My father died yesterday. Certainly not a tragedy, as he was ninety-one. And he had been in great pain with cancer for the last few weeks, so probably a blessed release. But still a sad, and major event in my life. I am now an orphan!
Last year, at the time of his ninetieth birthday, I wrote a diary where I described my entire life as a voyage around my father. And it remains true that he was my lodestar, the sure and certain foundation on which I have built my life. So it would be no exaggeration to say that I owe him everything.
The greatest tribute that I can pay him is to point out that he gave that ”foundation” not only to me and my three ‘original’ brothers, but also to Graham, my foster brother, to my three step siblings – but also, as many of them have told me, to many of the hundreds of children for whom he was their headmaster. Later in life, he became a non-stipendary Vicar, so his “flock” may even be larger still.
I still marvel at the things he accomplished. In my teens, he unrolled a large set of plans on the sitting room floor, and announced that he was going to build a boat so that we could all go sailing on summer holidays together. I never doubted that he would succeed. He was not a dreamer, but a do-er. So several years later, seven of us duly found ourselves setting off across the channel in that boat. This was long before sat nav – but I never doubted that he would pilot us to the exact spot on the French coast where he planned to arrive. This despite the fact that his navigational aids were a chart of the English coast, a chart of the French coast, and the space between made of blank sheets of paper sellotaped together. We duly arrived within a mile of where he intended.
I have been astonishingly blessed to have him as a father. Like many of us, I suspect, I have largely taken him for granted. In a bizarre occurrence, the TV channel, ITV, recommended “the best of Gerry Anderson” (the creator of Thunderbirds) to me last week, which included an episode of Joe 90, of whom I was a big fan when I was about nine. And there during the credits was Joe 90’s special briefcase, which opened in two direction to reveal a secret compartment. And it brought tears to my eyes, because, out of bits of wood and hardboard, my father made me a briefcase exactly like that. I am sure the nine year old David did not appreciate the love that it must have taken for a very busy man, with four children and a school to run, to find a way of creating something like that to satisfy his son’s wish to be Joe 90. I spoke to him later evening, and the very last words I had with him were to thank him properly for that gift, and the love that came with it.