This day, the 28th June in 2001 , my dad passed away peacefully in his armchair from aggressive lung cancer. I know this because I was there next to him when it happened. We only knew he had the disease two weeks before he drew his terminal breath but I always had a feeling that his love of cigarettes would be the end of him. It was a hot summer morning, the roses in his beloved garden were in full bloom and the world carried on as though nothing had happened.
He was only 65, young by today’s standards. He left a young family of three children behind; his second family by second wife Julie, love of his life. He and my mother parted long before, when I was eight, my brother six and my sister two. Julie was understandably bewildered; lost and the poor kids, well I don’t know what they must have gone through.
I was 41 when he died, going through a tough divorce and I felt like I had lost my footing. I regretted the lost time spent with him. Eventually I realised that it was even worse for my younger siblings, for although I hadn’t seen a lot of him since my parents break up, at least I had spent some time over the years until I was into my forties.
He was a good dad to his kids – both sets. Not many people get a chance to have two families, twenty five years apart. I guess it gave him a new lease of life! It meant though, that when I started my family, dad had started his new one at the same time. This came as a bit of a shock but once I had got used to the idea, it turned out fine. The two sets of children grew up at the same time and when we visited (they lived a long way away) twice a year, they got on like friends or cousins. In fact, I only found out when dad died that his other kids thought I was an auntie or friend of the family. They had no idea I was their sister. I guess he was a bit embarrassed.
The facts I know about our father are few and far between. I know he was adopted and this gave him a huge chip on his shoulder. I know he had to do National Service when he was eighteen and didn’t take to it very well. He served his time in Germany, grudgingly and couldn’t wait to get out. He met my mother soon after at Wimbledon race track, I think, and was pushed into marrying her by my grandmother. He was 21, her 17. A recipe for disaster.
We didn’t have our own home until I was four. We lived with both sets of grand parents, and a cousin. Eventually we got a prefab in Balham. I remember those days vaguely. He was always on a course during the week, learning how to be a computer engineer. He was one of the first engineers in this brand new industry. He was a pioneer! He worked for ICL – International Computers Limited (I think.) he used to go away Monday to Friday and when he came home, he would always have a present. Normally dresses. I don’t know why he always bought my dresses but he had good taste. Maybe he didn’t trust mum with his money; I will never know.
He enjoyed photography and turned one of the bedrooms into a dark room, I remember the red glow of the light when I went in and watched in amazement as the plain paper gradually revealed images as if by magic. He took many photos of us kids and our pets.
He liked beer but mum didn’t like him drinking. Up until the end, he always had a row of cans lined up in front of his chair that he had emptied over the course of an evening. (My brother has the exact same habit.) I think that was one of their problems. Also women. Mum said he was unfaithful. I only have her word on that but there were quite a lot of photographs of different women from his photography days.
He was a keen fisherman and I remember fondly, family days out to Godalming and Farncoombe with my uncle John, grand dad and younger brother; they all loved fishing. One night I got up in the night to pee and found a tin full of maggots all over the floor. They had escaped from the tin and I freaked out! They were obviously bait for the next day. I will always remember that tin; it was a blue and yellow tube which originally held gingernut biscuits from Cornwall.
Another of dads loves was Cornwall. We had only one family holiday to the Lizard Point. We left in the middle of the night and stopped at a petrol station in the dark and the car had over heated. All I remember was a huge stream of boiling water spewing out of the radiator when he released the cap, it was like a geyser! It was the place he took his new family as well; they used to go to Looe every year. After he died I went to visit Looe, on a holiday to Porthleven, as a kind of pilgrimage to him. I noticed it was a fishing port with plenty of opportunities to go sea fishing, although I’m sure he was a course fishing man.
In latter years he developed a love of cricket. His second son Chris, was also a fanatic and played for the local team. To encourage Chris even further, he took an umpires course so he could become more involved in the game. He was retired by now and it was around this time that he was taken ill. He wasn’t diagnosed at first but spent two weeks in hospital while they did tests. I was on holiday in Zante when I got a text to say he was in hospital and to give Julie a call. I sensed it was serious. I went to him as soon as I got home from holiday and a week later he had the diagnoses. He didn’t make a fuss, he never did. I rallied round and got my brother and sister, who hadn’t seen him for years. They hadn’t carried on their relationship with him, so many years had passed. But they both went to visit him before it was too late and I know he appreciated it.
He died a few days after their visits and I was so relieved they got to see him before he passed and although it was sad, I was glad to be with him at the end. I wasn’t quite prepared for it but nor was anyone. His spirit will carry on in his six children and grand children and he will be remembered as a quiet, loving man.