stop missing you.

Much love, always

Your Girl

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