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.