My Dad is 62 years old today. Or, at least, he would have been if we hadn’t lost him to cancer in 2004, when he was 55. The one thing that really pains me is that when I think of him, the first thing that comes to mind is what happened at the end of his life – the loss, the fact that he isn’t here any more. I really wish that I would automatically think of everything I loved about him, about his great laugh, his genuine warmth and his silly sense of humour. Like nearly every lad growing up, I wanted to be like my Dad. When he drove coaches and buses, I wanted to be a coach or bus driver. When he was running pubs, I wanted to be a publican. When he was a postman, I… well, OK, there’s an exception to every rule.
He was a very passionate man. Passionate about everything he believed in, about the musicians he loved, the food he bought, prepared and ate. His cooking was fantastic – his hotpots, curries and roast dinners were to die for. He was a political activist. When he worked at Massey-Ferguson, the agricultural machinery manufacturer, he was a committed trade-unionist and shop steward. Something that eventually cost him his job. He stood as a candidate for The Labour Party in a traditionally Conservative area and, although he didn’t win, put so much work into his campaign, that he increased Labour’s share of the vote significantly. One of the greatest things he ever did for me was to encourage independent thought and to question what I was being taught. Naturally, this didn’t exactly do wonders for my teachers, because I became the annoying kid in the class who wouldn’t just accept what they were saying at face value. My Dad is probably largely responsible for my Agnosticism, because he was the first person to discuss the difference between fact and belief, but he did it in a very ‘live and let live’ manner, because that was his way. As such, his passion for equality, fairness and justice also influenced me greatly.
He loved crosswords, quizzes and learning for the sake of knowledge. Some of my fondest memories of time spent with both him and my Mum are of watching quiz shows such as “Fifteen-To-One” together and trying to beat them both. I managed it sometimes, but getting the better of either of them was a rare occasion. Academically, he was shunted aside at school because of what was probably an undiagnosed case of dyslexia, as he really had real difficulty actually writing, but he loved reading and had a very quick, sharp and often brilliant mind. He was also a wonderful friend to me and was one of the best people to go to if you had a problem, because he would offer advice that wasn’t just the right thing to do, it would usually be the right thing for you to do, in that circumstance. He helped me a great deal through some very difficult times when I was younger. I tried to take his advice most of the time, but when I didn’t, he would usually be proven right which was really quite annoying.
Many people, when they talk about their Fathers, speak of childhood memories of playing football down the park, fishing, play fighting or other things like that. I didn’t really have that with my Dad, but that was pretty much my fault. He tried to do things like that with me, but I was more interested in playing music, chess and other pursuits which were less than sporty. As such, I felt like a bit of a disappointment to him when I was a young child, that I wasn’t the son that he wanted. Luckily, I grew out of that feeling. We loved each other a great deal, but didn’t properly connect until I was old enough to talk to him, exchange ideas, feelings and debate about the small and the great issues in life. Then we were in our element. The main thing I remember about my Dad when I was very little was him working very hard and that I didn’t see him that much. Shift work with lots of nights meant that he was sleeping through the day and working at night. Doing a job which heavily features shift work makes me appreciate everything he did for the family back then and why he wasn’t as readily available for us kids as we’d have probably liked.
The majority of us lose our parents at some point in our lives. Maybe I was lucky to have my Dad until I was 28. Some people aren’t even that fortunate, but it doesn’t feel that way most of the time. I know that I was very fortunate to have a man like my Dad there for me and am happy to know that we were very close, but all of these things don’t stop me missing him and wishing that I was able to pick up the phone and wish him happy birthday. He lives on in the memories of everyone who loved him and I know that there are, at least, three people who think of him often and especially throughout today. I don’t believe in the afterlife. I don’t believe he’s “up there” looking down on me… in a way, I wish that I did. I wish I had that comfort. What does, however, give me comfort is thinking of playing cards with him on family holidays, remembering the days of having a pint in the local pub and a couple of games of Dominoes with him and then the long chats we’d have on the phone after I’d moved away to London. There aren’t many people in my life who have been as important as he was to me. He was a great bloke. A mate, someone you could talk to and look up to at the same time. Someone who didn’t stand for nonsense and wouldn’t get involved in pettiness, but who always made himself available to anyone who had a real problem. When he died, he left a big gap in our lives which will never be filled.
Happy birthday, Dad. I love and miss you.