It has been four years this month since my father died. This post is a tribute to him and the legacy and footprint that he left. It is the hardest blog post I have had to write.
He was by all accounts, despite being in remission from chemotherapy, in fine fettle.
In fact I cannot remember a time in my life when my father had been anything other than in fine fettle.
He was part of the original “keep calm and carry on” generation, a generation devoid of the insidious poison of celebrity and entitlement culture.
This was a generation that had lived through the trauma of evacuation, the horror of war and hardships of national service.
This was the generation that had peered into mankind’s stifling, toxic heart of darkness and had survived. A generation for whom work was not an option, but a source of pride and identity.
His resilience came from these formative experiences and was aided by the fact that he possessed a natural physical prowess, a genetic gift passed through the generations. He was quick and athletic, but strong too. He had an engine that would seemingly never give up.
Indeed there were days when I thought he was hewn from the mountains themselves, a man of granite, surely immortal. He viewed broken bones as “a bit of a nuisance”, glandular fever as “a bit like a heavy cold” and even his terminal cancer diagnosis as “a bit of a disappointment”.
Even in his retirement my father was incredibly busy, seemingly moving up a gear with every year he lived on the planet.
He was a keen gardener and continued to play tennis, squash and badminton to a decent standard.
He continued to march tirelessly up and down mountains leaving his wife and considerably younger sons trailing and grumbling in his gigantic wake.
He continued to plan and execute exotic holidays, marching his way through Amazonian river basin jungles, tracking big game on the savannahs of the Masai Mara and going off road on the vast sand dunes of the West Australian desert, trusty map constantly in hand.
And he watched me go off to work in numerous war and disaster zones. He presided over the marriages of both of his sons. He became a grand-father. He survived prostate cancer. And all the time he laughed and maintained his sense of humour.
Much of my memories of my dad are of a man with incredible energy.
A man with ridiculous robustness;
A man with a resilience and pragmatism that can only come from living through a world war;
A man with a quick and cultured wit.
A man with passion for sports of all shapes and forms;
And a man with a penchant for discussing anything and everything with sound opinion, knowledge and humour;
Many of my memories are of him up a mountain; tough, gnarly hands clutching a battered old map, eyes squinted, staring off into the distance, the quickest route to a cold pint flickering across his mind.
On his deathbed, my dad told my brother and I that he was proud of us.
The truth is that we are proud of him, and lucky to have had him as a father.
I love sometimes catching his traits living on in me.
For example I have recently taken quiet satisfaction in seeing my broad beans grow.
I have enjoyed tackling mountains and peaks for no other reason than that they were just there.
I chuckle to myself when I have found myself denouncing modern sat nav and GPS technology in favour of crinkly old OS maps.
To my father I am thankful for giving me his pragmatism, his natural curiosity, his desire to experience life in its fullest – ‘I would rather wear out, than fade out’ he once told me.
I am thankful to him for giving me his desire to travel and understand different ways of seeing the world; I am thankful to him for sharing his need to get up amongst the mountains and look down from his lofty perch, in order to get perspective on the world and the human condition.
I am thankful that he taught me to appreciate geography; society, nature and place. And of course maps.
I am thankful for him spending hours in the garden helping me to perfect a good forward defensive stroke, and a consistent line and length that has since sent numerous batsmen skulking back towards the pavilion. And I thank him for my ability to be able to throw a cricket ball into the middle of next week.
I thank him for teaching me how to bend a football round a wall and for teaching me the principles and importance of playing for ‘the team’.
I thank him for my right foot. I blame him for my lack of a left.
And even though it has been four years now I still miss him terribly. I miss talking to him about anything and everything. I miss his presence. His gentle nature. His sound advice. His desire to see me constantly improve myself. His poring over a bridleway or footpath on his battered old maps.
I miss talking aimless nonsense with him over a few pints and Match of the Day.
Such is my sense of loss that I miss him for the life events that haven’t happened yet, and for things that may never happen.
But my memories of him are rich and full and perfect, and I have no regrets. The footprint he left behind is long and deep.
Given how terribly quickly his condition deteriorated, I was fortunate to be next to him when he passed away.
And strange that it may sound, we had some beautiful moments in those final days before he died.
Moments when the love in the room was electric, crackling and surging through us all, revealing itself as a primal and infinitely powerful force as old and as mysterious as the universe, lighting up the murk and temporarily dispersing the shadows of death itself with its brilliance.
I am thankful for those moments and for all those moments in my life.
My father died much in the same way that he lived his life – with grace, dignity and youthful humour.
This was my father. He was my role model. My gentle giant. My stability. My anchor.
This was my father.
He was my hero.
This post originally appeared on the Daddy Cool Project website. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation which aims to help diminish negative stereotype of dads in the UK. It also highlights the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. They do some really great work – go check them out at www.daddycoolproject.org.uk and follow on Twitter @daddycooluk