`I grew up without a dad. So will my sons'

Father's Day is, for many, a time to bond. For PETER THOMPSON it opens wounds he has spent years trying to heal

I miss my dad. He died a couple of years ago but that wasn't the worst thing about it. Well, I suppose it was the worst thing for him but for me it was that I had barely seen him since I was eight. Just once when I was 18. He died when I was 38. There was a time when I used to think it didn't affect me, that not having had him around was just one of those things. I suppose I had to believe that; otherwise I would get into some sort of Moral Majority backlash against liberal divorce laws.

But when it came to leaving my wife I hesitated for a long time because of my two boys. I still did it, though. I suppose I have come to the conclusion that children need fathers but families don't. Or maybe even that boys need fathers, but then that's just my own perspective, being both a father and an ex-son, both dumper and dumped.

Every time I watch those family reunion shows on daytime TV it strikes me how much people need some security of identity, how much they miss people they've never even met. I don't like the idea of biological need because it undermines other things I want to believe in - the ability of individuals to shape their own destiny in a wider social context. But not liking an idea doesn't mean there's nothing in it.

It wasn't until I went to see my father 10 years after my parents split up that I realised we'd left him rather than vice versa. I had always been told, or maybe I just assumed, that he'd left us. Regardless, for all those years I'd felt as though I had been left. Still do, I suppose.

It was the first time I'd seen him in 10 years. He'd gone to live in Sweden, had a new family and, as is the way apparently with some Scandinavian Lutheran Protestants, the new grandparents of this new family had to be kept in the dark about his former life. I don't even think they were told he'd been married before but they certainly didn't know I existed. And there I was on the doorstep. Christmas 1978. My first leave from the Army since being posted to Germany. I was 18. He knew I was coming and I remember hitching into the town and deciding to walk to where he lived. It was nerves, I suppose. I mean, what do you say to your dad after 10 years in which the only communication you've had is a Swedish pen-knife he sent for my 13th birthday, with no letter or note, and which I lost the next day on a fishing trip?

I walked along Swedish streets in the dead of night and remembered what I could of him. There wasn't much. Farnborough Airshow where I sat on his shoulders and watched the planes roaring over and ate cold frankfurters from a tin and dripped the brine on his balding head. Running alongside him in the park one day and hearing loose change jangling in his pocket as he ran. I've always had coins in my pocket since then. I even get change from notes when I don't need it in case I run out. I remembered that he used to make sculptures for a hobby, heads of people kept under plastic sheets. We weren't allowed to touch but he would show us them sometimes. Brown clay laid on in little flakes and bumps. Sometimes the wire frame still showing.

The weird thing was finding so many familiar things in that strange house in that strange country. Not just him, of course, but the pictures, the books, the records, the white hi-fi - all the things they must have sat down and divided up along with us. He was still doing those clay sculptures and there were several under polythene in the room in which I slept. This time I lifted the plastic to get a look at the heads.

We tried to talk about things and in the background was the music I had forgotten and yet still knew. Vaughan Williams' London Symphony and the Beatles. ("The Long And Winding Road" was his favourite song and I have only just realised the "leads me to your door" significance while writing this.) We couldn't talk, of course. I was 18 and crap and he was the father of an 18-year-old and therefore even crapper. But he did put me up in his study and he did leave the drawer with the divorce papers open and I did read them and I got a better picture about it all. But it still didn't really make sense. Why did it matter who had slept with whom and all that stuff? All I remembered were those years when I wished he would come in his Superdad outfit and rescue me - from my mum's deadbeat boyfriends, the rubbish schools, the bullying.

But what really changed everything is what happened when the grandparents turned up on Christmas Day. We were standing at the door and they were coming up the path. Dad must have been terrified because just as they were there by the doormat he leant close to my ear and said, "You wouldn't mind pretending to be my second cousin for the duration, would you old man?" in that wizard-prangy Goons voice I remembered from before.

He had left it until the last second and when you think what he must have had to go through to say that, that's when I regret that it was really the only sentence that passed his lips in 30 years that was anything to do with him and me. Still, at least he did better than I did because the only response I could manage was "fine". Lads, eh?

So that's why I miss my dad. Because we got only as far as being second cousins. I went over last summer and saw where he was buried and felt nothing very much. I wasn't angry about it as such - that was what he had to do to get what he wanted. I have done the same, I suppose. I was prepared to tell my kids that they weren't enough to keep me any more, that I had found someone more important, ie me. I have learnt from my past. I see my boys two or three times a week at least. I would never leave our town while they're still there. We have got past the second cousin stage. But, then again, who knows what they will be writing about me in 30 years' time.

I try to talk to them about what has happened and try to reassure them all the time, but they don't seem to want to go into it in any detail. Perhaps the reason I feel such a need to go over and over it with them is that I never had the chance to with my father, and maybe the boys don't want to because they don't need to. I don't know. And to be honest, it is a relief that I can't get a word out of them about it. I understand Dad better now.

The second cousin thing has never left me - it has made me what I am. I suppose it is a straightforward case. Lie down on the couch please: rejection at ages eight and 18 leads to fear of rejection which in turn leads to desire to be loved and accepted by everybody which leads to emotional masochism tinged, at moments of extreme confusion and pressure, with self- destructive and uncharacteristic behaviour. That'll be pounds 250 please.

Fragile on the outside, squidgy in the middle. Sometimes, when I am being most like a puppy craving attention, when I hear my accent changing to fit in, I can still hear my dad whispering that request in my ear and I want to hold him hard and say "No, Dad, I'd rather not".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform