by Lorna Boyle
Lorna delivered this moving speech at Deltones Toastmasters. She is a favourite guest at Richmond Toastmasters – both in real life, and here on this blog. Lorna has her own blog, you can find her on Twitter, or listen to her smooth-as-silk podcast.
I got a call from my brother, Mike last month. It was a call I’d been waiting on for a long, long time. Mike called to tell me that our Dad had passed on.
I can’t say it was a shock. We’d been expecting it and neither of us could believe Dad lasted as long as he did. He had never really taken good care of himself and had been in poor health for the last 20 years of his life. I still find it very difficult to reconcile with the fact that Mum went first.
Dad didn’t have any insurance, but we made sure we gave him a good send off. My brother Mike and his son Dan, said goodbye to Dad on October 29th, the day before what would have been his 82ndbirthday. Dad would have really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a religious service; he wasn’t into religion. They said goodbye to the sounds of Matt Monroe and Nat King Cole and one of his favourites, Frank Sinatra, singing “Would You Like to Swing on a Star”.
I’ve always said I have no regrets… but perhaps that isn’t quite true. I do have one; my one big regret is that I was never able to get to know my Dad. I mean really get to know him on a deep personal level. I often thought about it. I often yearned to have long meaningful conversations with this person who was my father, the man my Mum fell for, but it just never happened. We were never able to connect that way. It hurts to know the last time we spoke he could hardly even remember me and asked me if I was married, if I had kids, how much did I weigh and… “Are those all your own teeth?”
A few years back I told Mum how I felt and was shocked at her response. She said, “Well, to be perfectly honest, Lorn, there really isn’t that much more to know.” I found it profoundly sad.
My relationship with Dad dwindled to almost nothing in my adult years, especially after I came to Canada. It wasn’t as bad as my younger brother, Ed. He felt so disconnected from Dad that he changed his name when he was 18 to Summers, our Mum’s maiden name. But at least for Dad and I there were still the phone calls at Christmas, and Mum and I would always visit him for a few hours whenever I went back to England.
And there were the birthday cards we sent to each other. It always put into perspective for me when I tried to choose a card for Dad. It was always very difficult. If the card mentioned all the usual “Thanks so much for everything you’ve done for me, Dad” and “Thanks for your support” or “your wise advice “, they just wouldn’t make the cut. It would be phony and almost hypocritical to send it so he got one with a cute kitten or a dog on the front. I never knew why he wasn’t forthcoming with the kind of fatherly wisdom I saw in other families. Perhaps that figure is something you only see in the movies. I do know his own Dad didn’t stick around for very long so I guess he never had a good role model. Or possibly it was because we all got so much from Mum. She was so strong and maybe there was just nothing left for him to give.
I can’t say Dad and I had a troubled relationship… there were no major battles or anything. Not once I’d left home anyway. I do recall one powerful exchange I had with him when I was about 14. Not long before Christmas, Mum had had enough of his antics so she took off for a while to stay with her sister. I can’t say I blamed her. I remember telling him then if he wasn’t careful he’d lose her forever. It turned out to be true.
I used to try to figure my father out. If a team of psychoanalysts had ever got hold of him they
would have had a field day! Dad had been an only child who had been completely mollycoddled by his mother. I even heard tales that she carried him up the stairs until he was five years old; she was so worried he’d fall. He was protected every step of the way. And then he went into the navy straight after school and told what to do for the next 25 years. “Civvy Street” was really hard for Dad and two years after he came out the Navy he and Mum finally split. After that he never got it together and never held a job for very long. And as for his next two wives… well, I don’t think I’ll ever understand those choices!
I spent the week after I heard feeling kind of numb. But then I found my thoughts slowly starting to change. I had written a blog to help me sort out my confused feelings and after I posted it the kind words and condolences started to come in from my friends and family.
It was my cousins who made the difference when they sent me their memories of Dad; memories of an entirely different person… the person I’d forgotten. They all remember what a great character he was and how wonderful Mum and Dad were together when we were kids – always cuddling and joking and giggling. Dad was such a great giggler.
They remember the seaside summer vacations spent at our house in Portsmouth and spoke about the gargantuan meals my Dad made for everyone, those wonderful roast dinners. Oh yes, and the enormous mess he always left behind. I can’t imagine Mum was ever too thrilled about that, but she did love his cooking.
My Dad taught me to cook; that’s something I’ll always be grateful for. He never did anything by halves and his baking sessions were legendary. I recall those baking days when all the kitchen surfaces were covered with mouthwatering goodies. The aroma of bread fresh from the oven would greet me on those mornings and oh God… the chocolate éclairs he used to make would just melt in your mouth; and all the wonderful pies, apple and cherry and his famous custard tarts. I’ve never been able to recreate the creaminess of his custard tarts.
One fantastic memory I have from my childhood was the Christmas menu he would pin up on the kitchen door every year. He would list all the sumptuous meals we would be enjoying throughout the holiday season. My brothers and I would gather round, our mouths watering, reading what delicious feast was coming up next.
My cousin Tony recalls an incredibly kind and generous man. And I suppose he was… His words made me think back an occasion when Dad came home without his coat one day. He’d given it to a homeless man who he figured needed it far more than he did. The fact that my father was probably “three sheets to the wind” at the time is beside the point. I believe it still came from the heart. Of course the day he stumbled home with a stray dog on piece of string is another story…
I sang a couple of songs for him on his birthday last month. I raised a glass or two in his honour and tried to remember the good things.
My Dad was always a dreamer… and was forever wishing for the day when things would turn around, when his horse would finally come in… the day when he would be “Swinging on a Star”.
I love you dad…