Father’s Day

Digging

By Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day on this ridiculously cold March day I thought I’d share one of my favourite poems; it reminded me of the distance I felt from my family when I went away to study in Lancaster. Also in celebration of my Great Grandfather an Irish man living in Jamaica.

My father was a builder, they called him Stonewall Jackson because he could work incredibly long hours without taking breaks. He would work outside building loft conversions across Bradford. In the evenings he would ask me or my sister to write out his estimates and invoices – it took hours to decipher his terrible handwriting and spelling.

When it came to working on his own house there was no meticulous planning. One day he decided he wanted to make two rooms into one; no dust cloths; no removal of electrical goods, no clearing away of young children. One minute we were watching television the next minute thud, thud, thud there was a hole in the wall. On the other side of the wall was my dad with a sledge hammer. I don’t know if it was pressure from my mum, or just life in general but within two days we had a beautiful living room.

When it came to his garden he could make anything grow, in spring we’d plant the potatoes, onions and garlic, a little later we’d plant the radishes, tomatoes and lettuce. We all had our own area in the garden and when the Harvest came we’d love eating the food we’d grown ourselves. His recent illness has cut him off from his planting and sowing.

All these childhood experiences have been extremely influential in my life when things go wrong in my own house I have a range of skills he taught me such as how to unblock the toilet; putting up shelves or even changing a fuse. When I’m trying to grow something in my garden I seek his advice.

My dad’s brothers and sisters are great storytellers, the punchline never made any sense to me but the drama and the entertainment in telling the story was enough. Both my mum and dad taught me how it’s possible to make something out of nothing. When they were young they didn’t have the same opportunities to explore their creativity, their life in England was back-breaking hard work followed by extreme exhaustion.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

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