My lovely dad died earlier this year. At his funeral I shared a few of the many memories that wouldn’t have been possible without him.
It’s Father’s Day today, so I thought I’d post these words, in the hope that they will last longer here than they will on a crumpled piece of paper, in the inside pocket of my black suit jacket.
On the face of it, Dad was just an ordinary man. Bob the builder, husband, dad, granddad, great granddad, brother, uncle.
To us, he was a lovely man who made us feel safe. He was steady and reliable, and a dad to be proud of. And he was the kind of dad who would do anything for you – pick you up late at night, build you a pig sty – that kind of thing. But there was so much more to him than that. He wasn’t just an ordinary man. Far from it. He was an extraordinary man, capable of extraordinary things.
He could always make us laugh. When we were small, the bedtime routine became legendary and consisted of him giving us ‘the whiskers’ followed by a bear hug, which was always accompanied by the words, “you cannot escape earth man!” in his best alien voice. Maria had the additional pleasure of Dad’s signature kiss, when he would squeeze her cheeks until she looked like a cabbage patch kid. I can’t mention Dad’s sense of humour without mentioning the cheesecake joke. Now, I’m not sure if he invented the cheesecake joke but Dad will certainly go down in history as the man responsible for perpetuating it.
So, Dad would say “Could you eat half a cheesecake?” and when we replied “Yes,” he would say “I’ll have the other half!” Uncontrollable laughter always followed (mainly Dad’s).
It wasn’t always fun and games though; Dad always worked so hard. He did this to provide us with lovely homes and so that Mum and Dad could take us on the most fantastic holidays. And these holidays allowed Dad to enjoy his favourite pastime – looking for the short cut. These short-cuts have led to Lyon being known as the City of a Thousand Bridges, they are why we know every twist and turn of La Turbie and why, today, you are in the company of four of only a handful of people ever to have discovered what is simply known as ‘the church on the rock’.
One summer, on a flight bound for one of these exotic destinations, an announcement came through the speakers. Rather bizarrely, the announcement went something like this: “We have a spare seat in the cockpit this afternoon. If anyone would like to join the pilot and co-pilot for the remainder of the flight, please make yourself known to a member of the cabin crew.” There was no stopping him; before anybody could protest, Dad was bounding up the aisle, on his way to the cockpit, where he sat for the remainder of the flight.
He was always on the lookout for the next adventure. On holiday in Devon one year, he went for a walk along the beach in Appledore and was gone for ages. It transpires that he’d looked across to Instow, on the opposite side of the river, and thought to himself “I reckon I could swim that.” So he did. When he got to the other side, he waited until he’d got his breath back and then swam back again. That’s a mile and a half round trip!
Dad always loved music and when he wasn’t whistling (often through the gap in his teeth), he was singing. He had a great voice and I will always remember a day on a building site, probably somewhere near Brentwood, when Foreigner’s I Wanna Know What Love Is was playing on the cement splattered radio that seemed to last Dad’s entire career. He sang along faultlessly, at the top of his voice, hitting every single high note. Thirty years later, I still hear his voice every time that record starts.
As most of you know, Dad was a skilled gymnast when he was young, only giving up when he broke both arms in a vaulting accident. He always liked to remind himself of his younger days by doing an impromptu handstand here and there. Colin and I can remember how great it was to go to the swimming pool, following Dad up the endless steps to the top diving board, way up high above the pool. Not many people ventured that high so when someone did, it seemed like everyone used to stop and wait to see what would happen next. And what happened next was that Dad would walk casually to the edge of the board, do a handstand and then launch himself off the edge into a perfectly executed somersault. After we’d got changed, we used to sit at the side of the pool drinking scalding hot Bovril out of a plastic cup, whilst smugly thinking “yep, that’s my dad!”
I can’t talk about Dad without mentioning Mum. They have always been a fantastic double act. Their love for each other has always been obvious and their love for their children and grandchildren never in question. In a time when marriage is often viewed as a temporary, disposable arrangement, to us they will always be the couple that not only proved that marriage can work but the couple that became a shining example of why it should work.
I’d like you to remember Dad, Granddad, BobBob or Bob – whatever you called him – with a smile on your face. Remember those extraordinary things: the high-diving, the swimming across the river and the driving around Majorca for 2 weeks in a beaten up old Citroen Mahari and not finding first gear until the last day.
I’d like you to take the occasional short-cut, not because you think it might get you there quicker but because it might be the start of a great adventure. Never forget to take your trunks when you go to the beach, sing along the next time you hear Foreigner on the radio and do a handstand now and again, just because you can.
And don’t stop there – I’m sure you all have your own extraordinary memories.
When I asked Colin to let me know what he wanted me to say on his behalf, he said something that is very personal to him but, at the same time, goes for all of us.
He said: “All I can really think of is that Dad never stopped being my hero and that not a day passes when I don’t do something that he taught me to do.”
I think that is as much as any of us can hope for.