My father – Colin Rieley
Today is a day that means different things to different people. For some it’s the Feast of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, or Little Christmas or Nollaig na mBan. For me it’s the end of the holidays, the day to pack away the Christmas decorations for another year and knuckle back into the new year’s work full of good intentions.
But January 6th has always held another meaning for me. It was my father’s birthday. When I was a kid it always used to snow on January 6th and I used to think it was because my dad wanted me to celebrate his birthday. Because you see my dad wasn’t around. He died when I was still a baby, too young to remember him.
But every year it snowed. And every year I remembered my dad. I knew he had been a teacher, a writer and an actor at various points in his life. I knew I wanted to grow into a daughter he would be proud of.
Around this time last year I heard from two of my dad’s former pupils. Suddenly I heard stories of how he was outside the confines of our family. How he was the kind of teacher who had encouraged and inspired his class, who had refused to cane them according to the school’s rules and who those he had taught had never forgotten.
I know he had started to write a book but had never finished it. That story was the first lesson I ever had about deadlines. I know he was born in India and didn’t see snow until he was on a visit to England when he was six. He wanted to know why there was sugar falling out of the sky. I know he had a good sense of humour and told a good story. But he will always be a patchwork of fragments from a dozen different sources. I will never know him myself.
During the summer break this year I started to trace his family tree. I started with a bare twig and ended up with a small bush. I found characters, rogues and pillars of the community but my father remained elusive. I found him on a ship to South Africa, or getting married to my mum. I found the record of my birth and the record of his death. But once again it was only fragments.
So today, even though it isn’t snowing, I’m thinking of my dad. I’ve learnt a lot about him this past year and I’m proud to be the daughter of the man I know he was, even if I will never have all the details. I think he would have been proud of me too. He would have approved of the job anyway.