Being pro-life is, as I assume we all know, about much more than standing up for the unborn. It is about community, about family, about love. I know love. I know it very well indeed.

Mum telephoned from England last week. I knew, I just knew. “I’ve got some bad news”, she said, crying. “Dad has had a stroke.” I was at the hospital within twenty-four hours.

There he was. Confused, unable to speak. My dad, swathed in those pungent, antiseptic hospital odors. Odd how smells provoke memory. I remembered the same smells from when he would wash his hands after work, trying to remove the ground-in dirt and oil from his calloused hands.

His skin was so tough. I can still recall the scraping sound of the razor on his evening stubble, still see the darkness of the water in the basin after he had cleaned his face.

He always spoke to me as he washed, told me tales of his own childhood and let little drops of moral tuition fall into my lap. Simple, and marvelous. “A promise is a promise.” It was. He never broke one. He was my father.

He drove a London black taxi for more than forty years. It was a job that attracted waves of poor young men after the Second World War, a job that paid a decent wage if you were willing to work a seventy-hour week.

Soccer matches

When I was small and we were driving back from soccer matches he would sometimes pick people up who were hailing cabs along the way. He wasn’t supposed to, not with me there. But I was six or seven and sat in the hollow space next to the driver’s seat where the luggage was stored. I was barely noticed.

I could never understand why the passengers treated him with such contempt, such patronising disregard. He was “cabby” and “driver” and “you!” No he wasn’t, he was my dad. But he smiled and said nothing and did his job.

And then he told me more stories from his past, such as about the times he boxed for the RAF. Oh, the pride. And about how his German cousin had gone back to Berlin in the 1930s to rescue his family. The family did not escape and the cousin never came back. A long time ago, said my father, and not for you to worry about. He winked, a wink full of confidence. Never again, he said. I believed him. He was my father.

He always looked so strong, so able to protect me, so powerful. Powerful enough to cry when he felt the need. I heard him weep when my grandmother died. Confusing. How should I react, what should I do? Just be there, as he was for me. He came into my room, saw the fear on my face and recited a short prayer with me for my grandma. He kissed me, held my hand and then drove me to school before putting in his ten hours. He was my father.


I remember his joy when I went to university, the first in the family to do so. Of course he took too many photographs when I graduated and of course he didn’t understand the Latin that was spoken before the meal. Who cares? His wisdom was born long before the Romans imposed their language on the world.

He felt a little out of place, but all that concerned this working man in a smart suit was that his son would not follow in his footsteps. “Do you know why I work such long hours?” he would ask me. “So that you won’t have to push a cab around and tip your hat to everybody.” Then he’d pause. “So that you won’t have to.”

He didn’t come on vacation with us very often, just didn’t have the money. He stayed behind and worked. We’d telephone him and said we loved him. He already knew. When my first child was born he said little. Just sat and stared and smiled. He spoke through his eyes. And what eloquence he had.

What eloquence he still has. As I sit by his bed and hold his hand I see the frustration in his eyes. Suddenly he lifts his head, and with all the effort in the world, says just one word. “Michael.” Then says it again and again. “Michael, Michael, Michael.”

He’ll be okay. I know it. Oh God I know it. He is my father.