Say Hello to the Angels

My father passed away last week, this is the eulogy I am thinking of delivering at his funeral next week.

It was a long time before we realised that dad was ill.

Not the illness that took him from us 12 days ago, I knew almost from the first time we saw him lying in bed in the home that he was going to struggle to get through what turned out to be a severe infection in his chest.

Nor, even, his first brush with major illness when he had prostate cancer. When you can’t pee after going out for a few beers with your sons then a) you know something is wrong and b) it’s very hard to keep quiet about it.

No, I am talking about the illness that very slowly, day by day almost, took a little bit of him away from us. We didn’t spot dad’s alzheimers  for some time. Mum kept telling us, ‘there’s something wrong with dad’ but we dismissed her with assurances that it was ‘just dad’ and ‘he never listens anyway’. It soon became impossible to ignore. Despite his attempts at denial, his actions gave him away.

I was lucky enough to play alongside dad on his last round of golf. He has always had a passion for the sport and he loved playing but as good as he was, even in his hey-day, he would have struggled to get round with the 3 drivers and a pitching wedge that he considered the ideal club selection for that particular course. Like I said, it was becoming impossible to ignore.

Dad had taken up golf after his retirement from full employment. I have been asked a number of times in the past week what his last job was. I don’t tell them what that was, not because I am ashamed that he ended up a labourer at a factory. Indeed I had nothing but admiration and respect or the way dad humbled himself to take that job; working for the people he once saw as his peers and regularly spent his lunchtimes sharing a pint or two when he was a salesman. And it is as a salesman that I will always think of him.

I say he took up golf in retirement, this isn’t strictly true as he had played a lot earlier in his life. Too much for the family and he was forced to choose between golf and us. He chose us. He just stopped playing golf and never seemed to miss it. He did the same with smoking, eventually. One day he decided that he would stop and he did. If he set his mind against something, it tended to stay set.

Another sport Dad was passionate about was football and his love of Manchester City has been passed down through the generations. Not that we had a great deal of choice in the matter. I recall once announcing that I had decided to support United, only to later rescind the claim after being ignored completely in the intervening hour. So quite how Michael got away with it is something of a mystery to me.

Undoubtedly it is be because he is a grandchild. Dad was never the Werthers Original stereotypical Granddad but the mutual affection between him and all his grand children was always a joy to see.

Dad’s own father died when dad was only 14 and  I imagine it was tough to take on the mantle of man of the house. As the youngest member of the family dad, by all accounts, had spent most of his early life teasing his 4 older sisters; a large, poorly lit house in West Didsbury would have been fertile ground for a mischievous young lad keen to startle and scare his siblings whenever the opportunity  arose.  When he wasn’t teasing his sisters dad would be with his friends at the local youth club, St. Luke’s, where he met mum. As youngsters we would often travel with mum and dad to the lake district where they would show us the places they went youth hostelling in their late teens and early twenties and I remember seeing lots of pictures of groups of young, fresh faced  hikers – one of whom bore more than a passing resemblance to dad – but with hair.

I often wondered whether dad’s parenting style owed anything to the fact that he lost his father at such a young age. But parenting isn’t something you can readily learn, sometime you just have to trust your instincts and get on with it, and dad, like most dad’s, did the best he could. Not that we always appreciated that effort. When dad curtailed my fledgling criminal career by instructing the local constabulary to leave me in the cell to stew a while following a rather inept shoplifting spree at the tender age of 9, I struggled to foresee the good that would do me. There were times when he just got it plainly wrong, hanging up the phone and informing friends that no one called ‘Nige’ or ‘Ste’ lived at our house when they rang to speak to us was a particular annoyance and I am sure that Ian, as the eldest, locked horns with dad a number of times that I was too young to know about.

If there is one thing that has remained consistent and constant throughout dad’s life it is his sense of humour. We have received a lot of cards since his death and most allude to it. Even when a lot of who he was was disappearing he still retained this essential part of him. That was largely how dad communicated. I don’t ever recall being hugged by dad but I do remember being on the end of his favoured gestures of affection – the dreaded ‘love tap’ (“it’s only a love-tap what’s up with you”) after which you felt…, well you knew you had been ‘tapped’, if not altogether loved, or the, possibly even more dreaded, squeeze of the leg just above the knee. You generally had to be family to be fortunate to be in receipt of one of these, for everyone else you got his jokes.

Dad loved a good joke, perhaps this was from his selling days – as Dale Carnegie would have put it, he knew how to win friends and influence people with a well placed light-hearted remark or funny story. Dad also loved a bad joke and probably lost as many friends when the remark was not so well placed.

As I said, apart from hitting each other soundly round the ‘lug-hole’ or nearly crippling them, we have never been a family given to great displays of emotion, the depth of feeling we hold for each other can be found in the warmth of the humour we share. And so it was that we were telling funny stories from our past sat around his hospital bed whilst the life slowly crept from his body, not because we didn’t care but because we cared too much and only really had those words and that language to show it and to share it.

And so, finally, I hope that you will often recall your friend, husband, brother, father, granddad, uncle, Trevor, and when you do you will picture him, telling a funny story or laughing generously at a joke of yours, and you will end up, as he invariably wanted you to – with a smile on your face.