This morning my brother called to say my father had died in his sleep during the night. It was exactly how he would have wanted it, after a day helping the neighbours to keep their radiators working well. He was the oldest of the neighbours but he never stopped with his DIY and wanting to spend time with others.
When my mother died five years ago he moved up to a place near Edinburgh in Scotland to live next door to his closest friend. So I know he was happy, in company, and was active and enjoying himself right up to the last day. His unusual silence this morning meant he was missed immediately and he was found in his bed as if he had slept without knowing a thing about his passing.
Here's a poem I wrote for him a few years ago, and my thoughts also go out to everybody who has lost a father this year or other years, especially at this time.
MY FATHER’S LANGUAGE
Each night my father –
a one-time sparks
on Greek merchant ships –
sent us off with
Da-dit-dit-dit, dit, da-dit-dit,
or Adi ypnos
which even the dog understood.
When arguments loomed
he de-stressed, a teenager again
on stage at Drury Lane
in bell-boy uniform,
ukulele in hand,
Leaning on a Lampost
or Mr Woo.
He parted his hair in the middle,
crossed his eyes
and found jokes to punctuate
attempts at conversation –
like The only head bigger than mine
is Birkenhead, and Why
do giraffes have such long necks?
But when he spoke of his past
he only said it once.
How, in storms at sea,
he cupped his soup-bowl in one palm,
then swayed it like a hammock
so the spoon never lost a drop –
that the eeriest place on earth
is a hurricane, the silent eye,
where the sea surface is oil smooth
and the only way to safety
is to leave this haven,
hold on tight,
confront the battle raging
through its troubled tail.
Sparks - radio operator
Da-dit-dit-dit, dit, da-dit-dit - morse code for B-E-D
Adi ypnos - My father’s Greek for go to sleep