My Dad ( written in 2009 not long after that bastard cancer got to him)
There are some lyrics that a songwriter from Manchester once wrote.
‘It’s so easy to laugh
It’s so easy to hate
It takes guts to be gentle and kind’
It’s a song I heard when I was in my early twenties and for some reason I’ve always thought of Dad when I heard it and now when I occasionally hear that record on the radio or at someone’s house it still makes me think of him.
When I was a tense and nervous teenager with no accomplishments under my belt and no real understanding of what it means to be a parent, or a breadwinner I couldn’t really comprehend what it meant to be my Dad. To my immature mind Dad was never the action hero or romantic lead that I was seeing in films or television. He didn’t strike me as being particularly athletic either - although now I can see that he had extraordinary energy and stamina. Dear God, he even wore glasses. And when he took them off you could see the softness in his eyes and how vulnerable he was. It took me some time to realize how good a man he was and how admirable in so many ways.
Two weeks ago I drove mum into Bromley to register Dads death. In this small room we sat down opposite a man who gently asked mum about Dads life.
I learnt quite a lot. Dad never liked to talk about himself. He was quite humble that way. And mum over the next few minutes was able to fill us all in.
There was one question however where her memory faltered. What was Dads job when he retired? We both knew he worked for the Prudential - that was easy - but no one could say with any real conviction what he actually did there. Sensing that we wouldn’t be able to leave without in some way nailing this one I recalled the two words that I’m pretty sure Dad said to me on the one occasion that we talked about his job - systems analyst. No idea what that meant. In my mind I would have seen a vague blur of computers and papers full of code just begging to be analyzed - but that was it. That conversation probably took place around 1975 when I was 13. Dad retired in 1986 / 1987: 12years later - by which time of course he could have been chief executive at the Pru or a gun runner for the mob. We would never have known. He never said.
In many respects my Dad was a mystery, a silent code that my Mum could read very well. In discussing the details of today’s funeral Mum instinctively knew what Dad wanted. Once or twice either my sister or I asked whether something was what Dad would have wished for – the music for instance – Jazz? Classical? Popular? Should we bury the ashes or scatter them at sea? - We asked whether Dad actually expressed any preferences. My Mums response would be ”well of course he didn’t, your father never said anything, but I always knew what he was thinking”
My Dad was sometimes too quiet. Maybe he made the mistake of thinking he wasn’t very interesting. But he was. Here is a short list of some of the things he was:
An Actor – brilliant as the villain in Mother Goose
An artist - painting evocative landscapes in watercolour and oils
A Football coach and referee
Someone who could juggle the needs of a family - his wife, daughter, son, parents, mothers and fathers in law
A vigorous walker
An imaginative gardener
A great cook – I have wonderful memories of Dads ravioli on a Saturday night sitting down to watch Kojak, Cheers or Soap
A tender, considerate husband
A fantastic Granddad
And someone who was tireless in his capacity to roll up his sleeves and help the people closest to him – his friends, neighbors and family.
Another singer - born in another country, 10 years after my Dad - once said:
‘Life is sad. Life is a bust.
All you can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and you do it well’
Looking back now on my Dad’s life I can see that he lived up to these sentiments better than most. I only hope that I can do the same with as much grace, integrity and good humour as he did every day of his life.
One last thing. Dad was a lover of nature and a keen gardener. The other day I was at Mums and she asked me if I wanted to take a bag that had belonged to him . In it were some paints and brushes that he had last used maybe a couple of years ago. Hidden amongst all of this were 2 pages that he had written about the home of Charles Darwin. One page was a poem the other was a straight description of the house and the beauty of a particular walk you could take there.
A short stroll amongst the trees in the grounds of this lovely house will clear the mind miraculously and leave it free to enjoy nature in its most seductive form
Darwin’s favourite walk was known as the ‘Sand Walk’ which took him across the width of the grounds, between fields and through a wooded copse at its end. There he could sit and enjoy the magnificent vista the gardens afford.
I have walked the Sand Walk many times and never failed to be seduced by it’s charm
I hope if Dad is somewhere now, that he is somewhere as beautiful as this. He deserves to be.