I don’t feel any different about my late dad on Father’s Day than I do on any other day. I miss him, I wish he was still around and I wish, more than anything else, that I’d had a dad who was around whilst I was growing up. As it was, I didn’t, and my upbringing was fashioned by a stranger in a strange land, my Dutch mother who came to England in the 1950s, not knowing a single soul other than my dad, the great Anthony Johansen. There are grounds to suspect that my life might have turned out very different with the presence of a father figure.
But I have never had the presence of a father figure in my life and as a child I never once thought anything of it. All my friends had mums and dads in their lives on a daily basis but I just had a mum. That I never felt different to anyone else was testament to the love provided by my mum, but having said that I know that I did miss out on a lot of things and, I strongly believe, I never reached anywhere near my full potential. I have never understood where that potential might be but I have spent a directionless, rudderless life, dodging the metaphorical bullets and sometimes busking my way through.
None of this should be interpreted as my wallowing in a pool of self-pity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst I regret what I perceive to me my professional and personal failings in life, I know that so far life has not dealt me a particularly bad hand.
There is no template for being a father and it really is a case of making things up as you go along, something I think aptly describes my short time on this earth. I envy those with drive and vision and admire those whose ability and hard work brings them material rewards, as well as pride and satisfaction. Not all of them came from standard, stable backgrounds and some came from lives more chaotic and troubled than mine.
I attach no blame to my father for leaving my mother when I was too young to know. I will never know the reasons, although I can probably guess. My mother, to her eternal credit, never spoke of him with any bitterness, nor in a derogatory way. This proved crucial in his latter years when I finally got closer to him. He had finally met the true love of his life, the wonderful Joy Phillips-Johansen, and he was finally content and as at peace as he would ever be. He never really mellowed, retaining his stubborn, determined but totally honest streak right to the end. He never suffered fools gladly, either, and that is a trait I have inherited, with knobs on. I could have learned so much from this incredible man, born of lowly working class parents, one a Scandinavian immigrant who came to England with nothing, who worked his way from a Merchant Navy career that saw him, as a 15 year old boy, sailing the Atlantic in World War 2, dodging the U Boats, bringing supplies to hungry Britons to working in the office of the Prime Minister of Canada. Beat that! I could not be less like him in most ways, in terms of drive, energy, vision and raw intelligence. But what I miss most about him are his stories. His stories were the stuff of legend. My beloved brothers Noel and Vaughan, I am certain, will miss the stories as much as I do, if not even more so.
Whether I have done a good job as a father will be judged not by me, but by how they turn out. I have learned a few things along the way but the main one is that I want passionately my sons to do better in life than I did. I want them to enjoy the opportunities denied to me by the way my life panned out and that will be the measure of how I have succeeded. As a father, I want nothing from them except that they enjoy their lives and be the best people they can be. If they succeed in both things, I will go to my grave, hopefully not yet, a happy man.
Children grow up so quickly and life passes by so quickly that time becomes even more precious. I remember when summers seemed to go on forever but now they seem to pass in little more than a heartbeat.
I am sure that many of my inner demons, the big black dog that constantly leaves a shadow over my life, are rooted in my aimless formative years, never really to leave. There is no blame attached to anyone because there is no definitive book on how to be a dad and my choices and decisions as a dad myself required major tweaking by my partner Cath, who not only shapes the lives of our children, she keeps me on the straight and narrow as well.
Raise a glass to your dad today, living or dead. Joni Mitchell great line from Big Yellow Taxi, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” can apply to dads too.
I am not sentimental or mawkish about my parents’ passing. I wish they were both still here, if they were still in good health, because I had so much more to learn. I do not expect to see them again by surviving my own death and enjoying eternal life. I am here by the accident of my birth, I have been very lucky to have made it this far, I am lucky to have made it at all.