Dad, you died in a hospital gown, a sick and frail man, from late-stage dementia. But that’s not how we choose to remember you…
We want to remember you as our stay-at-home Dad. A maker of after-school jam on bread and orange cordial. Who plaited our hair each morning and packed our lunchboxes with granary bread sandwiches and fun-sized Bountys. Who stood on the garden wall waving as we walked to school.
A man you could hear shuffling round his kitchen in moccasins making large, overly-sweet mugs of Earl Grey tea - that was your soundtrack. Who made a permanent dip in the sofa, surrounded by tissues and a Radio Times circled with highlighter pen. Who let me sit on your lap to watch late-night boxing and joined me in recording Top of the Pops and music videos onto VHS tapes.
A man who made the same sweet tea and burnt cheese on toast for us whenever we were sick. And it’s still your cheese on toast and tea I crave when I’m poorly.
Later you were our taxi – choir, dance classes, the pub, always swinging into a carpark 5 minutes late in your Audi estate, determined to catch the end of the programme you were watching.
We want to remember you as an adventurer, a traveller and an unlikely sportsman. Who ran a mean egg and spoon race on sports days despite wearing the widest bell-bottoms around. A champion arm-wrestler, who in his sixties could still defeat the strongest 20 yr old. A photographer, a hitch-hiker of the world and of the A6 if needs be.
Who carried paper bags of aniseed balls and on car journeys enjoyed the competitive sport of aniseed-ball racing. Who hiked up hills with so many children (some who now sit in this room as adults) and dared test electric fences with your own bare hands just to entertain us. A scaler of rock faces on family holidays, scrambling into the sky like a goat in your denim shorts.
We want to remember you as a gentle soul. Who had a preference for animals and the elderly, and as a child shared your worries with the trees. Who had a way of lulling me back to sleep with riddles about the sun and the chimney tops, and, of course, shared ‘magic kisses’ with Sam.
You loved your cats like they were family, crying when they died and carrying around the collar of a deceased pet in your coat pocket. You never thought to question my request we drive a dying pheasant or hare to the vets.
Despite being deaf, you had good ears when we needed you to listen – we knew exactly where to find you and you always had the time. You were a true activist for the deaf and the planet, and had a smile that shone with gold crowns when you threw back your head to laugh. Many have remarked, there was permanent twinkle in your eyes.
We also want to remember you as complex, frustrated, contradictory and a genuine eccentric. A man with the most extensive dictionary of swear words despite having the gentlest of voices. Wicked enough to cock your hands into a gun whenever Margaret Thatcher came on telly whilst also being deeply anguished by the gradual decline of the Kalahari Bushmen.
You were a hoarder and a sentimentalist, a man who carried ‘just-in-case’ around with you in the form of umbrellas and plastic bags and pockets and bum-bags. You picked your teeth with pins and cleaned the inside of your toes with that day’s socks. Yes, sometimes you were annoying. A lot of the time you didn’t see eye-to-eye with me, but you loved the both of us unconditionally, battled with dentists on our behalf, stepped into roads for us.
To some you were a bit of a hero, dogmatic and loyal to a cause. To us you were vulnerable, unique and extraordinarily kind. And we feel lucky to have called you Dad - and I hope you know it.
One last thought - In life you didn’t realise quite how many of us had a fondness for you and your funny ways, but the night you slipped away, with the three of us holding onto you, our muted phones lit up with hundreds of messages. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend how much people love you in life. In death it’s far more obvious. I hope the fullness of this room today somehow proves you otherwise…