Saturday, 29 November 2008

Dad


This is the little speech I gave at my Dad's funeral earlier this year. I had meant to put it on the blog at the time, but instead hid it in the drawer. So not in the normal run of things...and more for me than anyone else....

I’m sure my Dad…our Dad would be pleased to see the family gathered here today. And typically in our family gatherings I suspect he would be glad to know he is the centre of attention…but on balance would have preferred it if he could have had a raucous sing song whilst drinking that strange combination of whiskey and orange squash. A drink I once tried but only once.


When coming to write this I realised that there was a lot to say, but not really much time to say it. And that is true of life itself. There is too little time…we all here have got to whatever age we are now faster than we expected…and that was true for Dad too. He retained a youthful and mischievous glimmer in his eye even though age and illness took its toll in recent years.


I think a father’s role is to inspire through his own successes buy also through his weaknesses as well. I think Dad did both in good measure. In the areas where Dad was great I have been inspired, and where there were flaws, I have learnt. Today I just want to mention a few things that shape my memories of Dad’s life.


It has come as a surprise to be standing here today…and I have to say not least because even to the end, Dad insisted he was fat …and forty.


You Jean, Sheila and Dermot will know better than I how hard life was when you were all young. Dad used to tell the story from those times of how he used to steal the evaporated milk by making a pin hole in the bottom of the tin and sucking out the contents. Evidently Nanny Bowman could never work out why the tins she bought were always half empty. It was always a story told with affection…I truly believe that he understood that what ever the deprivations of his childhood, they were good family times.


He was a very generous person. I remember lavish Christmases…always a present or two in the morning, a much anticipated table present over dinner and then the excitement of handing out the presents when everyone had gathered in the afternoon. These were good Christmases and as I have grown up, I have missed the large family gatherings. But it wasn’t just at Christmas that Dad showed his generosity. At many other times when someone was in need, he did not hesitate to help them out.


I remember Christmases for another reason...it was a time for Dad to take centre stage and sing one favourite or another. He may not have been Mario Lanza…but he certainly aspired to it. He could be the life and soul of any gathering. And, as I understand it, that was quite an achievement for someone who was really quite a shy person at heart.


Although Dad was often absent as Kevin and I grew up there can be no doubt that he loved and cared for both of us immeasurably. And I believe we have learnt from that experience – and become very involved fathers to our own children. It is a role we love and enjoy every moment of every day.


Dad was full of surprises. You can imagine the surprise when Dad took me up to his new home in Leek for the first time and there was a lady there…never previously mentioned. If I remember rightly she was simply introduced as Doreen. His ability to surprise never left him. It was, after all, just eight weeks ago that over the telephone he announced “I’m married”…something that perhaps he could have mentioned four or so years ago. But that was Dad…and it brings a smile.


At work Dad has been an inspiration. From the shop floor he worked his way up and into the Board room. In those times, that was a remarkable achievement particularly in a family owned and managed company.


Cooking was one of those things that Dad enjoyed, and somewhere that his talents brought joy to others. Favourite dishes were scampi wrapped in bacon and ham cornets. Always a pleasure and a treat. For me it was a shame that in later years he lost his cordon bleu skills…and perhaps more of a shame as Fred here will testify is that he didn’t manage to transfer his expertise in the kitchen to me. That is not to say that he lost his love of food...because he didn’t…even if favourite food became Mr Kiplings Almond Slices.


I don’t know anyone else whose father has built a boat to take the family on holiday. The Norfolk Broads were a firm favourite…and I well remember one son being plucked from the water having fallen in trying to catch a dead fish, and the other son being rescued having sunk into the muddy banks up to his knees and beyond. They were fine holidays.

Dad was a caravaner. There were holidays to the South West and others to the Lake Districts. I do though think he took it to the extreme when he first came up to Stoke on Trent, and the caravan became his home.


Dad spent many hours playing cards…one form of patience or another. As he got on I noticed the rules seemed to change or perhaps he tended to cheat a little more…but I don’t think we begrudge him that do we?


But I just want to return to that drink of whiskey and orange squash. The one time I tried it was after O levels, I persuaded him that we wanted to give one of our teachers a bottle of whiskey to thank him for everything he had done for us. Instead, of course it was for a school boy’s party. I managed half the bottle mixed with squash and have regretted it ever since. I suspect Dad knew the bottle was not destined for a teacher, but chose to indulge me and turn a blind eye to the misdemeanour. He was good at that – and it’s been a lesson to me to know when to indulge and also when to turn a blind eye. It’s quite a skill to have learnt.


In his later years, Dad knew his time was drawing to an end…but that didn’t stop him fighting with the same determination. For him life was a journey and he travelled well.

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