I first began editing the tribute I gave to my Father at his funeral for sharing here in August. Unfortunately that same month we lost yet another member of the family – my Godfather. He and his wife had always been close friends to my family. He was a man closer to our immediate family than many of my uncles by blood and I always thought of him as an uncle. It was hard for me to understand as a boy when my Mum tried to explain it to me that he wasn’t actually an uncle. His loss sent me into another tailspin of gloom especially as his funeral was held at the same chapel as my Father’s. I also wanted to share a few words about him here before telling you about my Father. They were both wonderful salt of the earth London geezers and we are much diminished by their departure.
My Godfather was an old school working class left-winger and a real champion of the aspiring working class. He worked non-stop until seventy five and even then I think he only retired because his health was starting to fail. After working for many years with my Father at a brewery he set out with his own businesses which included a fruit and veg shop and a plant nursery. He always worked hard and he always, always helped anyone he thought was in need. I remember many a time he came to visit and he’d always try to give my sisters and I a few bob without my mum noticing (she would always insist we gave it back to him). I remember he was utterly enthused with pride when I went to University. I was the first from my entire extended family on either side to ever do so. He considered it a victory for the working class.
This gentle, hard-working and kind man was, to me as a teenager and young man, what I thought it meant to be left-wing. He is sadly, and quite literally, a dying breed. And my initial attraction to the left when I attended University as a result of him was soon disabused by many of my peers on the actual University campus left. I began a gradual drift to the right from about six months in, though even now I look back on those days fondly as it was still possible to find Marxists who were polite and considered and who would go to the pub with me for debates and even a few laughs. Those days, and those people, sadly like my Godfather are now almost completely gone from civil society, replaced by the hysterical, unhinged, irrational identity-politics left we all now know. I will miss him terribly. And we are all deprived of a principled left to spar with without his like around.
As to my Father’s relationship with my Godfather, they were always good friends and drinking buddies. I dreamt about them both recently and in the dream I had to help my Godfather find my Dad and guide them both to a pub! In our youth, we (my siblings and I) were all very close to, and grew up with his two kids. My Father even ended up living with his son in the flat they owned above the fruit and veg shop where they spent quite a few happy years as bachelors imitating episodes of Men Behaving Badly. The only blessing, if you can call it that, is that unlike the other
three four family members we lost recently, my Godfather’s loss was not a complete surprise. He had been fighting a battle with dementia for two years and his immediate family were caring for him at home with the expectation that he was going to pass away at some point. We’re all going to miss him.
Now onto the tribute for my Father. I have edited this to facilitate some relative anonymity for the family members mentioned. Other than that it is exactly as I delivered it at the chapel. Because I really wanted you all to meet him at some point I have also provided an addendum with a few other observations to help you get a sense of who he was and why my sisters and I can’t really imagine life without my Dad.
What a Father Gives.
What does a Father give?
In August last year, for his 70th birthday present, I took Dad along with us to the Edinburgh Fringe.
There we discovered that Dad had a talent for heckling. We formed a crew who became the scourge of Edinburgh comedians. The comedians were so convinced, with our tag team heckling, that we were a comedy troupe ourselves so we anointed ourselves “the Banana Mafia”. All members of the “Banana Mafia” are also here with us today to remember my Dad.
My Dad had perfect comic timing and also knew when to hold the line. He had one audience convinced that he was genuinely a retired Gynaecologist. At another show, a very geeky one about comic books, my Dad won a badge from the compere. My Dad knew nothing about comic books or geeky culture but he still made everyone laugh. The compere asked people to shout out their favourite super-hero teams. Dad said, “Batman and his brother Rodney”.
Some of my funniest memories are with Dad in the car. On one day when we were travelling together, an ambulance, with sirens blaring, racing at full pelt, passed us on the motorway. He suddenly exclaimed “they’ll never sell ice creams going that fast!” On another occasion in the car a motorbike came past us – he wound down the window and shouted “Up the Mods!” at the biker. He suddenly realised was driving the wrong way and immediately pulled a U-turn and as he swung around, said to the rest of us in the car, “I could see it was about to kick off, so I got the fuck out of there!”
Everyone has a workplace accident sooner or later in their working life. My Dad had one. His was at Romford Brewery. He fell into a vat of beer. And then got two weeks off work to recover! You lucky bastard!
Just a few months ago, he and fellow residents at his block of flats were told there would be workmen on site. Only no one had seen them. So my Dad printed off posters and put them up everywhere asking if Mulder and Scully could open up an X-file to figure out where the workmen had disappeared to.
We also have many fond memories of sitting in the Sun with him. One day he was lounging on a deck chair and suddenly sat forward, pulled his vest out and blew down over his chest. We asked him what he was doing. He said “he had hot tits”. Another time we were all sat out in the garden [my sister] asked Dad what would happen if she dug a hole in the garden and pushed him in it. He said he’d be very angry. She then asked if he’d throw something dangerous at her. He said, “yes, myself.”
He didn’t just contribute laughter and sunshine to our lives though, he also gave us tremendous strength and pride.
He always believed in me. Whenever I stepped into that Ring to fight he would be there no matter what. If it was possible he wouldn’t let a minor inconvenience like death stop him. Like Rocky says, nothing punches harder than life. And the only way to win is to take the hits and keep moving forward. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep getting in that ring. And I’ll buy my Dad a ticket every time. There will always be an empty seat there just for him to watch over me.
His sunny disposition and humour belied his strength. I always knew he was strong. I didn’t know how strong until his last day with us. For his first two days in hospital he was refusing pain relief. We thought that meant he was going to get better. On the Monday and the Tuesday we still thought he would be coming home at some point. He kept telling us we were daft to come see him and insisted he would be fine. He put on such a brave face for us.
I’ll never know how much it cost him just to keep breathing. The effort must have been colossal. Throughout his last two hours he kept saying “come on girls”, willing my sisters to get there. He was holding on for them. For us. I was holding his hand. I was there when they gave him his prognosis. We thought we had hours, if not days with him still. We didn’t.
Shortly after the prognosis he said “Son, I’ve got something to tell you”. I think at that point just to lean forward and say that exhausted him. I moved closer and he said, “tell you in a bit” and then he leaned back onto his pillow. I’ll never know what he wanted to say to me. I was so relieved to see him start to relax and rest a little. I continued holding his hand. The only communication I had after that was him squeezing my hand occasionally. He closed his eyes. He didn’t open them again.
I told him that my sisters had just arrived at the car park. Then he was gone.
If I had known I only had thirty minutes left with him from prognosis to departure, I would have poured my heart out to him there and then. It’s a poor thing that I have to do it here. I’d give anything just to have another day with him. Another hour. I’ll always regret not going with my instincts when I saw him that morning and just telling everyone to come to see my marvellous, my wonderful Dad for his Last Day. His Last Hour. Instead of riding on the false hope the medical staff gave me. I’ll always regret not saying and doing more to ease his spirit, his mind and his heart in those last moments.
He. Deserved. Better.
For some of you here this is the third time I’ve seen you in these circumstances in just under a year. You know what I’m going to say. Life is short. And me and my Dad know all about being short. If you love someone. Tell them every day. One day will be the Last Day. And on my Last Day, with my Last Breath, I will spit in oblivion’s eye. Death is absurd. It’s also the only way to learn – to really learn – what matters and what you should just let slide.
To the fathers and sons in the audience, never let male pride get in the way of this. Fathers, hug your sons. Sons, tell your fathers you love them. And fathers – if there’s something wrong, don’t let pride get in the way of telling your son. He. Would. Want. To. Know.
I don’t know how many of you know this but Dad was originally a twin in the womb. Unfortunately, his twin didn’t survive and my sisters and I have often speculated how this may have affected Dad. For my part I think God knew that my Dad was going to be so cosmically awesome it would break the space time continuum if two of him walked the earth at the same time. Just imagine it. Two of him. Just one alone has already become a legend in his own right. And if there is more than one god up there, he delighted all. Of. Them.
He wasn’t just my Dad. He was one of my best mates. I could talk to him about anything. Confide anything. He was so vital and lively. I thought I had at least another decade with him yet.
But…..He saw me into this life. And I saw him out of it.
In the words of Dad’s favourite comedian, Micky Flanagan, Dad’s gone “Out Out”. But this time he’s gone “Out out” without me and I’ll love and miss him forever.
My Dad had started lurking here on GP for a couple of months before he went into hospital. He said he liked what he saw and it would have only been a matter of time before he started posting. He would have got on very well with you assorted awkward sods and sodettes. You would have enjoyed his anecdotes about getting on Ken Livingstone’s case. I was especially looking forward to bringing him along to one of the next GP socials. As you’ll never get to know him now I wanted to share a couple of things with you that would give you an insight into who he was.
He wrote a lot of poetry and his pieces appeared regularly in the local press. All the people at the sheltered accommodation he lived at thought of him as ‘their poet’. They were interviewed in a local paper article about my Dad and said “we miss our Poet dreadfully”. It was quite something to meet a substantial community of people I barely knew who were absolutely devastated at losing my Dad. I sometimes wonder what could have been given his incredibly geniality, gregariousness and charm. If just a few things had gone differently in his life I could easily have seen him having become a household name. He wrote a poem for my sisters and I years ago and one of my sisters read it out at his funeral, albeit re-titled by one of them as ‘A Letter From Heaven’. I reproduce it below.
A Letter from Heaven
My dearest children, a message for you all
Be bold in this life, and always walk tall
Stand side by side, together through thick and thin
Give each other strength for together you will win
May your lives be filled with laughter year after year
My thoughts will always be with you, my love remains sincere
So live your life, laugh again
Enjoy yourself be free
Then I’ll know with each breath you take
You’ll be taking one for me.
I love you girls and my son.
One last thing I wanted to share is a sketch by Chopper Reid (the comedy version). I took my Dad to see him in London a few years ago and we always talked about re-creating the scene below on film with him playing Chopper. My Dad once he got into rant mode was non-stop hilarity and the video below very much captures his spirit. They even looked remarkably alike, complete with the moustache, glasses, haircut and tattoos on the forearms. If you just imagine Chopper Reid below with a cockney geezer accent instead of Australian you’ll have a very accurate picture of what it was like to be around my Dad when he was at his best and on a roll. I’m so sad you’ll never get to meet him.
© Katabasis 2018