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Feather's Miscellany: Delights Of Fatherhood

John Waddington-Feather recalls the joys of family life.

The delights of fatherhood are shared with one’s children; and if one is blessed with grandchildren are carried on into another generation. Some of my happiest times when my girls were young were taking them for walks on the moors near our home in West Yorkshire. I recall those golden times, especially when my wife, Sheila, was pregnant with our youngest daughter, Anna, and needed to rest. It was then I took our other two daughters, Sarah and Katherine, for short walks on the moors.

I’d drive up to a well-known inn, “Dick Hudson’s” on the edge of Ilkley Moor and park the car there, cross the road , then take the moorland path for about a mile till Katherrine began to tire. All the way along the path Sarah, though barely five, would point out to me the various flowers growing at the foot of the old dry-stone wall which we followed. She’d learned about them from her mother and the little picture books she had. She knew more about botany then than I do now.

After about a mile, two year-old Katherine grew tired. She’d chattered all the way holding my hand. Now she was exhausted. She was just out of nappies during the day but still wore them at night. I’d hitch her on my shoulders and within seconds she was fast asleep, her little face pressed against my head. By the time we reached the inn my neck was invariably damp! It amused Sarah who laughed outright as I wiped my neck dry with my hankie, but Katherine, once I’d fastened her in her car-seat, didn’t wake up till we reached home.

Nevertheless, those short walks on the moor gave me great delight which has lasted a lifetime; more than that, they helped bond us closer together as a family.

All me girls were born by Caesarian section, which was a more complicated operation then than it is today. Consequently, I had to help my wife feeding the babies and changing nappies and other natal chores till she recovered her strength. They were all breast-fed, which was an exhausting business for Sheila, still recovering from a major operation, so sometimes they were bottle-fed from expressed milk. I helped her, warming the milk then feeding the tiny baby while she rested.

In time, Katherine would take her milk only from me, and it gave me great delight cuddling the tiny thing while she gazed up at me till her eyes slowly closed in sleep when she’d drunk her fill. Then I’d put her over my shoulder to burp her; and the same happened with my two other daughters. Delightful times, indeed, which I truly believe bonded us so closely that later we had a relatively easy adolescence compared with some other families.
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Another great bonding was made when the girls grew older and we went camping as a family in Britain and abroad. Those camping jaunts were a delight indeed. We went regularly each Spring to St Davids in Pembrokeshire, where the campsite was on a hillside overlooking fields to the tiny city and its cathedral. It was also very near the coast and a magical coastal path which burgeoned Spring flowers, so prolific that you couldn’t tell where the wild flowers ended and the coastguard’s flower garden began.

Abroad we camped in Norway, France, Belgium and Germany, which widened the horizons of our teenage daughters and brought us all much delight. In all those countries we felt at home as we could speak their languages. But I remember once camping in Norway where there were several nationalities on the campsite, and going to collect Anna from the seaside. She was playing with an international group of children, all of them speaking their own languages; yet they understood each other perfectly! (Children are sometimes more adept at communicating than we think.)

On another occasion in Germany, I was snoozing on a seat in the sunshine near Heidelberg, when a magpie flew down from the tree I was under and started pecking my bare toe through my sandal. The girls thought it hilarious. I found it rather painful – but Rossini’s “Thieving Magpie” overture held more meaning ever after.

I could go on at length about the delights I had when my children were young, and which they still supply me with; but one of the first things I became aware of when I started my prison ministry in 1969 (and that ministry lasted 40 years) was very often the lack of a loving father in a prisoner’s upbringing, as well as the lack of a meaningful family life.

I never excused what crime a prisoner had committed, but I could often see how he’d finished up in prison. I’m sure it was the lack of a father and a loving family. And as I grew older, I felt very much I was a father-figure to many of the men I ministered to as a volunteer chaplain. Certainly I felt they were the sons I never had. In some ways it may have been why they turned to crime as a kind of protest against society and the love and care they’d never had from a father. So much of our attitude to life depends on the way we are brought up in the very early years of our lives. And that is when knowledge of God’s love and Christ plays such a vital part in any Christian upbringing.

John Waddington-Feather ©

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