30 January 2006, aired on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, LA, California, USA
My father was 75 years old and he lived a very full life. He did everything that he set out to do. Where I come from, in the Celtic tradition it’s kind of a wake where we talk about the person’s life, there’s a lot of drinking usually, but of course I won’t be taking part in that. I think others may get involved in that for obvious reasons.
During the wake we tell favorite stories about the person that’s passed and it’s not always very flattering for the person, either. It’s kind of a roast sometimes. It’s a celebration of a human being with faults and quirks and all the idiosyncrasies that go with being a person and my father was certainly that.
My father was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1930 which was a source of great pride for his Irish Catholic mother and some consternation for his Scottish Protestant father. He grew up from a poor background. He grew up in Glasgow in Scotland during World War II. Glasgow was bombed heavily during the war and all of the kids were evacuated out of the cities and put to work on the farms in the countryside to escape the German bombing.
It was supposed to be some kind of an idyllic reprieve, but my father’s experience was more like a Dicksonian workhouse. It didn’t work out well for him. It was very tough for him. He didn’t talk about it much. In the six years that he was there it was just awful. He had a very tough childhood.
From where he started to where he ended up with the journey so vast and incredible it’s too much for me to hope to emulate…”
My father spent two years in the British army stationed in Germany. He worked in the post office in Scotland for 44 years. He started as a telegram boy delivering telegrams on the Norton ex-army base where you change the gear by taking your hands off the handlebars, called the suicide shift.
They were too poor to emulate Marlon Brando in the Wild One with the silk scarf, so they used to wear white tea towels around their necks to look like Americans.
I have lived in America for eleven years and I have never seen anyone wearing a white tea towel around their necks. But I’m still looking.
By the time my dad retired, he had about 600 men working for him at the Edinburgh post office in the capital of Scotland. He was a chief inspector and he was the boss and he went all the way up. He did it through hard work.
He was a Scottish nationalist, my father. He believed in an independent Scotland. He also believed in this place. He believed in America and in the opportunity it offered. My father introduced me to America literally. He brought me here when I was 13. We used to get cheap fares.
Cheap air fares from Freddy Laker and I think it was $100 or something and we visited my father’s brother, my Uncle James, who had moved to Long Island. I talked often about the summer I spent there as a teenager as a 13 year old.
My father said, “Where did you get the idea I had the whole summer off work? We were there for three weeks.”
But in my mind it was a life-changing experience. I fell in love with American then. I decided then to come back.
My father believed in hard work and I believe that’s how my father expressed love. There is something spiritual in hard work. I think spirituality isn’t all about aromatherapy and scented candles. I think for my dad it was about getting up early and working hard and making a better life for his kids. And that’s what this man did.
Every Christmas at the post office, there’s something called the pressure. Where the mail starts to build up and there’s more and more mail and the postal workers were working 12 hour shifts all the time. It was crazy the amount of work they were doing. Now I think they call it going postal.
He worked his ass off the entire month of December. But every Christmas morning, he woke up with me and my brother and my sister and helped put the presents together. He must have been blooming tired. But he did it and he never mentioned how tired he was.
But I think he must have been tired.
My father was in charge of postal workers. Postal workers in Glascow – they are tough men. These are not guys who say “I am lactose intolerant. Can we get soy in the cafeteria?” They weren’t guys like that. He was a big man, my father. And he had a buzz cut, my father. It made him look like he had a scrubbing brush up here. And that was his nickname; they called him “Big Scrubber,” and the postal workers used to me and say, “You’re Big Scrubbers boy,” and I would say, “I’m Little Scrubber. Wee scrubber.” But I could never really live up to that.
When I was broke, my dad gave me a job as a temporary worker in the post office in December. It was back when I was still drinking and I got drunk and I was an hour late for work and my father was the boss and I showed up at 5 am and not 4 am. Another worker saw me and said, “Your father knows you’re late and he’s got a special assignment for you.” And what he did was send me to the Glascow airport to load mailbags onto the planes in December. I have never been so cold in my life. And remember Glascow is on the same latitude as Moscow and I had an incredible hangover and I was late because I’d been drunk, but I was never late for work again, I’ll tell you that.
My father was a great whistler. I don’t know if that’s important, but I remember it. He could do that vibrato thing. It was fantastic.
And he loved the Road Runner cartoons. I’ve said that here before. They really made him laugh. I know, I don’t get it, either, but he loved them.
He also loved the Tweety Bird and Sylvester. He loved how stupid Sylvester was. “That cat’s so stupid; the bird wins all the time.” I loved watching television with my dad. He had very unique viewing habits…When I was watching television with him, I would sit in front of him and he would sit behind me and he would put his hand on my head and I loved that. And he did it last week in the hospital. Probably the first time in 25 years or something and from his bed, he put his hand on my head.
It was amazing. It was great. He was a man of few words, my dad. I get my talking from my mother’s side of the family. But I was never in any doubt that he loved me. He wasn’t from a generation of people who said, “Son, we need to talk about our feelings. Let’s hug.” My dad would just say, “Hey,” but you knew what he meant when he said it. And the relationship that I had…I have with my father is not unlike the relationship I have with my home country – with Scotland. I complain about it. I grumble about it. I can be mean about it sometimes, but I love it beyond reason. It’s where I’m from. It’s what I am.
Last week you know, we were cleaning out some stuff in his room so we could make him more comfortable when he got out of the hospital and I found some stuff – a letter of commendation from his bosses at the post office. This letter had been written in 1961. It had been in his pouch since 1961. A fight had broken out in the mail trains where he used to work and he stopped it. It was a terrible incident and people were very grateful he had stopped it and the incident was dated September 1961 and the letter was in October 1961. I was born in May 1962, so the letter was around the time I was conceived and I mentioned that to my father in the hospital last week and said “That was a big month,” and he said, “Hey.”
He was a strong man, my dad and we didn’t always get along. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve got some opinions about stuff and you know, we got it straight years ago. But when I was a teenager, well, the night after my sister’s wedding, we got into a fight. Well, not really a fight, he said that if I didn’t stop being a jerk, he’d hit me and I ran away.
But I want to tell you about who he was. When I went into rehab, it was in the South of England and my parents took the bus from Scotland to England to this rehab and it was a very alien environment for them and they came and they sat in this room and the counselor was there and we were going to have the family talk and my father said, “Just before we start, everybody, I want to say something. Craig, I am not going to stop drinking.”
I said, “Alright. You don’t need to stop drinking. It’s about me stopping drinking.”
I want to tell you about something that happened last week. My father had a mantra. He had this thing he always used to say. When I was going into show business, my father was always telling me to get a trade so I’d have something to fall back on. My father wasn’t like that. He’d always say, “Do a job that you love. Job satisfaction. As long as you have job satisfaction, you can be anything you want to be. And he kept repeating it and my brother and I would tease him about it. “Job satisfaction, You can be anything you want to be.”
And so we’re in the hospital last week and my father was dying and he knew he was dying. And my son was there with me. He is 4 ½ and he drew a picture for my dad of some trees and a beautiful day and we put it on the wall and he sang to my dad, “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer,” which you know, everyone wants to hear when they’re in pain and it’s the middle of January. And my son sang him the whole thing. And he got through that. And then my son said, “Oh, I’ve got a great idea.” He went underneath my dad’s hospital bed and he said, “I am going to sing a song and you can’t see me.” For some reason he thought that would be very funny. Maybe I’ll try it here one night.
And he sang a song he had picked up from on the kid’s albums that come out. We were sitting there with my dad and the great drama of the deathbed and my son sang, “You can be anything you want to be. You can be…” Even in the pain, I saw that my dad had a smile that came across his face and it was fantastic.
I miss him. You didn’t know him and that’s your loss. He was a great man. And it’s hard to say goodbye to people. It’s hard to say goodbye to parents. When I left my dad, we got it straight before he died. I couldn’t speak, so a gesture came to me that I think worked and I think he knew it as well. I punched my chest and I threw him my heart. Good night, dad.