Good morning, gorgeous. You’re now one year old. And what a year it’s been. Easily one of the happiest of my life and, judging from your near-permanent smile, a pretty good one for you too. If this granddad has anything to do with things that situation will be a constant.
I want to share a couple of things with you. A bit of background, if you like. Some context into which you can place yourself, on this, the glorious anniversary of your birth (church bells peeled and trumpets just sounded as I wrote that, by the way).
You’ll hear things about me, as you grow older. You’ll hear about how grumpy, how hard-line and angry your granddad used to be. And while you’ll struggle to reconcile that with the soft-as-grease bag of doting blubbering goo you know, it is true.
You see, being a parent, as distinct from a grandparent, is one of the toughest jobs anyone can ever do. When your auld man was born your G-maw and I didn’t have a pot to piss in nor a window from which to throw it. The first four years of his life unfolded against a backdrop of grinding poverty. While we always shielded him from the material effects of that deprivation – he always had nice clothes, a full belly and a warm bed, not to mention lots of toys and books – we couldn’t do much about the less tangible effects.
We lived on a run-down estate with some great neighbours, many of them also young parents struggling to make ends meet and give their children a good life. Sadly, it was our bad luck to live opposite a drug dealer and the used syringes outside the front door were the least of our worries. There was the constant noise and slamming door as his customers and – we’ll call them – business associates came and went. Your dad was cooped up in the flat until one of us could go outside and watch him like a hawk. No private garden in that residential paradise, you see.
I worked for a local newspaper, at the time, and the pay was barely subsistence-level scratchings. I’d eat once every twenty-four hours so we could save the good food for your dad. I’d get up every morning and load up the deep fat fryer with processed junk from Farm Foods and that’d be it until 6.30am the next day. When I got paid each month G-maw would pay the bills and then we’d scrape by on a tenner a week family allowance until the next pay-day.
Of course things improved, over the years, but often it felt like exchanging one kind of jail for another. When your uncle James was born, for example – by which time Auntie Lorna had also arrived – I was working twelve-hour shifts, six days a week in a textile factory. On the seventh day, I’d do two eight-hour shifts so I could manage the transition from backshift to dayshift.
G-maw brought our three kids up virtually single-handed, as well as squeezing in cleaning and nursing gigs when she could get them. Whenever I was around, your auld man experienced a stressed and angry father; more concerned with discipline and right and wrong than allowing himself to reveal the love he had for his children.
For all that, he and I are great pals and always have been. Despite a laid-back attitude that renders him almost horizontal, on occasions, and a sense of humour and level of maturity more commonly found on an episode of Bo Selecta, he’s a great son and a father who is avoiding the mistakes I made.
Aye, your poor auld dad got the rough end of the stick. Our first child and all the stress, worry and insecurity that inexperienced parents go through, was his lot in life. A long time ago now, of course, and these days we’ve got the extra quid or two, nearly twenty-five years of hard-learned lessons and the relaxed and confident demeanour of Vietnam veterans. North Vietnamese veterans, of course.
Which brings us to you. A year ago today, when your dad handed you to me and I first laid eyes upon you, it felt like a damn had burst. Tears poured from my eyes and I knew, right then and there, that something had changed inside me forever. I could actually feel the anger and frustration of all those hard years washing away.
You’ve changed me for the better, kid, and I love you with all my heart and soul. I don’t have the worry that your mum and dad do. I’ve done my hard-time at the parental coalface and now I can just indulge myself, and you, and enjoy every second we spend together. And, oh boy, I do.
They say one of the best things about being a grandparent is that you can give the kids back to the parents when you’ve had enough. Well, that’s a feeling we’ve yet to experience; we never want to give you back. In fact, I thought we ought to give you your own front door key but G-maw pointed out that you can’t actually reach the lock yet. Maybe next year then.
Have a brilliant birthday, Fae. But more importantly have a brilliant life and never forget; G-maw and I are always in your corner, right or wrong. While ever I have breath in my body I am there for you. No matter where you might find yourself, no matter what troubles you face, you are never alone. Hugs, advice, love, time, grub, a few quid when you need it and dragons slaying. That’s a granddad’s job. And I love my job 😉
Happy birthday, sweetheart xxx