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with much love, your chip off the old block

So, how do I begin to pay tribute to my dad, Paul Nick? My dad always told me that he had taken one piece of advice only from his own father Fred and this was to never look over your shoulder, always to follow the road ahead. No matter what, he said, the unknown path is better than the one already travelled, full of new opportunities. With that, he, and my mum, boldly built their empire. We grew up in a house full of laughter and when I say there was never a dull moment, believe me, I mean it. When we went out together, we were one of those families that other people wanted to be a part of, proud to be with each other, always, always a story to be told. We could shout, cry, fall out, laugh, cry and make up again in the space of 5 minutes, we knew we loved each other so it didn’t matter. It was a vibrant, exhausting, intense, all consuming mix of true characters and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Growing up, we would bring our friends into our family life, and those friends became solid friends of our sisters, our parents and our family as a whole, in their own right. There was always enough love to go around and this is what built the network we are so lucky and grateful to have today, so that even without the physical presence of my mum, dad and Sonia, we are able to keep them alive in such a big way, by being together and taking care of one another.

Dad and I would have fun, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever drunk as much gin in my life as with him, putting on outrageous outfits and going up to Top 60 Dancing in the village in Moncarapacho. Before we used to meet up, we’d call and tell each other what particular colour palette we would be wearing that particular day and coordinate our look, and the view was, dress sharp, you never know who you may meet. I was proud to be with him and call him my dad. Even when he would come and collect me hours too early from dates with boys, with his booming voice, shouting ‘where’s my baby?’-yes even in the most mortifying moments, I knew my dad wasn’t like the others.

On our last day spent together before he died, he told me clearly how much I’ve been loved and how much love there was between mum and him. He told me, ‘Your mum and I won’t be here in person to witness the next episodes of your life, but we’ll bloody well be here in spirit, so fix up, shape up, and take every opportunity that comes your way, because we’ll be watching you. You’re bulletproof our kid, you’re one of mine’

I’d like to finish this tribute by reading you a letter that my dad sent to me a few years ago. I was working on an exhibition with some input from him and I asked him to write a letter to his younger self, and this is what came through the post from him one day:

Hi Paul,

So you have joined the Merchant Navy, a good choice and the life will suit your personality perfectly-but, don’t forget that you are entering a much different world than the one you are leaving. You have just left school at 15, not having had a great education, but you led a charmed life didn’t you? Nobody found out that it was you who flooded all the classrooms when you removed the stopcock from the mains water supply and no one had a clue that it was you who put melted candlewax in the bunson burners so that when they were lit, a ball of fire shot out of the top and set fire to the science labs. Life aboard ship is different, you will be going to many exotic and beautiful places, with bright lights and good times for all. However, the ship is your home and you must treat the places you visit and people you meet with respect. Learn to be quiet. You will notice that the older seamen who are the toughest are also the quietest-look after your mates and look after yourself and always always get back on the damn ship.

Then there are the girls. You will meet all kinds of girls and my advice to you Paul would be this: treat them as if they are all princesses, you will soon find out the ones who are not.

You will fall in love constantly and again my advice would be this: you arrived on your ship, make sure you leave on it.

Knowing you as I do, it is inevitable that you will get yourself into a few situations that would have been far better avoided, but there you are, it is the life you have chosen and it’s been a great one.

Love, Paul.

So, here’s to you, old bulletproof, and to my family- go easy, wherever you are, I know you’re together. We may have lost a great deal and be physically separated from each other, but there is not one thing that is tragic about us and we’ll hold our heads high and keep following that road ahead. It's time to let go of the blinding grief and hold onto the love that built me. With much love, your chip off the old block.

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