Monday, 16 April 2007

MY FATHER

Today is my Father’s 107th birthday. He was born on 16th April 1900, and died just before Christmas 1962 after several years’ illness with prostate cancer – then a far more lethal disease than it is nowadays.

Although he has been dead for almost half a century, my Father is still a vivid presence in my memory. We loved each other dearly, but we had an uneasy relationship, because there was always a degree of mutual incomprehension between us. I always felt, rightly or wrongly, that I was a different son to the one my parents would have liked to have. I was bookish; they were not. I actively disliked outdoor sports; my Father had played rugby at school and was always fond of golf. My disinterest and poor performance on the links was a disappointment to him. I was devoted to classical music from being a small child, and played the piano – not as well as I would have liked; my Father only became attracted by music during the last decade of his life, when the new era of long-playing 33rpm records [some of which I still have] gave him increasing pleasure.

Worst of all, we did not always manage to be good companions without one or both of us ending up feeling we had trodden on the other’s toes. My Father, when he was well and not worried – a too-rare state – had a puckish sense of fun, and a keen wit. He could tell some very funny stories from his own childhood and life. At these times, he was like the playful older brother that I – an only child – would have liked. But there always came a moment when he drew back, and I was left feeling I had overstepped some invisible mark. In retrospect, our mutual inhibitions were such a pity.

My Father had a troubled life. Born in Manchester, he had been at public school – Giggleswick, in North Yorkshire – which, on his own telling, he hadn’t enjoyed. Yet he was convinced that being a boarder at a public school would be good for me [cure me of being a sissy, perhaps?], and my early ‘teens were a constant battle to avoid this fate, which I only partly managed to do. [My school life is another story]. My Father had been called up almost at the end of the 1914-18 war, which ended before he was sent to the Front. He then went as a clerk into his own Father’s chartered accountancy office in Manchester.

Sadly, my Grandfather suffered a severe nervous breakdown in the early 1920s, followed by a dozen years of invalidism that imposed a severe stress upon the whole family, so my Father never became a partner in the family firm, as he otherwise would have done. Eventually, he left to become a financial executive of John Brown & Company – one of the biggest steelmaking and shipbuilding concerns in the country [they built the early ‘Queen’ liners which, in their day, were the largest in the world]. During the 1939-45 war, my Father was Chief Accountant at Westland Aircraft, the West Country aeroplane and helicopter manufacturing firm which subsequently became notorious during Mrs. Thatcher’s premiership. Living in relatively sleepy Somerset was a complete contrast to the more bustling and hilly industrial North, to which we returned at the end of the war.

The next fifteen years were a busy time for my Father, who worked in the unhealthy atmosphere of smoke-belching steel mills in the east end of Sheffield, although we lived only a few minutes from the glorious Pennine countryside. Looking back, I realise that the strain of overwork during the war years, followed by life amid heavy industrial pollution, finally undermined my Father’s always rather frail health [he had had a diseased kidney removed before the war, and managed to throw off an attack of tuberculosis after it]. During these years I was embarking on my own working life in London, and leading a busy theatre-and concert-going life there. Until my Father’s final illness began, when he was in his late fifties, it didn’t occur to me that he and my Mother would never enjoy the well-earned retirement for which they had saved and were looking forward to.

In the event, my Father had to take early retirement and my parents bought a bungalow in North Wales with a fine panoramic view over the Menai Straits to Conway Castle. But their sojourn there was brief; they had to return to Sheffield for the skilled medical support my Father required. His last months were a grim ordeal which he bore bravely. Only weeks before he died, he said to me “Your Mother will make a SPLENDID widow” – which she did, for over twenty years.

My memories of my Father include many enjoyable times together when I was younger, as well as increasingly anxious ones as his death approached. Above all regret – for him, and for my brave Mother, who worked so hard for each other and for me and who were cheated out of their due reward. When I used to walk around the West End of London – which I can no longer do – I recalled where he stayed, and where we used to have meals together, during his business trips to London. Above all, I remember him as a kind, honest, generous, gentle man. A true gentleman.

10 comments:

lavenderblue said...

And what a lovely tribute to your Father,Anticant.
He would have been so very proud of you.

anticant said...

I know he was, lavender. But he was also very inhibited about expressing emotion - especially between men. Not 'homophobic' in the modern sense, but uneasy around it all. My being gay was of course one of the big areas of incomprehension and discomfort between us. So sad.

anticant said...

Shortly after the war, my Father's firm was among the first to install an early mainframe computer to calculate staff wages. I remember going to see this room full of massive iron machinery, which was then at the forefront of technology, and of which my Father was very proud.

He and his engineering colleagues would have been incredulous if they had been told that by the end of the century we would have desktop computers for home use which are capable of calculating and communication feats which they never imagined possible.

My Father was a modern man, and even now I don't think of him as old-fashioned or out of date. But another transformation he didn't live to see was motorways. He was a keen motorist and a first-class driver; I wonder what he would have thought of today's horrendous traffic volumes. But I know he would have loved to possess one of our top-range sporty cars.

Ms Melancholy said...

What a truly lovely post, Anticant. I love his words about your mother. He sounds humorous, aswell as kind and generous. I look forward to talking to you some more about therapy, too. I am gestating a post on CBT and humanistic therapy at the moment. I await your comments!

xxx

Emmett said...

ANTICANT, I hope this finds you on top of your form, and I should only wish to say thank you! for your memorial of your father. I have been long wanting to get at writing up my old dad, and yours /is/ my inspiration.... By-the-by, after sowing eleven acres of alfalfa w/oats topcover, I had a nice sit-down on the porch this evening -- the first really nice evening we've had here, on the North Coast of Iowa! In fact, now, i'm going to dart back out 7 have a go at some algebra or the cross-words, before tending all these redundant & too-smug horses around here; /they/ are on the broad-grin as I used my old John Deere tractor to draw the grain-drill, and they fully expect to be on benefit from henceforward until Kingdom come, I reckon. Jesus Christ....

Wook, Yeoman Freeholder & Beleaguered Livestockman!

ranger said...

Warm tidings and birthday wishes to the Anti-Paterfamilias!
Wonderful reminiscences.
As a fellow 'only child' I fully appreciate and relate to the sometimes fickle, intimate and sibling like relationship you possessed with your Dad Anti.
It is a unique connection, that of a lone son and a father. I've always felt a sense of brotherhood with my Dad.
Warm wishes to you today Anti and thanks for sharing these special and nostalgic memories.

trousers said...

Thank you for this thoughtful and poignant post. Those feelings never leave you, do they? They just cease to be such a burden. Timely for me as well, since my own father was born a week previous, ie April 9th. These two sentences -

"Until my Father’s final illness began, when he was in his late fifties, it didn’t occur to me that he and my Mother would never enjoy the well-earned retirement for which they had saved and were looking forward to."

"My memories of my Father include many enjoyable times together when I was younger, as well as increasingly anxious ones as his death approached."

- contain much that resonates with me.

zola a social thing said...

Anticant : You have the gift of a good Russian writer.
Thanks for your wonderful story.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Yes, thank you AC.

Your gift has triggered memories of my own father who died 8 years ago.

It's often when loved ones are no longer with us that we are then only able to see how much they loved us - that's been true for me anyway.

I fought with my father, verbally, for too many years - especially in my teens. I must have hurt him so much. 'Father and Son', by Cat Stevens, pretty well sums up my relationship with him...but I cannot recall him ever 'raising a hand' to me, or being personally nasty...sorry, the tears are welling up inside of me and starting to flow...give me a moment...

Fortunately, I was able to 'make peace' with him while he was alive - especially after I heard "In The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics.

But even after that I don't feel I ever got to know him, or love him, as I should.

Just before he died, unexpectedly and quickly, I had read an article by someone who suggested people should make a 'Desert Island Disc' tape of those they love - recording their voice, their favourite records, and their defining memories.

I thought that was a brilliant idea, and had every intention to do it...but you know how it is...busy lives...children...put it off to later...no hurry...
But I was wrong - never managed it.

I miss him so.

yellowduck said...

I couldn't think of anything to write. I am moved.

I hope my comment finds you well.