DAD WAS a firm believer in equality for all, regardless of creed, colour or social status; he stood up against intolerance, racism and injustice.
As a child in the 1940’s and 50’s he experienced injustice, as it was apparent to all that if you were a Catholic, you would be unlikely to be considered for a position in the management or offices of the Consett Iron Company. Catholics were easily identifiable by their Irish names and the schools they’d been to, so if you were to find them anywhere, you’d come across those names in the hazardous environments of the plate mill and the blast furnace.
Dad recalled the family story of a neighbour, reflecting on the opportunities for those with the “wrong” name. She told his mother, “I wouldn’t call a dog Patrick.”
“Neither would I,” came the terse reply from our Grandma, who had proudly given the name to a son of her own.
It was perhaps no surprise then that when his first child was born in 1965, Dad insisted he also be named Patrick.
As the proud bearer of that name, I feel that Dad gave me a footing in the history of my family and an awareness of that family’s struggle as well as its enduring place in Consett’s Irish community.
Most of all, though, it was a great example of Dad standing up for a long held belief with a gesture towards his own past and his own future.
WE WERE on holiday in Scotland in 1975, at our uncle’s house in the Borders. One day, Paddy and I went out on our own for a big circular walk, carrying only a bottle of water.
We wandered round some of the lanes nearby for the day and barely saw anyone.
After several hours a yellow VW Beetle pulled up next to us and a man asked us if we’d passed a certain house, and had we seen anyone else there? We said we had passed it, but we’d only seen one other car in that area. Hearing our accents, he asked where we were staying. “Over there”, we said because by this stage we could point to our destination across the fields.
We got home by teatime, but the meal was interrupted by a knock on the door. A tall, balding, plain clothes policeman stood there looking stern. He told Dad we’d been seen in the area after a burglary had taken place and he wanted us finger-printed. Dad pointed out that we were 9 and 11 and didn’t look like your typical housebreakers, but the policeman echoed a line that we’d heard a few times, about criminals from the North East of England making the 100-mile round trip just to break into houses in the Borders.
He said, “I know they did it, and as soon as we have their finger prints, you will too.”
I began crying which must have made us look guilty. But even though he hadn’t heard our side of the story, Dad just faced him down. He said, “Well, I know they didn’t do it. We’re not going anywhere, so we’ll come in and let you take their fingerprints, but it will be at a time we choose.”
The policeman reluctantly left and we went back in to finish our tea, normality restored.
We went along to the police station at about 11 o’clock the next morning. They took our prints, found they didn’t match, and let us go. Then we went for an ice cream.
“NUMBER TWENTY-TWO, Hamlet!”
It is Friday night in Number One Club and, even though I had nothing to do with it, I know I have just won the domino card. By selecting the date of my birthday and giving me the moniker of his favourite literary hero, my dad has achieved a small gambling success and paid me a jesting, but significant compliment. I acknowledge him across the bar and he laughs.
I believe a part of him would have liked to have named me Hamlet, which makes it all the more remarkable that the most memorable piece of advice he ever gave me included a quotation from Shakespeare’s great villain, Iago:
“I have looked upon the world for four times seven years, and since I could distinguish betwixt a benefit and an injury, I never found man that knew how to love himself”.
Dad offered me this antithesis to the Christian “Love your neighbour as yourself”, not simply because I was twenty-eight years old at the time nor because he wished to encourage self doubt, but rather to warn me to guard against it.
He understood the destructive potential in Iago’s observation and, therefore, the constructive value in love and the encouragement of self-worth – qualities which formed the essence of his approach to his many roles in life, of which father and educator were not the least.
This advice occurs to me often; it informs many of my decisions, particularly as a father, and I thank him for it.
Our Dad, Jim Naughton, passed away on January 9, 2014, aged 74 years.
See http://wp.me/s3Nt3j-digging for a previous piece I wrote.