Of course this will have to be about my Dad, in response to the stimulus we read out. And of course I won’t do justice to the subject in just one hour. So hopefully some cameo clips will capture something of him.
When I sorted out his belongings a couple of years before he died – his health had deteriorated to the point that he needed to leave his independent life on the Maltese island of Gozo and come to England to live near me- I had to dispose of his records as a Radio Ham. Books and books of carefully handwritten ledgered notes on every single radio contact he had made with people from all over the world from 1981 to1994. Dispose of them! Throw them out! How could I justify the expense of shipping them to the U.K.? I am honouring the work and art that went into creating those beautiful neat records only by telling you about them now.
Language. My Dad loved words. He read a lot. He savoured neologisms. He enjoyed crosswords. During his last months, when he was blind, and I would sit with him for company, I would read him the crossword clues from ”The Times”. He had long since lost the mental capacity to work out the solutions, his brain shrunk with age, diabetes and alcoholism. And I never could do the Times crosswords. But we sat there together pretending we might find the answers to the clues, as an excuse to be together, as we had nothing left to say to each other. We had no words for our sad, deep love.
The only thing I have kept of my Dad is a small wooden box full of photographs. Most of them are of him with people I never knew; young lads in the Merchant Navy, many, many girlfriends (he was a “ladies man” as they said in those days – a strange concept for me, his daughter, to grapple with, influenced more strongly as I was by my sexually puritanical mother) The one photo I look at again and again is the one where he looked, at 18, very much like my own son at the same age. Why DO we value that familial continuity so highly?
Shaggy Dog stories. He told them, in pubs. Long build ups with many dramatic pauses, to what was usually a rude and tasteless punchline. I don’t remember any of them, but I do remember his laughter at the end of the joke, full-bodied and from his gut. It makes me want to laugh. Infectious.
My Dad was a cruel, violent, depressed, melancholy man. My family (mother, sister) choose not to talk about him because the misery he caused us is best not revisited. But in the mix of good, bad, and indifferent characteristics I have inherited from him, love of the sun-soaked coasts of the Mediterranean sea is one, and is responsible for me being here with you today. As is his love of words, and perhaps of holding the attention of a small audience!