Tuesday 22 January 2019

Melanie Morris: While every girl might say they have the perfect dad, I know that I actually do

I can't look at Senator Fergal Quinn without thinking of my father. The same sparkling, smiling eyes, the same nut-brown face, the same impressive shock of white hair. Po (pronounced 'Paw', we've always called him that, never dad or anything else) was nicknamed 'The Silver Fox' when he was a barrister, and later a judge in The Four Courts and I see why.

He still looks like Cary Grant. Or Blake Carrington as someone once pointed out, just as my mother looks like Krystle.


If I were to describe my upbringing in brief, it would be 'privileged and unconventionally conventional'. I'm the second daughter to a professional dad and a stay-at-home mother and was always surrounded by love.

I was educated in a convent before going to UCD. I spent my summers mucking around on boats in Dun Laoghaire and enjoyed huge family Christmases where we'd have a massive turkey lunch with my father's family, before finding room to do the same again at dinner time with my mother's folks. It was all very Maeve Binchy.

What makes it even nicer though, is that for their conservative upbringing and traditions, my parents are pretty liberal. Firstly, they called their daughters Melissa and Melanie in the 1950s and 1960s when most baby girls were being named after Irish saints.

They took us out of school to go on great holidays (but don't tell anyone) and they were lenient about things like studying, lie-ins and spending hours on the family phone, as long as you didn't push your luck.

They instilled a sense of responsibility in us from an early age, and let us make mistakes through life. I'm sure my father was itching to put me right on many occasions, but he steered silently, from the wings, and was always there to pick up the pieces when things went pear-shaped.

While every girl might say they have the perfect dad, I know that I actually do. He has always been encouraging of everything I've done, even the things he disagreed with.

When I bought my home -- a modern, glass box of a mews by Herbert Park -- he was kind enough to help me out with the deposit, and the endless trips to the bank, even though he thought I'd be better with a "two-up, two-down in Ranelagh, where you could rent the basement to a couple of nurses".

He always put himself in my shoes; sometimes quite literally. Back in the 1980s he acted as a model for my mother whenever she was trying to buy me clothes. Those were the days of bright coloured baggy trousers and Spandau Ballet billowing shirts. As my mother is so tiny, and I'm not, she knew my father would be a better size guide.

And so my poor unfortunate dad would head for the changing rooms and suffer the curious looks from female shop assistants. All for me.

He always had the most pragmatic solutions to parenting. I have vivid memories of the time when, aged about 14, my father brought me to Bray amusements. We were both having so much fun on the pinball machines I decided to, stupidly, ignore the call of nature.


When the inevitable 'accident' occurred, something I was really far too old to let happen, my father simply brushed off the incident, removed his sweater and tied it around my waist to hide my stained jeans. Problem solved and we merrily played on.

His kindness and generosity has always been legendary, as I was reminded recently when Trevor told me of his visit to Po to ask for permission to marry me. When I was young, we'd often sit down to dinner, and the doorbell would unexpectedly ring. My dad would go out and disappear for over half an hour, and my mother would put his dinner in the oven.

What I learned much later, was that the visitor would usually be someone in need ... of money, or advice or legal aid. My father would always help. So, when Trevor turned up out of the blue to 'see' Fred, I'm sure the first thought that went through his head was what trouble Trevor might be in, or what it was going to cost.

Instead, it was good news, and Trevor (who'd forgotten my name with his nerves) recalls that the big smile that met his request was worth all the anxiety.

We don't really celebrate Father's Day in the Morris household -- another unconventionality -- but we should. Because really, you can never tell your father, dad, daddy or Po how much we love them. Perhaps this year I'll start a new tradition.

Father's Day is on Sunday

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