Eulogy comes from an ancient Greek word that means “Good words,” so here I am to try to say a few good words about my Dad
I have to say I’ve found it hard to do – I mean how can you find good enough words to try to celebrate someone’s life – especially when it’s your dad. How can you sum up the life of man who’d travelled around the world by the time he was in his early twenties, a man who was a husband, father, grandpa, uncle, friend, and colleague; how do you say everything you want to say – how do you do justice to a life well lived?
Maybe you look at a meeting at 7 o’clock outside Boots the Chemist on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow on January 19th 1962 for instance, and then think about the 56 years together for Mum and Dad that followed.
Or maybe you talk about the family man and wife and kids and the grandkids he loved so much,you talk of the pride that filled Dad’s voice whenever he was talking about us all to someone else – and the encouragement and yes even the pain in the neck he could be when he was talking to us!
Or you remember some of the peculiar stuff; I mean this was a man who took genuine pleasure in organising the tins in the cupboards alphabetically when mum went to visit friends in Australia. I can’t decide whether that was because Dad loved to be organised or because he was ever so slightly strange …
Or you recall stuff that just strikes you as funny, like the time dad tried using a spirit level to build a rockery. I mean, it’s a rockery … it isn’t supposed to be level!
Or the genuinely hilarious memories, ones that brought a smile to our face even on the day Dad passed; of him being chased by a bull out of a farmer’s field when the dog had got loose. I recall Dad being amazed he could still run that fast! Also that Karen could laugh ‘til she cried …
Or the memories like his retirement – and seeing Mum and Dad dancing together, or memories of my wedding day complete with Dad getting lost on the way to the reception! Or remembering Dad’s face when holding Isaac and Josh for the first time, or seeing him being practically licked to death by a couple of crazy chocolate Labradors!!
Or you find yourself thinking about his mischievousness, what he called “his little boy moods” when he’d tease mum much to Karen’s and my delight; or how he’d torment me with the idea that my Christmas present was so big we’d have to have the front window removed to fit it in. Or that he’d tell local kids that mum was a witch – “She’s got a broom and everything!” – although mum did make sure to say she was a ‘good witch!’
Or there’s those little memories that we all have of Dad, of conversations, of shared jokes, of nights in the Eddy with the lads from the exchange, of the everyday stuff that forms a life, those things that form a shared history, that form lasting and important friendships. Things we’ll all remember about my Dad.
Or you can remember that Dad could be awkward sometimes, stubborn and obstinate; that he’d tell you straight what he thought if you weren’t doing what he thought you should or could. I can remember hearing one sided phone conversations when Dad was doing his union stuff that made me think, well I wouldn’t like to get on his wrong side!
Or you remember Dad’s own memories of sailing around the world – things he’d only really tell us about when he’d had a couple of drinks, because he never thought they were that interesting!
Stories of paddling logs into Lagos harbour and the barracudas in the water, or of putting the body of a huge rat on the back of a forklift to scare the pants off a bullying longshoreman on the wharf in New York, or of swimming off the boat when some joker shouted ‘Shark!’
Stories of arguing with doctors in a Glasgow hospital because they wouldn’t treat one of the crew because they were black; stories of his pet African Grey parrot, stories of his Nigerian friend, the man we knew as “Uncle Affolabi.”
Or you remember that you’ve never ridden a motorbike chiefly because your dad crashed on one when he was eighteen and always said if you ever by a bike I’ll break your legs to save you the trouble!
Or you think of precious memories – and there’s been a few brought to mind by the kind cards and words that folks have sent us in the last weeks:
Changing a wheel on Uncle Alec’s three-wheeler sticks in the mind.
Building an aviary in the back garden – I got the best mark for a “what I did in my summer holidays” when I wrote about that, you know.
Dad and Alec staggering back to the tent in Hopeman after far too many whiskies.
Our wedding video – more floor than footage as Dad got the record and pause buttons mixed up.
Helping me fit the first kitchen in our family house.
Dad sitting on the scaffold painting the windows when we were fixing them up.
Dad looking out for folks – next door neighbours, friends and family, like the Good Samaritan he was – even though he’d say he was a confirmed agnostic and even though he’d never think of asking for help for himself.
Or in these good words, as you try to remember and cherish all these good memories, you look for good lessons, or some good advice, or maybe a good example.
For me, for some reason, this is the one I’ve come back to, time and time again as I’ve thought about this eulogy.
Dad fought cancer for eight years – always with determination, and often with a certain humour (I will cherish all the memories of the laughter in mum and dad’s house for these last eight years) – and I never, ever saw him give up.
But, I did see him struggle.
For a while I took Dad to his regular chemotherapy at Clatterbridge Hospital, and it was tough for him – this particular therapy wasn’t nice and it was hard to see him being whittled away by it. On one occasion, the last of his chemo sessions, as we were walking out, my Dad just put his hand on my forearm and almost whispered, “Stay close, son. I don’t want to fall.”
For me, it’s a hugely important memory – for my proud, self-sufficient, independent Dad to ask me for help was a huge thing – I’m certain we both knew it, and both understood that it meant we trusted, supported and loved each other completely.
It was a diamond in the dust.
I’ve thought about why that memory keeps coming back – and as far as I understand it today it goes like this:
Dad asked me for help, knowing that I’d do it because it was how he always tried to show me and Karen how to be, because it’s what he would have done if the roles had been reversed; he’d have walked beside me, he’d have made sure I didn’t fall. More than that Dad would’ve done it for just about anyone …
So, as I finish these hopefully good enough words, I’d like to tell you I’m wearing a pair of my Dad’s shoes today – partly because he always had nice shoes – but mostly so I can remember the lesson of that walk out of hospital that day,
Stay close to people if you can.
Help them if they stumble, don’t let them fall.
Help them walk out on their own two feet.
Thanks Dad, Love you.