My father was an accomplished, big-hearted man, naturally able and rounded in his abilities, with a good mind and skilful hands: woodwork, plumbing, painting and decorating, car maintenance, printing, bookkeeping, cooking, modern ‘O’-level maths, a smattering of Spanish, green bowling, a good bass voice and sense of harmony, and a graceful, graceful dancer. In his last year he got to grips with an iPhone, with a laptop computer, with email and the web. He loved Beethoven’s music; he loved the West Country moors.
Friends speak of him as… “a gentleman, always with a welcome cup of tea, and with the ability to make me laugh;” “kind, interesting, and really rather good looking;” “a lovely man – very kind and with an easy laugh.”
Physically, he was fearless. I once spent a terrifying day with him, me clinging to the top of a scaffolding tower while he perched on a tall ladder, merrily setting to with a 14lb hammer to demolish our chimney stack and then tiling the resulting gap in the roof.
Dad spent all his working life in Southend, rising to Deputy
Civil Engineer for the area. He took me to Southend Airport where he was working on the runways, and down a massive flood-water drain. A late project raised the sea defences along the Estuary. He believed in being community-minded and his work was for the folk who live here.
He has one, crucial quality that stands out. The best start in life is to be loved by one’s parents and I know, in my bones, that he loved me. He was always able to say and show this love. When Zoe and Jason were young, I saw how he must have been with Lindsay and me when we were young: at ease, strong, tender, warm: loving. Latterly, when we visited him with my children, I saw how he gave them the space to approach this now elderly, ailing, bearded stranger and then, when they did, there was his deep warmth and delight: they naturally took to him, enjoyed seeing him, and often asked to speak with him on the phone. He simply did care about and love his children and grandchildren: in the way he was with us physically; in the heart-ache and the thousand natural delights that fatherhood is heir to. I count us very blessed by this.
In the last few years of his life there was diminution: a closing in and a closing down of his physical world. What heartened me was an opening out of his intellectual and spiritual life. He read widely – science, politics, biography, geography, as well as novels – and followed world events. He was concerned about what was happening in world beyond his room and the depth of his caring was moving. He worried about AIDS in Africa, for example. He prayed about some of these things and he prayed for us, his family.
So, these are the things I shall remember of Dad: an accomplished and intelligent man; a man who loved us; and a man of hidden and deep spirituality.
So, what to say about Dad as he is now? This has been a hard Eastertide: new life is a hope, rather than a present reality. I don’t imagine that I shall meet Dad face-to-face in another life (though I’d dearly love to be proved wrong). But, there’s a line in a funeral prayer that talks about “God who brings us to birth, and in whose arms we die.” It gives the sense of something much bigger at work than our little lives. We are always in God.
The First Law of Thermodynamics proposes that in all the energy transformations of this world, though things change, nothing is lost. Dad has changed from how we knew him and is about to be transformed again. All that my father is and was continues, though utterly changed and in other forms. The mark upon Creation that Dad is, remains; he is held in God‘s arms.