Dead Dad Day

Monday, 25 August 2014

Today is the twenty third anniversary of my father's death! I am now four years longer in life without him than with him. Starring at this in black and white is startling, for some days it only seems like yesterday he was still here with us. Today I want to remember only happy things about him, the memories we share as a family, especially the ones that make us smile. Remembering those who have passed is what keeps them alive in our hearts thus enabling us to still feel close to them.

'My Daddy is tall and has orange hair' is how I described him in my primary school books supported with a drawing! He was quite happy to be tall but made a point that his hair was actually 'auburn'. 

A bright boy, he fared well at grammar school and despite his mother encouraging him to embark on further education he left school at sixteen eager to make a living. A talented mathematician with a love of science and how things worked led him to a job in engineering and he became a mechanical fitter. Working on large machinery in the steel works, my earliest memories are of him working shifts and coming home dirty. I looked forward to his return when he would grasp his hands on my forearms, lift me to his eye level and rub his stubbled face against mine. It tickled in a weird way and I would shriek to be let go but demand to picked up again almost as quickly.

I would mither him to waltz me in the kitchen, my small feet on top of his, one, two, three, even though all he wanted was to have a bath or eat his tea. I can easily recall the comfort I felt sat on his knee, remarking on his freckled arms and rough hands which were often so oil stained no amount swarfega seemed to get them clean. I attribute my distaste for hairy men to the fact that being ginger meant he wasn't particularly hirsute.

He fancied himself as a sportsman and was delighted when my sister displayed an aptitude for all things physical. The look on his face when she mastered the 'flik flack' in our back garden was priceless, he was convinced he had brought the next Olga Korbut into the world. Saturday morning swimming always involved my sister and I stood at the poolside shivering while he swam a length underwater, in his seventies orange trunks before we were allowed to get in. My mum has never found the courage to throw the orange trunks out to this day even though all of us considered them an embarrassment, even when orange was in fashion.

Of his virtues he was hardworking, honest, ever a Good Samaritan and tried to see the good in others. He would tell us 'people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones'. Of life he never expected much, well at least not materially. His ideal gift was a half ounce of Golden Virginia and a bag of peanut brittle. Not a big drinker he enjoyed a pint of bitter and latterly a glass of Baileys appealed to his sweet tooth. My mother, when stressed with life would question him 'are you happy Bob?' to which he would reply 'I don't ask to be happy, only content'. Happiest in the company of others, he loved a party and especially to dance. As a young man he undertook lessons in ballroom dancing as he'd felt left out at a family wedding and became a fantastic dancer, another trait my sister inherited. Coincidentally, in the late fifties and early sixties as he put it, 'dancing was the only way to get a grip of a girl'.

Of his shortcomings, he was bad and quick tempered in equal parts but whilst up like a bottle of pop, it was always short lived. Always bemused five minutes following such an outburst that some or all of us were disgruntled or not speaking to him. He was argumentative and opinionated and often failed to acknowledge when to let it lie. His impatience was best observed whilst 'helping' us with our homework, in particular Maths. Such occasions generally resulted in him becoming so frustrated and exasperated that you'd worry he was poised to spontaneously combust. Fortunately it only ever resulted in him shouting at us 'Are you thick?'

Twenty three years later I miss him as much today as the day he died. 'In three words I can sum up everything I know about life: it goes on' is how Robert Frost put it and my Dad would have subscribed to that. Every funeral we went to he comforted us with 'life is for the living, the dead can look after themselves'. I have spent the time without him living but I won't pretend I don't wish he had been here to share it, to walk me down the aisle, play with his grandchildren and most importantly fix my car. What hurts the most about him not being here is that he had an innate ability to convince you everything would be fine when at times, it clearly wasn't and his complete and unconditional love.

Enough maudlin from me, as Martin Luther King said 'It does not matter how long you live, but how well you do it'. It would seem from his legacy and my very belated eulogy, Robert (Bob) Patrick Croft, 31st October 1937 - 25th August 1991, did a pretty good job in his 52 years.