A Tribute to a Fine Father

Jun 20, 2022

While the historical and religious origins of this important day are somewhat murky, the widely accepted meaning of Father’s Day is that it is a celebration of the men who have embraced the essential role of fatherhood.

On this day, we also thank fathers and father figures (uncles, grandfathers, fathers-in-law, stepdads and the like) for the sacrifices they make, for embracing the responsibility of nurturing and raising children, and for devotion to their family.

Typically celebrated annually on the third Sunday in June, Father’s Day means different things to different people, in large part based on an individual’s personal experience.

My dad (sadly, long since dead) was an exceptional human being, whose sensitivity, personal generosity and indefatigable work ethic set an exemplary standard for all who knew him. It is my memories of him that this blog is written to celebrate.

“It doesn’t matter who my father was,” the confessional American poet Anne Sexton once wrote, “it matters who I remember he was.” It is from Ms. Sexton that I prefer to take my inspiration.

So, Who Exactly Was John Bailey?

My dad was a hard-working stage carpenter for most of his life, building and maintaining sets for the musical theatre both before and immediately after World War II in London, UK. The shows he worked on included productions like Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady and West Side Story, which were performed in big-budget Broadway or West End theatres in New York or London.

Such productions and the theatres that housed them supported massive sets, with revolving turntables and hydraulically elevated stages, large singing and dancing casts and elaborate orchestration. The complexity of these productions – both technical and human – gave rise to huge and hilarious technical screw-ups that my dad took great pleasure in relating to my mum and me on Sundays when he didn’t have to work.

Adding to the fun was the fact that his two brothers were similarly occupied in the theatre business – sometimes in the same production – and when Johnny (my dad), Eddie and Georgie Bailey got together over many drinks at our house to relate stories of indiscreet chorus girls, randy principal dancers and insatiable leading men, conversational sparks flew, and riotous laughter bounced off the walls of our living room.

I was, in truth, far too young to hear this kind of stuff but both my mum and dad were wonderfully broad-minded and I have never forgotten the liberating effect it had on me.

My dad was also a passionate gardener, gifted water colour artist and massively prejudiced and outspoken connoisseur of football (soccer to you) with an unshakeable faith in the manifest destiny of Chelsea Football Club. In those days, before becoming the London glamour team it is today, Chelsea occupied the lower reaches of the First Division (now the Premier League) and it was my fate to accompany my dad to home games and watch them always lose – an experience I now regard, affectionately of course, as a form of child abuse.

It’s My Memories that Matter

When I look back on these and other aspects of life growing up with my dear old dad – which I try to do every Father’s Day as a sign of respect and love for the man – I’m still haunted by my memories of his final couple of years when old age and dementia caught him in their infernal grip and slowly destroyed him.

His humour was gone, the sparkle in his eyes eliminated and his love of ribald conversation with friends over a gin and tonic a thing of the past. To make matters worse, our physical relationship (he was an inveterate hugger) turned cold and distant – on his part at least. In his last months he would not let me touch him, nor did he recognize me.

And so, inevitably, my Father’s Day recollections of my wonderful, glorious old man are forever compromised by memories that are deeply saddening and (though I try) impossible to erase. To make matters worse, he pre-deceased my mother by only 48 hours – I don’t think she could bear to be without him – so I have that to contend with as well.

Still, I remain upbeat. The Johnny Baileys of this world don’t come around that often and I wouldn’t have my Father’s Day recollections of him – good, sad and poignant – any other way. I feel certain he’s looking down on me (mum, too) with a drink in his hand and an impish smile on his face while wishing me well. Here’s to you, Johnny!



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