My father tells the story of overhearing one of my older brothers at the age of about five having an argument with a friend about who had the best daddy. He heard all the usual, "My daddy's bigger than your daddy", "my daddy's cleverer than your daddy", and was starting to feel pretty special.
Then my brother produced the clincher - the point with which there could be no argument, the absolute winning statement: "Well, my Daddy can make black fried eggs!"
The story tells you most of what you need to know about my father - his children adore him and are inordinately proud of him, he enjoys being around his children, he loves telling a good story, and he's humble enough to tell that story even if it's against himself. I have to tell you, though, that it's years since he made a black fried egg, and he's actually quite a good cook these days.
He has always been a family man - although his job took him away from us for long periods of time when we were growing up, he kept in touch by sending us recordings of his voice that we would listen to until the tape was practically worn out, sending each of us postcards with pictures of the places he was working in long before we could read, and exchanging long and newsy letters with my mother.
A few years ago he said, "You know, I always thought I loved children per se. I don't think that's true. It's my own children and grandchildren I love." He has a very special relationship with his grandchildren, who all adore him. His sons look up to him and see him as a role model. His daughters love him and seek his advice on everything in life.
Our friends love him too, because he's always welcomed them to his home and made them feel special. One of my friends "adopted" him as her surrogate father after her own father died, and he always asks after her and refers to her as "my other daughter".
My father can't stand carrots. I only discovered this comparatively recently - for over twenty years, as his children grew up, my father regularly ate carrots without complaining whenever my mother served them up (probably about once a week), so that we would grow up unfussy eaters. I could give you so many examples of sacrifices both big and small that he made uncomplainingly to give us a happy and secure childhood and help us begin to make our way in the world.
We always tease my father about the songs he sang to us at bedtime, and continues to sing to my nephews and nieces. He doesn't always have a good handle on the tune, and hardly ever knows the words - but we still love hearing his gentle, loving voice as he sings the old familiar songs. And we sing them the way he did, with "la la la" and "dum di dum" in all the same places, because we learnt them from him.
There's one song he never got wrong, though - our special little song which he would sing just for me: "Darling, darling, sweet Elizabeth, say you'll be mine, for ever be mine." The answer was always yes - and it always will be.