Old Ned, Grandpa Jones, and Bono’s dad Bob



I have but one memory of my grandfather, Old Ned Hopkins, and he sitting at his dining table having eaten a hearty Sunday dinner and being fussed upon by two doting daughters who never married but stayed home to mind their ageing parents – as was the case a lot in those days. And he’s wearing his stock-in-trade civil servant’s garb of waistcoat and pocket watch and I am enthralled by the ash falling down by the gold piece as he puffs away to his heart’s content.

That’s the only memory. A sharp pain while waiting on the bus put paid to his 66 years and he was gone. So I never knew Old Ned but my father, in my formative years, used to say to me: “You’re very like your grandad.” I couldn’t see it and I used to think he was just saying that to appease himself because he was missing his dad. (News of my grandfather’s death was the only time ever I saw my father cry).

I thought no more of this oft-remarked-about resemblance until one night, many years later, I was brushing my teeth and I looked up into the bathroom mirror and there he was staring back at me. Old Ned. It was eerie. And it is an image that has stayed with me.

Nowadays, though, and reflecting on Father’s Day and still missing my own father 24 years after his death – for there was so much more I wanted to say – I see more and more my dad, not Ned, in myself each day. It’s an age thing, perhaps, though those who know tell me I share his traits of charm and empathy and needless worry over life’s unimportant things (I’ve kicked that one, believe me) and the endless quest for the meaning of it all. (Well, that’s what they say, anyway).

There is also the similarity in how I relate as a dad to my own children. The positives and, hands up, the negatives. Even though the three are now full-grown and paid-up members of their society, no matter what age they are, aren’t they always your ‘kids’? When I was in my 40s and rearing them and my parents would come for Sunday lunch and my father and I would slip away for a pint, he would say to me: “You know your mother and I still miss you kids.” And I would think to myself, Get over it. (Now, I know exactly what he meant back then.)

And so the son becomes the man and the genes move down the line for increasingly I see a lot of my dad in my youngest son. He has his look, the twinkle in the eye, and the charm, the quick-to-anger and the obsessiveness and the keep-fit fanaticism (that’s one that skipped a generation) and a great love of eclectic music.

Why should I be surprised, when inheriting our emotional and physical make-up, foibles and all, is the natural order of things, the way of all flesh. A chip off the old block, the spittin’ image, you’ll never be dead while your son, your daughter, is alive, are all familiar expressions that give testament to this, well, rather obvious fact of life.

Perhaps that’s why as teenagers we rebel against our parents for we, if only subconsciously, see some of them in our developing selves – the bits we are intolerant and dismissive of when mere learners of life. It’s as Bono sang of his own father Bob: “I don’t need, I don’t need to hear you say that if we weren’t so alike you’d like me a whole lot more.”

I remember as a young lad holidaying with my aunt and uncle on their farm in North Wales and my cousin was just a month old. A party was held to welcome him into the world, his grandfather still alive. And so Old Grandpa Jones was in the big kitchen by the old Aga and he rocking his first grandson back and forth.

“Aroo,” said a neighbour looking down at the gurgling child, “but ain’t he the image of Grandpa Jones.” After about a dozen or so had remarked on this family resemblance, my aunt, somewhat incensed, said: “How can you say that a month-old child is like an 87-year- old man?”

And they said, collectively: “Well, he got no hair, he got no teeth, and he got that silly grin on his face …”

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