MY MOTHER has not aged. But I have watched my father grow older. I remember when Dad had more hair and less tummy. I remember when he used to race me to the back fence and he would win. I forget when he stopped running. But for some reason, first memories of dads tend to be less vivid than those of mothers. Perhaps it is because, for the lucky ones, mothers were always there, whereas fathers suddenly come into focus around the age of six. Mothers were there forever, calling for you to get out of bed in the morning. Hassling you to hurry up for school. Nagging at you to do your homework before you put the television on when you return. Reminding you it is time to set the table for dinner. Sending out the odd warning that if you don't put your clean clothes away the minute she has ironed them you will be sent to a girl's home and spend the rest of your life ironing. My dad, on the other hand, would pop his head around the bedroom door in the morning and blow a kiss goodbye and arrive home at night in time to ignore me before dinner. As long as none of the four children messed up his Sunday papers before he had read them, life went along pretty smoothly. When he did speak, it tended to be worth listening to - perhaps because he had spoken at all. While Mum would rant about untidy bedrooms and school shoes which needed polishing, to the point where my ears would slam shut, Dad would just have to raise an eyebrow to call the kids to order. Yet it was rarely Dad who dealt out the punishment. And if he did, it was likely to be a light smack. He never did awful things like stop us watching television. Dad was definitely the strong silent type in the family. My mother was a party animal. On long weekends, my folks would host a party for just about everyone in the street and we four kids and all the neighbours' kids would be bundled off to the house over the road to sleep under the guard of a babysitter. It would be Dad who popped across to check up on us and tell us to stop talking and leave the lights off. My mum didn't pop over. She was too busy doing a Knees Up Mother Brown in our living room and making sure the supply of scotch eggs and cocktail frankfurters didn't run out. She was fun. When Mum laughs, we all laugh. She laughs a lot. She makes Dad laugh a lot, too. And in my formative years (I know that's what they were now but back then I didn't think they were so important) I tried to model myself on my Mum. Dad didn't seem to have all that much to recommend him somehow. He was too quiet. I complained to my mother that I had Dad's knocked knees. And I worried a lot that I would go bald like him. He said I would. Sometimes it was annoying that I couldn't figure out what he was thinking. He seemed not to notice if I got an A on my report card while my brother got a D. He said as long as we had both done our best it didn't matter what our grades were. Back then, I didn't think this was fair but now I know better. Sometimes I would wander up to his well-equipped work-shed at the back of our garden, where he spent hours on weekends. It was comfortably messy, with its dusty floor, which was always covered in wood shavings. It smelt of pipe tobacco and, while Dad worked, he sang cobwebby songs from the 1940s. He never let me touch any of the stuff in his shed in case I got dirty or hurt myself. Nevertheless, he would let me use his grey, gritty Solvol soap to scrub my hands before I went back to the house. I would watch, silent for once, while my father made and mended things. I marvelled when he hammered together some bits of wood and chicken wire to make a five-star home for my pet lizards. He was always fiddling around putting something together. A wardrobe, a bed for our dog, a set of kitchen cupboards, a cubby house, a finely carved key for my sister's 21st. When he fell off a ladder and broke his arm he turned to arty things for a few months. He did an oil painting of Mother Teresa, which he had copied from a magazine. It was really awful. We told him it was great and he entered it in a local art exhibition with a Not For Sale sticker on it. It wasn't that Dad didn't think it would sell, he was just so proud of it that he wanted to bring it home and hang it on the living room wall. It looked like a six-year-old had painted it and we were all proud of him. Dad had a way of knowing what we kids liked and we never had to ask for anything. When my twin brother and I were eight, and still short enough to be able to walk around under our house, we used to like playing down there, listening to grown-up conversations which filtered through the floorboards. So Dad built a little cupboard for our toys, gave us a couple of bucket seats from the front of a wrecked Volkswagen car, laid down some old carpet and turned the damp underneath of our house into a cosy hideaway which rivalled the lizards' cage for luxury. No pretty dolls compared to my father's gift of a tool box filled with his old screwdrivers, a couple of hammers and some bolts. My brother and I spent happy hours removing doors from cupboards and the garden gate from around the side of the house. We used to get two shillings a week for pocket money and had to earn that - me by cleaning the bathroom every day and my brother by shovelling up the dog's droppings from the backyard. We had to bank a shilling and the other shilling usually went when the lolly man came around on Saturday mornings selling sweets and ice-creams from his big blue truck. But every now and then Dad would bring out a tobacco tin filled with coins for my brother and me to share. We never had to bank any of it and we would feel very rich for a couple of months. Yet my first clear impressions of him remain fogged. The few I have are to be treasured. Too late, I realised that this strong silent type also had something to offer. Too late, I learned I had missed a lot by spending too little time with my quiet, kind father who was always making things for his family. Too late, I realised that his silences were a sign of the contentment which I lack. Too late, I learned the value of having a Dad pop his head around the door in the morning to blow a kiss goodbye before he left the house. Too late, I learned he loved me more than anyone else ever would. I miss hearing him singing and whistling while he works. Now I am all grown up. I speak with him on the telephone but it is not the same as being there with him in his work-shed. They say that women look for husbands who remind them of their fathers. But I don't think there can be another such man in the world.