This post isn’t going to be about my art. You see, a couple of weeks back on the 13th April my dad, William James, died. Although he’d been frail for a very long time it was still a huge shock. It was all over in one awful morning.
At eighty nine he’d been plagued by a raft of medical problems. He had many bouts of illness, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentally prepared to say my goodbyes. But each time he rallied, recovered, smiled and stoically pressed forward, rarely complaining. Latterly we joked that we should call him Lazarus, and he told me he’d promised his mum he’d keep going until he was a hundred. I believed him.
What I have learned is that, no matter what you believe, you are never truly prepared for the loss of a parent. I wasn’t with my mum, and I’ve not been with dad.
I’ve looked after him since the first of the mini-strokes which started his slow decline in 2001. We lived a few doors apart on the same road, so it was natural to check up pretty much every day. I think it’s true to say that there hasn’t been a week gone by where I’ve not seen him or at least spoken him on the phone.
Prior to getting married, I’d lived together with dad, mum and, in the sixties and seventies, both maternal grandparents too. Sounds like a bit of a crush, but when I was growing up it all seemed very normal to me, and it’s definitely left a mark; a very good mark. As an extended family we were always close, loving and inseparable.
Dad was a very straightforward bloke with simple tastes and outlook. The things which gave him greatest pleasure included visiting steam railways and family holidays in Seaton in East Devon. He loved comedy, Tommy Cooper and Morecombe and Wise made him cry with laughter. I need to mention drink here too. He loved his real ale, whisky and port, sometimes all in the same glass, and all at the same time – I kid you not! That’s my dad.
Most of his working life he maintained aircraft, steam and diesel locos and other clanking things. I’ll never know whether he was ever disappointed I didn’t follow in his engineering footsteps, but he was always very supportive. In any event, I’d have been a rubbish engineer, but to this day I too love the sight, sound and smells of steam engines; I get that from him.
Despite money always being tight, he didn’t think twice about helping to fund me through three years of Polytechnic to get my biology degree, and then my post grad teacher training. I do remember he was mystified when I decided not to become a teacher having spent a year getting qualified, but there was never any fuss or reproach. He was only ever a low paid man, and I shudder to think how much in real terms he spent to support me.
Like many dads, he spent a lot of his time ferrying the younger me about to and from friends and such like. And do you know what? I don’t ever recall him complaining about being ‘dad’s taxi service’. When you’re younger you seldom appreciate how much your parents do for you. I know I probably didn’t at the time. Maybe it’s the role of teenagers not to notice such things.
Like all families, we weren’t always cheery and smiling. When I was a younger man dad and I had our share of animated spats, like most sons and fathers the world over I guess, but there was never anything serious or long lasting. Whenever I was in trouble or need he was always there for me, even when I was doing things he didn’t agree with or simply didn’t ‘get’. I hope over the past years I’ve been there for him too whenever it counted.
I think everyone who knew dad well would probably agree he had a couple of stand-out character traits: a gentle curmudgeonliness tempered with a daft sense of humour sometimes so dry it would wither a desert. I’m so proud to have inherited both, and in my later years I intend to become a fully paid up ‘grumpy old man’. Who am I kidding? Heck, I’m starting right now; dad would be so proud.
There’s so much more to my dad of course than this quick jumble of words, but this is at least a quick snapshot with which I can both remember and honour him.
I buried my dad on Thursday 23rd April and now, so suddenly, he’s dead and gone forever. I’ll never again see his face or hear his voice, or be able to give him a big sloppy man-hug and kiss. For me this is the end of an era, my closest blood-family is now all gone. I have a very large, very raw, dad shaped hole in my life.
Goodbye dad. ‘Best Dad Ever’ doesn’t even come close.
Love you xxx