Thank You For Coming To See Me

You’ll find an entirely unremarkable set of concrete steps near my family home.

On the infrequent occasions I return, I am compelled, every time, to go out of my way to climb them. It’s like a magnet, as though we have a mutual understanding. The only real attached symbolism, should any exist, is that I started to do so years before and I simply cannot stop now.

Perhaps it is superstition. Maybe I’m trying to resurrect lost days. There’s every single chance that it means nothing at all.

Life, I continue to understand — though never fully — is a climb of a different nature.

I’d really like to speak for a moment about my father’s life, as I understand it.

His name is John. John Hanratty, born in 1946, finally moved to sleep in the second week of 2022. What a time he saw, what a life he could claim to have witnessed. I write these words in pain and in great love and respect. I love my father. I miss him instantly.

Let’s keep the focus on him. He had such charisma. I wish you saw it. I wish you heard it. It was such a beautiful sight, and a hell of a sound.

It was so real. It was like the sun changed its course for a few minutes and created an ultralight beam just for whoever was present for it.

This was my father. This is who I will remember. This is who I will keep alive forever.

There’s an incredible photograph — the first image I will think of when I want to keep him with me.

There he is; holding court, the only voice in the room, the light cascading perfectly. I think he’s at a wedding, he’s barely a supporting character but that hardly matters — if you met my father for even five minutes, you knew he was a substantial character — you wouldn’t soon forget him. Sure, you might roll your eyes, but maybe that was the point.

He was playful, he was charismatic, he was loving. He left an impression. The photo, though. I need to return to the photo. It’s really something.

It looks like he’s arrived at the punchline of a great story — his face committed like a comedian, his left arm outstretched as an exclamation point, the fresh pint in his right hand his reward.

Beside that cast arm — my sister Emma, her face a picture all its own, a combination of disbelief and trance, either humouring or truly rapt, unable to turn away. Next to her; my mother, his beautiful wife Kate… and she’s looking the other way. She’s heard it before.

It’s perfect. It’s wonderful. I adore it. I don’t care if he was discussing the weather, the last film he watched, or personal history — I really never want to know. It doesn’t matter.

It matters that he could do this. It matters that his face looked like that. It matters that at that moment, despite my sister as his only visible audience, the room was his. He was the draw. He lit up the room. He had so much to say. And he wore a short-sleeved shirt like Homer Simpson, and I love that so much. Homer Simpson is the single greatest character in all of literature and media that I have encountered so I’m good with this.

My father told stories. He could do that. I saw it in his classroom. I was his student. Now, don’t get me wrong — I was often a cocky, disrespectful teenager and I absolutely abused the privilege before me of being a teacher’s son. My father did not encourage this. In fact, it led to many a row, many a conflict, many a difficult day.

I regret this. I regret a lot of things. I regret the stupid rows we had. They held no value. I’d rather focus on the times we played table tennis, pitch and putt, basketball, darts. Sure, I’d inevitably get a bit too competitive and ruin the mood, but at the same time, Dad never held back on his signature smash shot on that table tennis table. Even when he was teaching me how to play, he couldn’t hide glee in mercilessly dispatching me.

Frankly, nor should he have.

I spoke to a friend the other day about him on the phone for half an hour. Had I not been so utterly drained, we could have gone another hour. My friend referred to my father’s “sly half smile”, and I love that, I’ve seen that. I’ve seen the full beam, too — it really did paint every room he set foot in.

The tragedy of John Hanratty, beyond this cruel robbery of his life, is that he chose to suppress this side of himself too often — in doing so he focused on looking after his family, on worrying about numbers, on protecting the future.

It was responsible and noble of him, but if I’m being completely honest, I think it came at a cost. I believe that my father had the capacity and the capability to be a most wonderful storyteller.

I said I saw it in the classroom, and I did.

I saw many teachers fall down immediately, unable to command any class of respect from the throng — not John Hanratty. To be present in a John Hanratty classroom was to be invited to participate.

He’d take a couple of minutes at the start of class to chat with the boys, maybe talk about their weekend or whatever football match made the most headlines. After those couple of minutes it was down to business and everyone responded accordingly, no messing, attention paid in full to equations and theorems because they respected him.

I was sent a message the other day from someone who said the following:

“Hey man. Heard about your Dad. My condolences. I remember once getting in trouble for something or other and he left me off punishment or getting a card because he had seen me reading books before. Just regular non school books. That was cool.”

That was cool. He was cool. He loved cowboy movies and crime novels. He let me stay up late with him on school nights to watch Seinfeld and The Larry Sanders Show. He confronted a childhood bully of mine and frightened the life out of him. He made people laugh. He wanted the best for us.

We didn’t have a perfect relationship — I won’t pretend that we did — but we loved each other and I’m grateful that he was surrounded by his family at the end.

We played him some music, including his favourite song — ‘Suspicious Minds’ by Elvis Presley. I put that on for him on his 75th birthday last summer and his eyes danced with so much light. He was a young man again for a few minutes.

By his side, we played this song one last time. I think he finally went out to ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac, which I think, honestly, is a pretty damn good one to go out on.

I’ll never forget the last thing he said to me.

“Thank you for coming to see me.”

It broke my heart but I’ll carry it with me always. He’s at peace now.

I come back to a quote that I once admired but now cling to for comfort, which I will paraphrase a little because that’s what happens to all great lines, right?

He got what anybody gets. He got a lifetime.

I love you, Dad. I always will. Sleep well.

John Hanratty. 1946–2022.

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Journalist, writer and broadcaster based in Dublin.

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Dave Hanratty

Dave Hanratty

Journalist, writer and broadcaster based in Dublin.

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