How my Dad guided me...

How my Dad guided me...

As Father's Day gets ever closer (it's on 20 June), we examine the strong relationships three men had with their Dads, discovering how these positive role models helped to shape their lives.


Sorted film reviewer Dave Hopwood reflects on being a father and a son

There is a great moment in the movie Cinderella Man when boxer Jim Braddock tells his son Jay not to steal, while assuring him that he is totally loved by his parents. I really like that scene because it seems to say so much about being a dad, loving your children and guiding them. When I look back on my own dad, I have many great memories of his love and guidance. When I confided in him about having a crafty smoke to calm my nerves before performing in a school play, he came straight back with the advice that it wasn’t a good idea to make it a regular thing. I remember him being moved to tears when he read a letter about folk in another country being so hungry they had to eat rats to survive. And I remember many happy times watching old cowboy movies and war films together. We talked, laughed and bantered about so much over the years, and I hope his faith, gentleness, compassion and sense of justice have leaked into me a little bit.

I now have two gorgeous daughters and am muddling along doing my best to be a good father to them. I became a dad at 39, and then again at 50. There are no rules about timing really, are there? Mind you, bouncing around on a trampoline at my age is no mean feat! When our first child was born, I was so ecstatic, I ran out of the hospital, banged on a stranger’s car window and announced, ‘I’ve just had a daughter!’ I was so overjoyed I didn’t care what people thought of me.

However, you don’t have to go far into dadland to discover its challenges. I’ve found myself stretched and shaped in so many ways. I’ve felt clumsy, proud, amazed, frustrated, lost, found, bewildered and chuffed. Every day’s a learning curve. One of the things I try to stick to is this – when things go wrong and the rhubarb hits the fan again, let’s do our best to sort it out and move on. No moods left bubbling away for extended periods. Our faith in Jesus is vital to us, and we do our best to pass that on to our girls, but we’re realists, and want to earth that faith in the muddling and bumbling of normal life. I love the way that young children have no separation between God and Scooby Doo. We created a poster in lockdown with this title in the middle – God is… It features the phrases …bigger and stronger than anything else…helpful and kind…cake and ice cream…joy not religion…Barbie in the Dreamhouse…a walk on the wild side. That sums us up really. Dadland continues to be a country littered with the mundane, the wondrous, the emotional and the unexpected. And I’d say one of life’s finest things is dancing with your five-year-old daughter to old tunes in the kitchen.


Actor, writer and Artistic Director of Searchlight Theatre Company, David Robinson reflects on his father, Ken

As late spring turns to summer, I can begin to reflect on my Dad’s favourite time of the year. The painful recollections of yet another disappointing season supporting Bolton Wanderers Football Club can be thankfully forgotten again for a few months, and thoughts can turn to a day he always eagerly anticipated, the commencement of the cricket season. As a lad in the suburbs of Manchester he had successful trials for Lancashire County Cricket Club. Alas, back then young hopefuls didn’t get paid in the winter, so he pursued a career with Her Majesty’s Inspector of Taxes instead, and there he remained for over forty years. The bragging rights for me in the playground talking about a county cricket player would have been considerable, a little less so for a renowned tax inspector from the Inland Revenue. He was able to carve out many years as a keen and very accomplished club cricketer, and I enjoyed watching and eventually playing alongside him.

I also followed in his footsteps when it came to his enthusiasm for amateur theatre. He trod the boards in many a local drama company spectacular as a young man, and then, many years, later we acted together in a few creaking Agatha Christie favourites and other similar masterpieces. Thankfully, no reviews have been made available for this article.

In later years he became a keen and regular member of the audience, whenever and wherever I was performing. Alongside my Mum, they would be selling merchandise and promoting my company for me in the interval. And then there would come his preferred time in the evening, the post show party: he would greet everyone and ensure that all glasses were filled with a chilled chardonnay or similar libation. Hospitality and the gift of welcoming came naturally to him, and many of my friends benefited from it.* No one was left out on the sidelines: he always took a genuine interest in everyone.

I observed and learnt the strength of teamwork from him, and how no team member is less important than another, essential for any successful cricket eleven, or the rising stars of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was being there and feeling part of a team which was key for him, whether it was the Lord’s Cricket Ground or the local village green. As long as we could retire to the the Bull public house afterwards and discuss where it all went wrong, it all didn’t really matter, and we could all try again next week.

His hospitality was matched by his encouragement and I miss hearing his mobility scooter manoeuvring into position at Palmerston Place Church in Edinburgh for our first night at the Fringe; a week and indeed a city he always loved. My first year at the Fringe without him was 2016, and I had written and performed a comedy piece on Laurel and Hardy, something he would have without any doubt enjoyed and insisted on seeing countless times. But this was ‘Another fine mess’ he didn’t get to see.

His funeral was in the summer of that year, we played Smile by Nat King Cole in the crematorium, and then everyone gathered in a country hotel where the chardonnay flowed, and the smiles of reflection and appreciation continued. Many spoke of his optimistic spirit, but as he often observed, ‘You can’t support Bolton Wanderers for over 50 years and not be an optimist.’ Outside the large patio windows to the hotel, we could see the village green, where they were preparing with great care the cricket square for the forthcoming game at the weekend. He would have certainly approved.

He had declared after an innings well played.


Gethin Russell-Jones is a writer and church leader. In order to understand his father better, he wrote a book about him…

I wrote a book about a man I love. He’s been dead for 10 years but my affection for him is very alive. I think of him every day; his face drifts in and out of my consciousness and occasionally my dreams. I can’t tell you how many times and in how many situations I’ve asked the question, “what would he do now?”

My father wasn’t the touchy feely type, neither was my mother really, so I must have inherited this blasted quality from another part of the gene pool. But he remains the biggest male influence on my life by a country mile. Not that I agree with him on everything. You’ll have noted that I’m writing in the present tense. Even though he’s resting in peace ahead of rising in glory, he’s alive in my memories. I would never admit to speaking to him but there is a strange conversation that goes on. And in many ways, it’s a more equal relationship now. Less deferential and more human, which strikes me as strange even as I’m writing it.

More equal because I can ask questions and disagree with him in a way that I found difficult in the days of his flesh. The biggest sign of this shift in our relationship came in the form of the book I referred to in my opening line. Conchie, what my father didn’t do in the war, is my critique of one of the biggest periods in my dad’s life. In 1939, at the age of 21, he took a decision that made him different to many other men. He became part of a minority; a tradition of dissent that has a long, and often vilified, history. He refused to register for military service and instead became a conscientious objector. This choice sprang directly from his Christian faith. In fact, I don’t think he would even have used that kind of language. For him it was a matter of obedience to the Bible’s general command against taking another human life and to Jesus’ call to love and not hate. No exceptions and no wriggle room.

And for much of my life I have asked two questions about this choice. What were the precise reasons for his refusal to fight, and would I behave differently in the same circumstances? That’s why I wrote the book, five years after he passed away. I wanted to interrogate him, cross examine his motives and beliefs. More than anything else, I wanted to understand the young man who bravely swam against current of the time. I went in search of answers, but life (and indeed death), is not so binary. I found the I man knew, but also the one I didn’t. 

I’m not sure how he feels about my questions or indeed the book. But I do know that I was loved. And he showed me that character, faithful living and dissent make very good companions.

This article was first published in the May/June 2021 issue of Sorted magazine.