My dad was part of me and I part of him in every way. He is never far from my thoughts and often inhabits my dreams.
He was not the perfect father, but he was my father and the best there ever was. He taught me so much about optimism, overcoming setbacks and being myself… and much more about living.
His own life was full of obstacles. At four years old, he was knocked down by a car – one of only a few on the road in 1934 – suffered severe head injuries and had his left ear sewn back on. After three months in hospital he had to learn to eat, read, write and talk again.
Later in life, he ruptured a kidney in a motorbike accident, came close to death with hepatitis in Egypt, was rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy while working in Munich and suffered osteoarthritis, glaucoma, temporal arteritis, cancer and a series of mini strokes. His later years were plagued by health problems… but he never complained, even when he was dying with Parkinson’s Disease.
On the counter-side, he enjoyed so many successes. He was one of the junior designers of Concorde, helped design many other aeroplanes too; he rebuilt windmills, worked on the earliest electronics for rechargeable batteries and later the development of ground-breaking microwave engineering.
At home, he made several small fortunes renovating houses and lost small fortunes with his obsession with buying and selling some perverse motorcars.
He took risks, made mistakes, won and lost and won again… he never gave up.
But more than that he was my dad and full of love, which he often found difficult to show.
As an adult, I had to wait until I was battling cancer at the age of 31 to really understand my dad more fully. Over those months, we bonded as father and son and shared many emotions. He was always there for me.
I will never forget the day, about eight years later, when I won my first major press award. At the awards dinner in Edinburgh, dad and mum shared a table with me. After I received my award I returned to our table and dad was the first to stand and hug me and say “well done, son”. That moment always stays with me.
Ironically, I could only repay him after he had passed away. The proudest moment of my life was conducting his funeral service in front of our family and friends.
Some of the words from my eulogy to him I recall now:
“When I think of Dad I think of a man of no compromise yet someone who would do anything and compromise for anyone. And if ever there were regrets in his life, he rarely if ever voiced them.
He always had time to live, laugh, love and work so incredibly hard for his home and his family, whom he adored.
Dad was, at times, the most annoyingly anti-social man you could meet.
With a vengeance he hated Bob Monkhouse, Bruce Forsyth, Margaret Thatcher, the man across the road with a twitch, those bloody long-haired pop singers, the guy with the beer belly who had more hair than him, the happy next door neighbour who would ask after his health, David Beckham, Eastenders, Terry Wogan, Prince Charles… the list could go on and on.
But he also had heroes, golfer Jack Nicklaus, Nat King Cole and Doris Day, and probably his biggest hero heavyweight boxing champion Mohammed Ali – so it is sadly ironic that this magnificent sportsman too is fading with the same disease that took Dad.
Ain’t life a great leveller.
But despite dad’s pretence at anti-social behaviour, he was the most sociable and likeable man anyone could ever meet. In fact anyone who met him was immediately touched by him and loved him.
Count how many thousands of times we caught him happily chatting at the garden fence with a complete stranger, or the times he made a bird table for a neighbour or helped someone decorate or do their garden, or the dozens of times he helped us kids move house, knock down a chimney, lay a carpet, fix a roof, mend a car, drive us to a date, cover for our indiscretions … again the list goes on and on.
And now dad…. as we say goodbye, we will always remember you with love and so much affection… love and affection which we tried to bestow on you whenever we could.”
And we played out his coffin with Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”
He is gone and I miss him.
But he left his mark on this Earth and, yes, he lived.