Love the father you’re with…

“And if you can’t be with the one you love

Well, then, love the one you’re with…”

Stephen Stills (of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash) wrote the song. It was considered a risky lyric back in 1970, but it caught the world’s imagination and became a best-seller. An occurrence on Sunday (Father’s day) made me smile and think of it, again.

We were walking near Glenlivet in the Highlands of North-East Scotland. It was the third day of the Silent Unicorn weekend, and the event was due to come to a close that afternoon. One of our attenders had travelled by train up from London for the weekend. She had packed light – just a rucksack…. and, in the unseasonal weather, she had looked cold.

As the father of two boys, I got used to their enthusiasm being greater than their ‘coatage’ as we used to call it. Many’s the time that my car boot has been raided for the array of older but ‘spare’ coats that they knew I kept in there.

My two sons generally ring me on Father’s Day. It’s appreciated when it happens. They are grown men, now, and have good careers.

Unlike Mother’s Day, which has a cultural and historic basis, Father’s Day has largely been manufactured… But it’s nice to get that phone call, or even a message.

On Father’s Day I’m usually away with the Silent Eye summer weekend, as we celebrate the approach of the solstice and the mystical ‘feast’ of St John – the polar opposite of the Christmas-time festival of St Stephen. These two key dates mark the start of a gradient of changing ‘light’ towards their opposite. The winter solstice is the shortest day – the maximum ‘darkness’. The summer solstice is the longest day – the fullest manifestation of physical and, by analogy, spiritual light.

I knew she was cold… my ‘father’s’ antennae were twitching. Gently, I approached her with the possibility. She nodded, gratefully; perhaps glad that someone had noticed. I took her to my car boot and pointed out the three spare garments that she was welcome to use… old habits die hard.

She could have known nothing about my life’s former ‘coatage’ habit for the protection of my sons….

She looked through the warm garments and quickly selected a recently-purchased Paramo fleece – lightweight and sporting an all-important hood. The next time I saw her – on the Saturday morning – she was wearing it beneath her gilet… and smiling. I smiled back, glad that the old technique of car boot spare had served someone beyond my own children.

On the Sunday morning, as we reached the dramatic site of a Neolithic mound, high above the river Spey, she approached me, wearing the fleece as the core garment in her outfit.

“You’re not my father,” she said, “but I just wanted to say happy Father’s Day…”

I took her shoulders gently, partly to hide the sudden tears, and gave her a small hug of thanks. For a second, I thought of my own children – one in Australia with their family, the other in Leeds with his wife; and this brave but warm being who had reached out to deliver that remarkable sentiment.

In such moments, we learn the real meaning of the word ‘humility’, and how magical and unexpected the actions of the world can be…

Perhaps Stephen Stills would have sung a special version that cold morning: ‘When you can’t be with the father you love, well then, love the one you’re with…’

©️Stephen Tanham

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