I gasped and sat up, my face wet with sweat. I sat panting for breath and wiped my face with my hands, desperately trying to fill my lungs with the fresh sea air.
“Right come on, you are going to get sand everywhere-get up” My dad said to me smiling as he ruffled my hair with his hand.
It was a Saturday morning during the summer holidays and I was 11 years old. My Dad and I were together on Downhill Beach, I had my football with me. That, of course, meant that I was expelling huge amounts of energy trying to score into our makeshift goal. Which was literally two lines we drew in the sand.
We hadn’t lived in the area that long at this stage and I had plenty of exploring to do.
“Whats that over there, is it a cave?” I asked my dad, with my inquisitive tone.
“No its a train line, that’s the tunnel” He replied.
I shrugged this information off and kicked the football again. However, instead of being a spectacular goal the ball flew through the air and landed in the swallow water of the incoming tide.
My dad broke into a jog and set off to retrieve the ball. With his back turned, I had an impulsive idea. I was going to hide.
I sprinted off as quickly as my legs could carry me and clambered over some black rocks that lead up to a grass verge with a small fence. This little fence separated the beach from the railway line. I glanced back and couldn’t see my dad. The rocks obscured my view of him. I had cover.
I hopped over the fence and onto the railway line and took a sharp left. With my heart pounding I ran into the dark tunnel. Once inside a few feet I pressed my back hard against the cold and damp stone wall of the tunnel. I was laughing at the thought of dad looking for me.
I felt an unusual sensation- a vibration that was shuddering through my legs and chest. After a few seconds this shuddering intensified. I recall a horrible feeling in my stomach. Sheer panic as I worked out what I was experiencing. A train was coming towards me.
At this stage I looked out of the tunnel and seen my dad climbing over the fence, his eyes locked with mine and he shouted something. I can’t remember what he said but I ran as hard as I could towards him. In a swift motion he lifted me up and threw me over the fence back onto the beach side. He hoped over too.
Seconds later a train glided past, I remember my dad lifting his hand to wave towards the driver.
I went to say something
“I….I….I’m sorry, I just”- But my dad cut me off
“CAR”- Is all he said. Clearly an instruction for me to return to the car.
My mother was always the parent that disciplined me, so whenever my dad was angry it really effected me.
I could feel my eyes watering but I remember fighting the urge to cry. I arrived at the car and got in and sat on the passenger seat. I put my head down and starred at my sandy trainers. My dad got into the drivers side and gently closed the door.
“Why isn’t he shouting?”-I recall thinking.
He sighed and fulfilled his paternal duty of telling me how dangerous that was and how careless I had just been. I nodded and remained silent. He didn’t raise his voice once.
But what he said next shocked me. He said something like
“Your life is yours. You have to live it how you want. You can’t have regrets- you need to learn from today, but don’t worry your wee head dwelling on it. Lifes too short- now lets go home”
Maybe he pitched that line above what my 11 year old mind could comprehend but I’ve often thought back on it.
As I grew into an adult, my dad and I maintained this close relationship. He wasn’t just my dad, he was my best friend. I used to listen to him telling me stories about his career as a Police Officer during the height of the Northern Ireland troubles and his role within a specialist unit. Something I noticed, was- he was never boring and he was making the most of life- because as he kept telling me “Its too short”
Not long ago, I had to stand and swear an oath-
“I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
I then sat down in the witness box inside the coroners court. I listened intently to the coroner as he conducted the proceedings of the inquest into the medical cause and circumstances of my fathers sudden death.
In response to questions I was obliged to elaborate on certain details regarding his life. As I was answering something hit me- he might of had a short 54 years alive and died as a result of alcohol abuse but his addiction did not define him.
He lived his life as he wanted to. Just as he had told me to do that day on Downhill beach.
He never stopped smiling and laughing. He never conformed to what others wanted him to do. He was an individual. He was my dad. He was my best friend. He was an inspiration.
He has sky dived, he has ran marathons, he traveled across america on his own, he went back packing around Europe in his 50s. He knew he only had one shot at life so he didn’t just exist. He lived.
So often there are times I think I keep myself back from truly experiencing life. That is what drives me to make decisions now. Its what made me get up and return fire in Afghanistan. Its what made me join the Police.
I think we are all guilty of mistakenly thinking our responsibility in life is to everyone else. I don’t think it is. Your only responsibility in life is TO YOURSELF.
Thanks for reading and thank you for all the continued support.