Dad would have been 92 today. His death on the first day of January 2008 stopped him reaching 80, never mind 90.
There was always a bit of a chancer about him. Like the time Santa brought me a Scalextric for Christmas. Imagine my delight when I used the controls to race the cars around the tracks. There I was squealing with happiness – until the cars stopped. No matter what I did they wouldn’t restart.
I had my suspicions over the years as I got to know Dad better. And I did ask him eventually what the story was. Had he bought the Scalextric off someone else? Rumbled, he owned up to having bought them off a guy no questions asked. We laughed about it then, but it wasn’t funny that Christmas Day.
Then there was the time when he worked as a salesman flogging washing machines. He would call on rural houses plying his trade. He claimed that he once sold a washing machine to a woman who didn’t have any electricity, although he said with a laugh that she was due to be connected the following week. I never did find out whether she did or not.
Dad served in the British Navy for 10 years after World War Two. He used to tell me about intercepting Jewish refugee ships off Palestine, and the time he missed out on a naval disaster when he was transferred from a submarine called HMS Affray. I wondered if it was a tall tale, but I later discovered that the sub had sunk in April 1951 with the loss of 75 people.
I found Dad’s navy records when Mum died in 2018. He kept everything, from records of the many vaccines he took, to the ships he served on and the dates. He finished with HMS Affray the previous December but he knew some of the crew. Fortunately, I have some photos taken of the submarine, including the crew and engine room.
In the middle of his service he married his sweetheart, Margaret, in London, looking dashing in his uniform. He was still in the navy when Lorraine and I were born, although those births happened in Cork because Mum was homesick and went back and forth a lot.
Dad got a job with the oil refinery in Whitegate and worked there from the late 1950s until his retirement. When Esso owned the refinery Dad and some other workers were transferred to a gas plant in Libya for a few years. Those were very exciting times when he would come back every so often with loads of duty free cigarettes, drink, and gold jewellery.
Unfortunately, Dad became ill and was forced to return home some time later. Shortly afterwards King Idris, Libya’s ruler, was dethroned by a guy called Gaddafi and Dad’s foreign adventure was over.
We watched the 1966 World Cup Final in 1966 with me supporting West Germany and him backing England. That was a super match and fired my lifelong interest in soccer. He took me to see Cork Hibs play at Flower Lodge and we used to walk out to Flower Lodge to see them play. Once we traipsed through the rain to see Cork Celtic play at Turners Cross. We arrived soaked to th skin, only to find the match had been cancelled.
He could be very generous. I remember one summer when he would take us to Kinsale every Saturday for a family dinner. We went to every decent restaurant in Kinsale, but our favourites were the Man Friday and the Bistro. Dad enjoyed those nights, as did we because he paid!
He loved family lunches and as his children married and their children arrived he liked nothing more than taking the clan out. And how we loved those gatherings. He loved being the patriarch, smiling benevolently at all of us as we silently thanked the gods that we weren’t footing the bill.
We did return the favour though. We all took it in turns in later years to have the parents out for Sunday lunch. Every Christmas Eve we would have a clan meal either in Lorraine’s or my brother John’s house where he loved every moment. On Christmas Day I would collect Mum and Dad and bring them to one of our houses for dinner. I would drive them home later in the night.
Sadly, Dad’s last couple of years were not great. His memory began to fail. He stopped watching Sky Sports, gave up the crosswords and then became confused about who we were. His final Christmas Eve dinner with us was particularly poignant. I could see he was lost and adrift from the conversation. I sat beside him to keep him company, and after a strange offbeat conversation he turned to me, nodded at the extended family and asked, “Who are these people? I decided it was best not to say anything.
The following Christmas would be his last. Instead of another family gathering he lay dying in hospital. A week later he was gone leaving us with many memories. Happy birthday Dad.