This was the tribute I wrote and read for my dad today, at his funeral at the City Road Cemetery in Sheffield, a day filled with tears, humour, lots of friends and lots of family. I am saving it here for posterity.
This is about Gordon, or Gordon from Fulwood as he called himself during his most memorable Sheffield moment when he was on “Praise or Grumble” on Radio Sheffield. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone here today to know that it was a grumble.
Gordon from Fulwood was also my dad, and this is my “Praise and Grumble” about him and his life.
Football forms the basis of many a father-and-son relationship. One of my enduring childhood memories of my Dad will be the 80th minute at Bramall Lane and, no matter what the score was, who we were playing, how important the game was or how well (or usually, badly) United were playing, Dad would have a grumble about the team, shrug his coat on and tap us all on the shoulder.
“Come on, we’re off now to beat the traffic.”
So, being here today shouldn’t really surprise any of us - he really did always like to leave early.
I always saw my dad as having achieved a family life at a young age - by the time he was as old as I am now, he’d had five kids - but he was a grumpy old man before his time too, albeit a loveable grumpy old man. He would give Alf Garnett, Victor Meldrew and Jim Royle a run for their money, sitting in his seat on the sofa, winding up his grandson, Jack, or my mum, and then grinning to himself when he knew he had succeeded. That’s the first grumble.
And driving with him in the passenger seat was a nightmare, and forms the second grumble.
He was the worst backseat driver I have ever known, and he would always proudly tell you that he had never been in any accidents. He never used his rear-view mirror though, so was never aware of the carnage that he usually left behind - the drive home early after the football every other saturday being the worst case. Robert was telling me the other day about the time they was boxed in after the football - and Robert didn’t know what to do. Dad, not wanting to lose his time advantage simply bumped the cars back and forward until his car was free. “That’s what to do,” he said to Robert (instilling the great road sense he has today).
The third and final grumble was that he was a terrible story and joke teller, meandering his way through, forgetting the punchlines, then making himself laugh so much that we never got to hear the end of most of his jokes. We never knew what was a real story and which was a joke until at least five minutes into each, the general rule being “assume joke, until you hear otherwise.” Hopefully I can get through to the end of this story, just to show him how it’s done.
But on to the praise - he was a typical northern dad in all the good ways too. All through our growing up, he was a self-employed joiner who always fought to make life good for his family, working his way out from his roots as a Manor lad to the leafy suburbs of west Sheffield. And I still fondly remember the 3:00 Sunday chucking out time from the Rising Sun pub, when he would come back home with two bottles of pop, ready for his Sunday roast.
Through two devastating recessions, we always had a roof over our heads, and he and my mum always hid any worries from us, keeping our childhood as happy as possible. I was always envious of his skills with a bit of wood, a chisel and a pencil, but I was never cut out for continuing in his trade. Robert tried, but we all came to the conclusion that him working with dad would never result in a happy family business, so I’m glad that Mark seems to have inherited the woodworking gene that I never received.
In the good times he always provided for us with toys and holidays and all the other things you complain about not having enough of when you’re a kid. Robert, Katy and I would always moan about having rubbish holidays and having to shop for shoes at some retail park next to a Wickes or B&Q but, looking back, we were incredibly lucky, being driven through Europe on caravan holidays and over to Florida for a holiday with theme parks and watching a shuttle launch. I am sure that he wanted to go as much as we pestered him that we wanted to go, and there were always cheeky shortcuts to make sure we could afford it - pretending I wasn’t part of the family for one holiday was a memorable example - but I don’t think we ever appreciated at the time how much he and mum did provide for us. As we have all grown older and wiser though, I am sure he knew how much we did grow to be thankful.
Dad always liked to tell us stories about where he had worked and who he had worked for. Any Sunday drives out into the countryside would result in him pointing out numerous houses, offices and stately homes and saying “I fitted the doors in there”, or “I fitted the windows for Lord Ashley” or “the Duchess of Norfolk was very impressed by my woodwork, you know”. How much of this name-dropping was actually true though, is another matter. Dad was very good at name dropping, and even up to the end would be claiming my mums relatives as his own too, just to add another story to his endless list.
To be honest with you, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t fitted the doors in here too. If you spot any dodgy hinges, you’ll know.
He also had a bad habit of often coming home with random bits of wood, home appliances or diy equipment that he had found in a skip while he was working and which would live in our garage for years, just because it might come in useful one day, and he was a bugger for bringing animals back for us to look after. He was rubbish at looking after them once they were back though, usually leaving it to ‘our Jude’ but it ensured a steady supply of pets for us when we were kids.
He was very proud of his family, and cared about his wife, his siblings, his children and his grandchildren very much. In recent years we used to joke with him that we wished that he cared for us, when we were younger, as much as he doted on his four grandkids. But in reality seeing the smile on his face whenever he played with them was good enough for me. I think that was when he was truly happiest. I only wish that he would have been around as they grew older, so that they could also experience the joys of sorting out Dads rusty screw box, or having to tidy the garage up, or holding a tool for him while he helped them fit a kitchen or a window - all the while muttering away to himself because they had asked him for a favour, of course!
Dads illness struck so quickly that I don’t think he ever came to terms with being seriously ill - he was never the type of person to get sick much at all. Trying to pull the positives out of this experience though, and considering how severe his cancer turned out to be, his suffering was mercifully short. And, between the care that he got from my mum and the rest of his family, and from St. Lukes Hospice for his final week, the level of suffering wasn’t anything like it could have been.
Anybody that knew my dad would not have recognised him in his last couple of weeks, and that’s why I don’t think that the body here today is him. To me, I’ll hear him when my brother starts to tell another really rubbish joke. I’ll see him when my sister comes back from the shops with another pair of shoes that she doesn’t really need. And he’ll always be next door to me, about to phone from one room to the other to tell me to pass him the telly remote control because it is just that little bit more than an arms length from his comfy position on the settee.
Just because he’s out of sight, shouldn’t mean that he is out of mind.
Today we should celebrate the memories of the past, and be sad for the memories that we won’t be able to create with him in the future. But, when you are sad, don’t let there be tears as Dad will be just over your shoulder laughing at you for having wet eyes and accusing you of crying. He would always use this tactic to stop people realising that he was crying too, especially when watching Coronation Street or a soppy film. It never worked. We knew.
We should laugh with him, and at the stories of him, today and in the future, as we always have done in the past. And him, being a mardy old bugger, will be in that next room, reaching for the remote, grumbling because United have probably just lost again.
I’ll see you later, pal. I’ll miss you.