Time I returned to counting my blessings each week after I hope an understandable break, when words have been hard to find. Today would have been my Dad’s 90th birthday if he’d lived just two months more. I really thought he’d make it. Anyway, I’m resuming my account of the blessings that have been sent to me by sharing the tribute I gave at his funeral, which gives a flavour of the great blessing he was. It’s a rather long post but then, he lived a long life and he filled mine with good things.
Dear Dad – Pops,
How do I do justice to your nearly 90 years of a life so well lived? How do I put all your stories into just one tribute?
I sat in my garden to write some of this and, as I looked at the roses we planted in memory of you and Mum and our miniature apple trees inspired by the ones you used to grow, I was reminded that, like you, Father God is a gardener too. And that your life was full of His fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – so I’ll use these to try and sum up what you mean to me.
I’ll start with the most important, LOVE:
You loved lots of things:
- Finnish Spitz dogs
- 20th century history/current affairs
You loved people:
- You loved Mum, so much: 55 years together
- You loved us, your children – and not just me and Dave, but Rob and Debbie, Shola and William, and all those people you and Mum unofficially adopted over the years, from Rene Merrick (a widow with no family) to Albert the tramp (who you had stay with us for a while).
- You loved your grandchildren, so enjoyed spending time with them – on the floor watching Thomas the Tank Engine for hours on end with a young Jamie, discussing in obscure detail interwar history with Paddy for his GCSE and A level, telling stories of your youth to Mark, always drawing visitors’ attention to Becky’s photos with such pride.
- You loved your extended family, especially your sister Jean, and your cousin Leon, more like a brother.
- You loved your many friends; you had so many despite describing yourself a loner
Most of all, you loved God, ‘Father’ as you called Him. Your whole life was based on your walk with God. It was the bedrock.
Then there’s JOY: When I picture you, Dad, my first thought is always of the twinkle in your eye. Your cheeky sense of humour never left you, your whole life. You were a practical joker from an early age – as boy, plaiting your sleeping dad’s hair to the back of the chair, as a dad and grandad, hiding cutlery at family meals when we glanced away from the table.
You were full of mischief. You taught me to climb trees and when you found me using that skill to scrump apples from my Uncle Jim’s neighbour’s garden, your reaction was to lean over the fence to grab the ones I couldn’t reach, and then lie to Mum and Auntie Vera about where they’d come from. When I confessed to getting caught paddling in the ornamental pond in Pymmes Park before the park keeper told you, Mum was really cross but you just laughed.
And how can we forget your inventive revenge on the neighbour who continued to have noisy midweek parties late into the night? You faced our loudspeakers right against the shared wall, turned the hifi up to full volume, and played bagpipe music. I’ve never seen a party clear so quickly.
You delighted in language: the daily newspaper crossword; French for speaking privately to Mum (although my O and A levels in French rather put paid to that!); toasts in Gaelic; and swearing in Arabic. You were particularly pleased that the few key phrases you taught me and Rob came in useful for getting rid of some persistent salesmen when we holidayed in Tunisia!
And in your last years, you charmed nurses with compliments about their hair in comparison to your baldness, made cheeky comments about the bare bottoms of statues at the garden centre, and when told to behave yourself always happily reminded us that ‘there are two ways of behaving – well and badly’!
And yet, Dad, you also had a great sense of calm and PEACE about you. You recognised when I was down but you didn’t try to solve my problems for me. You would ask me if I was having one of those ‘Stop the World, I want to get off’ times and then just listen or quietly keep me company until I felt ok. You were good at that because you knew what it was like to go through tough times, even depression, yourself.
I think your love of astronomy helped too. I remember us taking our dog for a walk on clear summer nights and then lying down in the middle of a sports field to get a better view of the constellations, you telling me the Greek myths behind them, pointing out planets and double stars. It gave us a great sense of peace and perspective – until the dog got fed up and started jumping on us to get walking again.
You were a PATIENT man too. When I was ill and feeling weak, you would wrap my arms around your waist and place my feet on yours to walk me between bedroom and bathroom. I felt so safe there. When I spent a whole family holiday confined to bed with scarletina, you read to me, distracted me with stories of your younger days, and bought birdwatching guides to give us something to do and make the most of the view.
You worked out a system for the weekly shop: you would rewrite Mum’s list in the order of the shelves as you walked around the supermarket to be more efficient. Trouble was Mum saw the list more as a rough guide than a detailed map, a shopping trip as an adventure in exploration and social opportunities rather than a task. And as for when they changed their displays round! Poor Dad, you weren’t so patient then – but you did revel in how quickly you could do a shop when you went on your own.
You were always a KIND and generous man. You’d known real poverty in your life – growing up in the Depression with your dad out of work for years and being thrown out of the family home brought massive hardship: deformed feet where they couldn’t afford to buy you new shoes, your mum down her knees praying for some food, being sent away to a children’s home for months to improve your health, a baby brother who died of malnutrition.
But I think it was these experiences that made you so kind and generous to others. You were often anxious about money, fastidious about living within your means, but what you had, you willingly shared, even to the point of sacrifice. As well as tithing to church and regularly supporting charities that were dear to your hearts, you and Mum quietly gave financial support to anyone you knew was in need. You loaned your car to Dave’s friend and even coughed up for the repairs when Colin crashed it.
You were generous in time and hospitality – hosting church house groups, always ready with a listening ear and praying heart for whoever needed it, welcoming strangers to dinner no matter how unexpected (6 friends Dave and I brought back at 2am from holiday stands out in particular).
Then there’s GOODNESS: You were always a man of such integrity. You did things with your whole heart and you did them right. It didn’t matter how big or how small the task. It went completely against the grain when NatWest automated their cheque clearance system and you were told to finish your day’s work without completely balancing the books accurately.
You willingly did our Cypriot neighbours’ tax returns for them. You didn’t just research and buy a Finnish Spitz, you became a founder member of the breed society. You got up early on Sundays to wrestle with the Edmonton Methodist Church boiler. You served on numerous committees, however tedious, stayed late to build stalls for the church bazaar, quietly prepared for and washed up after Communion. Off your own back, you studied hard to understand your Bible and faith better and put that work into the sermons you preached and discussions at House Groups.
And I grew up with such an example of love and FAITHFULNESS from my parents. I heard you tell my mum that you loved her every day. You walked and sat together holding hands your whole lives. You called her your ‘little wife’ and tucked her under your arm, your difference in height fitting together perfectly. You gave up all the money you’d carefully saved for years for a telescope of your own to buy her a re-engagement ring when her original had to be cut off in A&E after an accident, and not just any ring but the emerald she’d always longed for. You set the bar for my expectations for romance, you know. Your last ever words to me were that you loved me.
I also spent my whole life with your example of faithfulness to God. It would be easy to think that faith came easily to you because you grew up in a Christian family embedded in their local church. Heck, there’s even a brick at Edmonton Methodist Church with your initials on it! But faith wasn’t always easy. You hinted at particularly dark days around the time of your RAF service and I gave you a hard time when I was younger about how much time you gave to church. But I witnessed your faith reignite when I was a teenager; I saw increasingly what an anchor your relationship with God was for you – on one of my last visits, we read favourite Bible passages and you commented on how precious these promises were to you; I saw what strength and comfort your faith gave you, strength and comfort that you passed on.
If I wanted to know what Father God was like, I just had to look at my dad.
Someone told me recently you were ‘a true Christian gentleman’. And that’s what you were – a gentleman and a strong but GENTLE man. You were always polite and courteous to others, rarely lost your temper, quietly enjoying friendships whilst maintaining that Mum was the social one.
She called you her ‘knight of the gentle hands’ because your soft stroking of the inside of her wrist would soothe worries, ease pain, and lull her back to much needed sleep. It worked on me too.
Dad, you learned discipline in Boys’ Brigade, Air Cadets, and the RAF military police. At least I assume you did, alongside all the high jinks you also got up to at those times. I remember your pride at being there to see Jamie receive his President’s and Paddy his Queen’s Badge at BB Displays, and your stories of staying out to watch dogfights over London in the War during air raids (instead of heading for a shelter), as well as learning to swim in the desert or going on ‘brothel patrol’. You certainly learned discipline and SELF CONTROL through sport, playing cricket for your club for 25 years, boxing in the RAF, picking up some judo along the way (teaching me some key moves for self defence), and practising Canadian Air Force exercises on a daily basis for many years.
You used to say that the only spiritual gift you had was the ‘gift of administration’. And you were certainly an organised man. Finances and budgeting were carefully and diligently maintained. Family holidays were always booked in January for the end of May. Routes were meticulously planned. I think one of your favourite Christmas presents was a book of alternative routes between junctions on the M25 for avoiding traffic jams!
We saw your diligence in the family history you put together – I’ve inherited such a collection of family charts, certificates, and stories all the way back to 1700. And you didn’t take the easy online option but made but day long trips to the record offices to physically work your way through parish indexes. I remember our trip together to the Reading Office after you discovered that our much prized Scottish roots were from no further north than Berkshire.
All that fruit, Dad. And the fruit of your life lives on. You see, when I look around me, I still see you:
- When I see the integrity and generosity with which my husband conducts his life, I am reminded of you.
- When I watch my brother listen patiently and with careful attention to others, I am reminded of you.
- When my eldest, at the same 6ft 1, tucks me under his arm for a cuddle, I am reminded of you.
- When my youngest debates current affairs with such detail and insight, I am reminded of you.
- When I see my niece’s photography skills, I am reminded of you.
- When my nephew applies his mathematically logical approach to a subject, I am reminded of you.
- And when I look in the mirror, when I stop to consider what would be the kindest way to deal with someone, I pray I am always reminded of you.