My Dad died in the early hours of this morning. He’d been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for the very last part of his life, and there’s that inescapable feeling that this loss is just final confirmation of what has been a gradual departure over the last few years. It’s still a shock, though – and, blogs being blogs, this is where I have to say how I feel – and make my last farewell.
Dad was a ridiculously handsome man who failed utterly to pass those fortunate genes on to me, bequeathing instead a fanatical love for Leeds United Football Club. He was Mr. LUFC to me, John Charles’ greatest fan and a dedicated match-goer through the Don Revie glory years – when I was just a small child with no interest in the game. I wondered back then what all the fuss was about, to be honest – but when he finally relented and took me to my first ever match, that was it. I was hooked for life, and the many misfortunes of the Whites, together with their sadly few triumphs, have been mine too over the past forty years. Thanks, Dad. It was somewhat of a poisoned chalice you passed on to me, but I wouldn’t be without it.
Kenneth Atkinson was much, much more than just a football fan, of course. He was at various times a National Service soldier, a fine and well-loved teacher, a wonderful gardener, a DIY God, a Bing Crosby and Gracie Fields fan who was also much addicted to military and brass band music – and of course he was a son, a brother, a father and a grandfather. He was never happier than when he was in his garden or his garage, pottering about and making things beautiful. Those last three words would be a fine epitaph for anyone, I feel.
He was a Tory too, my Dad – but that wasn’t his fault. He’d caught it off his Ma and it came down a long line of impecunious smallholders, so I never held it against him. It gave us something else to argue about when the football was just too depressing for words. He liked to display the remnants of his language skills, as well, having won prizes for them in the early forties at the Kings School, Pontefract. I once went for a job at a frozen foods head office, and he left me a note, mixed French and Latin: “Courage, mon brave, à bas les peurs. Bonne chance. Per ardua ad Fish Fingers!” His was a unique and not completely accessible sense of humour. As he got older, he’d laugh helplessly at any jokes we told him – but in years gone by, only his own witticisms really tickled him. Then, when he’d said something he thought incredibly funny, he’d sit there, tears rolling down his cheeks, throbbing with silent, painful mirth until we were all in tucks just at the sight of him. It makes me smile now, just to think of it.
As Dad got older, the Alzheimer’s condition took an ever firmer grip on him. And yet, quite late in his life, he was active and nimble of mind. He loved to tell and write about his early memories of Pontefract, his home for all the 87 years of his life, and the place from which he set off on his travels to all four corners of the earth. I published on here a piece he wrote about his childhood in Old Church in Ponte, and this shows he had a tale or two to tell – and told them well. Really, the first thing that convinced me he was losing his grip on reality was an increasing sympathy for Man U and “Fergie”, as he referred to a man I can never bring myself to acknowledge. But that probably says more about my extreme prejudice than it does about my Dad’s state of mind.
I’ve never been very good at goodbyes, but this one has been coming for a while. I’ll remember him for the things he loved – the football, the garden, his immaculate tool shed. And the people, too – his wife, my Mum, who he was crazy about for well over fifty years, his parents when they were around, we three lads, his brother and sisters, two of whom went before him, and of course his three grandchildren. I was always proud that his only grand-daughter – my daughter Kate – was born on his 66th birthday; surely the best present he ever got. I’ll leave the actual goodbye to a quote from her, earlier today:
When I think of being little, I always think of sitting with my Grandad in his beautiful garden. I can’t imagine my next birthday, because it’ll be the first in my life that isn’t his birthday too. I’ll miss his huge hands and I’ll miss his terrible French and I’ll miss his stories about teaching and travelling. Goodbye Grandad. I love you forever, and I hope you’re back in your garden now.
As someone who always raised his own flowers, I’m sure he’d not wish them now. But if anyone is moved to make a small donation to the Alzheimer’s Society, then that would be a blessing and very much appreciated.
RIP, Dad. I hope Leeds can do the decent thing and wallop Watford for you. Say hi to Don and Billy and Gary and John Charles for me, won’t you.
And last of all – à bientôt, Papa xx