My Dad’s a Goldfish – a poem until I get organised

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March has been a bit hectic. I was teaching on a creative writing course the first week and was then organising the launch of my latest book, Castle Douglas Through Time, so there hasn’t been much time to write new Goldfish posts.

I am giving you a poem, which was written some years ago. I remembered it while on the creative writing course when my co-tutor, Margaret Elphinstone, wrote something about not being allowed a bow and arrow because she was a girl. It reminded me of the Goldfish making a bow and arrow for me – he also made me stilts and taught me to walk on them. I was very lucky to have a father who seemed to think being a girl was no barrier to doing or becoming whatever I wanted.

The minister read the poem at the Goldfish’s funeral.

Losing dad
It’s funny how my dad was once
much taller than I;
flower-meadow-1977395_1280shrinking years have brought us closer,
almost level.

Despite his stoop, lines, loss of hair,
he still looks like dad: the man
who gave me names of birds, trees,
stood in our garden pointing out
the Pleiades, Pegasus, Orion’s
three-studded belt;

who helped me gather wild flowers –
red campion, ragged robin, star of Bethlehem –
pressing them between heavy books
for school projects;
who didn’t mind the lawn
littered with obstacles –
clothes horse, kitchen stools –
to his lawnmower’s progress
while my horse and I jumped clear
at White City;
who came to support me on every school sports day;
thought it fine for a girl to climb trees,
never laughed at my dreams,
opened my eyes to the world,
taught me the meaning of friendship and fairness.

But somehow my dad is fading,
empty spaces inside his head though
his voice sounds the same,

as he asks,

for the fiftieth time tonight:
what did you do today?

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36 thoughts on “My Dad’s a Goldfish – a poem until I get organised

    • Thank you. When I suggested it, the Minister was quite firm in saying it was not a good idea but offered to read it himself. He’d had a bad experience when someone broke down utterly while trying to read the eulogy and when he attempted to lead her away she clung to the lectern and wouldn’t budge so he wasn’t keen on relatives reading things at funerals!

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      • Oh dear. When my father died our family was blessed to have a newly ordained Minister, my nephew. As he was growing up, he spent a lot of time with Dad, who also was a Minister. Paul conducted the funeral service. It was extraordinarily beautiful – and made even more so as various family members, mostly grandchildren and great grandchildren, did all the readings (not me, I was not in a fit state)

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  1. A beautiful poem for a beautiful man.
    It’s so strange, Mary, but although we never met your Dad, you are able to make us feel that we did. This must be because you had such a strong bond with him.

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    • Thank you, Hilary. And how wonderful of your father to suggest you become a doctor. When I told our local GP I wanted to be a doctor he suggested I became a nurse instead. His own daughter, however, became a doctor and I’ve often wondered if she’d to fight to be allowed to study medicine.

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  2. Today I have cried- again – for the way my mum was for the last two years of her life -“empty spaces inside his head though
    his voice sounds the same,” And yet the poem brings back good memories too. Despite the way my father was as I grew up, he made me a bow and arrow and stilts as well. Good to think of the better times in childhood. Thank you, Mary.

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    • Oh, Judith, sorry to make you cry. I wrote the poem when dad was still at a fairly early stage of dementia, when the constant repetitions were so irritating and I didn’t really know what was ahead. I’d love to hear him again, asking, ‘what did you do today?’ So often, it was ‘any holidays planned?’

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  3. I read this again tonight. It keeps resonating in my mind and brings back times with my own father when he was the man who could do anything and then became the dependent child. A feeble man who needed us all to be there for him and help him on the journey to his death. It is a powerful poem and must be a central part of your final book.

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