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Frank Kelly, My Dad

Emmet Kelly By Emmet Kelly Published on May 25, 2016
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Image via Irish Times
I remember him in the kitchen typing with two heavy fingers bashing out a book or a song or a sketch - creating his next gig like magic out of paper and ink and a hatred of the empty page.

I had a wonderful upbringing with a wonderful father who has now passed. Famous on stage and screen, an iconic face around the world but to me? Just Dad. Now it's my turn.

I didn't know how famous he really was till he was gone - trending on Twitter worldwide, ahead of Trump and the Oscars. Fame put us through school but it wasn't the point. Providing for the family was. When he worked, others worked. Theaters filled, people watched, he entertained, everyone was a winner. But he didn't seek fame per se. He was simply born with a talent that made him an entertainer in the same way others are born with blonde hair, a twinkling eye or a limp. It was just the way he was. So in our house fame for fame's sake was never the point of life. Art, writing, entertainment, music, being decent and paying the bills was.

The tales where he'd made a difference to ordinary people that were special to me. How he'd drive people who's car had broken down miles to get them home, entertain a sick child on a long flight or even on occasion drag someone exhausted from the sea at the 40 foot - but never speak of it again. Those stories made me proud.

I'll miss the chats. How he would tell me how much he loved accountants, adored and respected politicians, worshiped bankers. He really, really loved bankers. You could tell he adored them by how even when the mere mention of a banker was made, the color in his face would change, his fists would clench with delight, and the glass he was holding would smash off the wall behind me. A wondrous sight to behold.

He'd to arrive unannounced at the door, purple with cold after a long swim at the 40 foot across Scotsman's Bay in the middle of winter to see us and see the kids and drink milky tea. He'd sit down on the couch and tell us limericks. Including the 'Girl from Tipperary, whose chest was incredibly hairy', and then the fight club of Limericks that is too disgraceful to tell. It must never be spoken of in public or in private. Even remembering it is a mortal sin. Hilarious.

He'd turn up at a moments notice with his shirt sleeves rolled up to, dig a garden, carry a couch, fix a car. He would always offer what cash he had in times of need - forbidding even any mention of a repayment

And when we had a problem in my own house my lovely wife, would say 'Did you phone your Dad', or 'You should ask Frank'. The way to end any heated discussion was to say 'Dad wouldn't tolerate that for a second'. Context.

He taught us the meaning of artistic idealism, hard work and blind ambition. Indeed, in his early days as a barrister when asked why he was acting instead of making real money he said he'd 'rather starve on the stage than grow fat at the bar.' This set the scene for the rest of his life.

I remember him in the kitchen typing with two heavy fingers bashing out a book or a song or a sketch - creating his next gig like magic out of paper and ink and a hatred of the empty page. Laughing to himself.

His ambitious spirit was simply irrepressible. The day before he died he told Mum he wanted to go for a walk. She thought to the shops or something - toddle from the car to the counter to pick up his Irish Times to do the crossword. This was after three waves of cancer treatments, knee operations and Parkinson's Disease. But no. When he said he wanted to take a walk he meant the Camino way. Santiago de Compostela. 497 miles over 30 days along dirt tracks and over mountains, occasionally cycling or riding horses.

Did we say 'eh Dad. Small detail - you've got feckin' Parkinson's. You can barely walk at all!'

No. We said 'We'll be there for you... We'll take the time. We'll come too. Perhaps to catch him when he inevitably fell - as he caught us so many times. Little did we know he would fall for the last time the next day to be caught by my Mother. That was it.

A life so well lived resonates for generations - long after the person is gone. The pressure is now on me as a father or five boys, to carry the baton I've been handed and pass it to the next generation. I'm running at full pelt right now but I'm only on lap one.

So, if you'll excuse me, I've work to do. You see, it turns out I'm just like my father. I'm a Dad.

Frank Kelly "Father Jack" reminisces about Father Ted:

Digital data scientist, writer, joker, actor. Love short stories, Dahl, Benjamin, Adams; 80s, jazz, opera, guitar; Python, Milligan. Hubby & silly Dad.