Memories of my dad are a sharp reminder of the need to cherish the relationships I have with my kids - Euan McColm
“Look,” says the girl, handing me her phone, “I made a video.”
She’s been on a day trip with the school so I watch a blurry little film showing dozens of shrieking teenagers boinging around a trampoline park.
“That looks amazing fun,” I tell her.
“Listen,” she says. “Can’t you hear it?”
I press play and the film starts again. I hold the phone to my ear and I can just make it out.
“I thought you’d like that,” she tells me.
And she’s right. The sight of all those shiny young people going crazy while Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill plays in the background fills my heart with joy.
In common with kids around the world, the girl and her wee brother have discovered the 37-year-old song through its use in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, and in common with parents around the world, I’ve earned some vanishingly rare cool points by having the record on the shelves in the front room.
My two are at the stage - aged 14 and 12 - where pretty much everything I say or do is, at best, cringeworthy so when they came over a few weeks ago having heard and loved the song, I’m able to talk for minutes without a single eye being rolled. Imagine.
I tell them about seeing Bush perform on the opening night of her Before The Dawn shows in 2014 and about how I’d fallen in love with her music after their late grandmother taped her first single Wuthering Heights off the radio and then played it over and over.
I blow it, of course, by going too far. No, they don’t care that, three years before the release of the album The Hounds of Love from which Running Up That Hill comes, Bush released a record called The Dreaming that “people were a bit funny about at first but now they’re like, this is a classic”.
I stop banging on. I stop draining the pleasure from the whole thing. They disappear to their bedrooms.
When the kids were born, my greatest fear was that something terrible might happen to them. This anxiety has never gone away. Sometimes it thunders away at the front of my mind, sometimes it quietens to a low fizz of white noise in the background.
As they’ve grown older, that fear has acquired a henchman who menaces me with the prospect that our relationships might break down, that they might ever turn away from me and so little moments such as sharing the love of a Kate Bush song take on a meaning to me to which the kids are oblivious.
I know - and so will many of you - how fragile the parent-child relationship can become.
As Father’s Day approaches each year, I find myself thinking more about my own dad.
I remember him at parties when I was a teenager. He was a naturally funny man, with a great sense of the absurd and he’d stand by the fireplace in the living room, a ginger beer and lime in one hand, spinning tall tales and cracking jokes. I’d watch my parents’ friends doubled up with laugher as - poker-faced - Dad insisted this or that farcical situation was absolutely true. Crucially, he was always the butt of his own jokes. He was, at his best, a kind man.
If I have any ability as a story-teller, I’m sure I get it from him.
But he gave me another inheritance, too, which is why it’s 21-years since I’ve had a drink.
It’s 20 years since Dad died but closer to 30 since I saw him last. After a while, the emotional cost of maintaining a relationship with him became overwhelming. Too often, I’d call for a chat and hear that slur in his voice and be instantly transported back to my teens when periods of sobriety would be punctuated by prolonged binges, sometimes with devastating consequences. The arrival of police officers on a Friday afternoon, just as I was getting home from school, to tell us that he’d been arrested after crashing his car onto a railway line lives vividly in the memory.
I regret the fact I felt the need, eventually, to cut him out of my life but, if I could turn back the clock, I’m not sure I would do anything differently. There were no good options. It was either struggle on with the stress of dealing with him or break his heart and I chose the latter.
Each memory of my father comes as a sharp reminder of the need to protect and cherish the relationships I have with my own kids. I know mistakes I make now could come with a heavy price further along the road.
So far, so good. I am informed that this Father’s Day, breakfast will be prepared while I languish abed and that I may choose the film we watch while slumped on the sofa in the evening. Little things, I know, but incalculably precious.
In between, there will be the music of Kate Bush, now, pleasingly, number one in the charts (or “top of the hit parade” as I tell the kids just so I can watch them shake their heads). The girl has been teaching herself Running Up That Hill on her keyboard and I will demand repeated performances.
I fully intend to enjoy every second of this Father’s Day and, if you’re lucky enough to be or to have a dad, I hope you do, too.
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