Dear Dad, thanks for everything

Sunday is Father’s Day and dads everywhere will be waking up to hastily bought cards and gifts of CDs containing “driving” songs. The lucky ones might even get a new cardi from Markies.

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The young Jimmy, circa 1953

I’ve had no occasion to purchase a card or a gift for my dad in more than a decade. James “Big Jimmy” Traynor died on March 16, 2002. He was 69.

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve mentioned my mother a few times but Dad only featured in this post from March 2012. A friend’s posting on Facebook of her own contribution to The Herald’s feature on fathers prompted me to put that right.

No-one has had a greater influence on me, on my character, on my politics, on my philosophy of life than my dad, although my mum comes very close.

Big Jimmy was larger than life in every way. He had a big voice and a big personality. That helps when you’re running a bar. And his constant wisecracking was a great way to defuse those dodgy situations that arise even in the best-run establishments – and the big fella always ran a tight ship.

His catchphrase of “Boom boom!” at the end of every gag caught on so much that he became Grandpa Boom Boom to his first grandchild, Kate, sadly the only one he ever knew.

But there was a subtlety and a nuance to Dad that was often hidden by his chipper exterior.

He was well read and thoughtful and considered in his opinions on the big issues. He always had a thirst to learn new things, starting an Open University degree when he had to take early retirement through ill-health and joining (and I’m sure invigorating) the Ayrshire Spanish Society, thumbing through my old school pocket Spanish dictionary diligently.

His political views were soft left but he was resolutely practical and pragmatic about politics – if it worked for the majority of people, he’d have no objection to a policy, regardless of the government that introduced it. But he loathed ideology of any hue and blatant unfairness and had no time for posturing politicians. He’d have had a field day with this current lot.

On religion, he became increasingly ambivalent. The child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church sickened him to his soul – Dad was always incredibly sensitive, probably far too sensitive, and stories on TV or in the papers about children being hurt or abused would reduce him to tears.

He picked the bits of the religion he’d been raised in that suited him and ignored the rest. And when the sermons of a new parish priest proved too dry and austere for his tastes, the big man voted with his feet and gave up going to Mass regularly.

Jimmy was a dreamer. He always had grand ambitions for whatever pub he ended up running, thwarted usually by the fact that the brewery would parachute him into some failing enterprise and expect him to turn a loss-making venture around in jig time.

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Jimmy and Frances on their wedding day, June 4, 1960

With Mum by his side – they were a solid partnership both at home and at work – he often succeeded, but the pressure and the long, arduous hours took their toll on his health.

He never did let go of his dreams, even though one of his worst traits was never ever to finish any of the grand projects he started*. It’s my worst trait, too – cheers, Dad!

Dad was kind and generous to a fault. He would go out of his way for people, always delighted to be asked for help and thrilled if that help involved him having to draw up charts or make lists.

He was also quick-tempered, impatient and could act like a big baby if he didn’t get his own way. The youngest of five children by eight years, he had been used to being spoilt by his three big sisters and his mammy, and Mum often behaved as if Dad was child No. 7 in the way she catered to his every whim. In my stroppy teenage years, I would frequently berate Mum for letting the feminist side down by indulging Dad.

She didn’t change and really neither did he, though his love of food led him to become chief cook (but rarely bottle washer) more regularly once he’d retired and Mum continued to work part-time. He was a great cook and an even better eater.

I’ve been told a million times over the years how like my Dad I am. No girl ever really wants to hear that and I certainly didn’t when I was younger. He and I fought like cat and dog even though essentially we shared very similar opinions on a lot of things. I’d nip at him for the most minor infractions and he’d never be able to resist winding me up about football or TV or a favourite hobby horse, the media.

He was the constant butt of jokes from his kids who were – as kids are – utterly merciless.

One memory that still reduces me to tears of laughter happened when I was about eight. Dad was going through a tough time job-wise and was basically willing to do anything that came along. An old neighbour was now making a living selling wigs and arranged for Dad to have a trial with his firm. Part of the gig involved the salesman demonstrating the beauty of the product by wearing one of the wigs.

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His baldy napper was rarely without a natty titfer – but never again a wig

Now Dad had been as bald as a coot for as long as any of us could remember. He took the train home sweating like a pig under this thatch, popping into a local pub for a quick pint. He recognised several folks he knew at the bar but none of them realised it was big Jimmy under this very obvious “syrup”.

When he finally came through the front door, the entire family was in hysterics in seconds at an unrecognisable but very grumpy Dad. Off came the wig to be passed around and worn by the weans for the rest of the night.

Dad never did make it as a seller of wigs, the offending item being returned the following day and the big fella finally finding his way back to the pub trade.

When it came to the big things in life, Dad was an absolute rock for me – and I know for my siblings, too. If I screwed up – that should be, when I screwed up – he’d pull what we used to call “his big face”, give me a short telling off and then start coming up with a solution to the problem. He rarely cast up any past indiscretions, unless for comedic purposes, and always considered life far too short to bear grudges.

The best example he and Mum could have set for all of us was in their relationships with their lifelong friends. Jimmy and Frances, Con and Sophie, Ellen and Vester. Theirs was a friendship for the ages, a rock-solid grouping who saw each other through the toughest of times and still emerged laughing.

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He honestly never took a good picture. Jimmy, right, with his best friends, Con and Vester

Although his health had been increasingly poor, Dad died very suddenly, leaving an enormous hole in all of our lives. Mum never did get used to being without him. I still miss his wit, his sheer exuberance and his sage advice.

I’m sad that he never got to meet Debbie nor to know his other grandchildren – Eva, Alice, Jack and Claudia – nor they the joy of Grandpa Boom Boom.

Son. Brother. Husband. Father. Grandpa.

Happy Father’s Day, big Jimmy – you were the very best dad anyone could have wished for and I’m very glad you were mine.

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*One project Jimmy started and finished was his family tree. He got a bee in his bonnet about getting down on paper all the ins and outs of the Traynor clan going back to the first Irish immigrants some time in the 1870s.

He painstakingly – and at times painfully for some family members – compiled as thorough a picture as he could and then, by hand, wrote out the Traynor family tree.

A trip to the local library later and he had a couple of dozen photocopies that he then diligently mailed to his surviving sister in Australia (RIP Auntie Ellen, who passed away earlier this year) and to his nieces and nephews around the world.

Two days later he was dead.

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