My first real memories of my dad were happy ones.
In fact, they were always happy ones.
Because that was my dad. He was a happy type of man.
Always had a ready smile, always looked for the fun things in life. The things he could exploit for a laugh. And he was never afraid to make a show of himself, just to make his kids giggle.
We had an old stand up piano in our old house. He’d taught himself to play it, and he had an instinctive knack for making silly songs up, or playing around with lyrics:
“My old man’s a dustman,
he wears a dustman’s hat…
he wears cor blimey trousers,.
and he lives in a council flat”
Stuff like that..
But underneath, he could play any tune he wanted…
Although he didn’t run our house. My mum did that. She was the disciplinarian. She was The Law. And dad loved her for it. She was the perfect foil for his wit and his humour.
Although I couldn’t see it back then, I was just a nipper.
You never realise just quite WHAT you’re going to miss until it’s stolen out of your life….
He never told us he was dying: he just kept making us LAUGH
I remember he came out of the kitchen once and he had this thing: this gag where he used to put his hand on the table, jump up to the side and click his heels together in mid air. Until one day, mum moved the table. And he came out, jumped up to do his trick, and fell flat on his face
It made me laugh.
It still does.
He’d caught a virus during the second world war, developed chronic interstitial nephritis, and died a long, slow and agonizing death. But he never let it affect him at all…
Instead, he used to give me little bits of advice, Danny’s little pearls of wisdom. Nuggets of sheer genius that he knew would stand me in good stead once he was gone and I had no father figure to fall back on.
“Never eat the yellow snow….”
“Always let the woman win….”
“Spoil your children – with all your heart..”
And his all time classic: “Never let anyone see you at your weakest… never let them see you cry!”
He told me that one as I was pulling an intravenous needle from the fistula in his arm, the one they plugged the Dialysis Machine into three times every week to keep him alive.
It spurted blood all over me and I nearly bloody fainted.
Dad’s special little joke to prove he had nothing to be frightened of as he neared the end of his life. “Always looks worse than it is” he chuckled. “D’you wanna plug it in and do it again? Scare your mother?”
I could barely stand up…
But it was the night I snuck downstairs and caught him: all alone and at his most vulnerable. That was how I’ll remember him the best.
He was working out the chord sequences for “Yesterday” on the piano
It was 1965 and he was singing softly to himself as he played bits and pieces of the song over and over ’til he got them all right
I sat on the bottom stair in the darkness and watched him quietly through a crack in the half open door…
“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay,
Oh, I believe in yesterday.”
“Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be,
There’s a shadow hanging over me,
Oh, yesterday came suddenly. …”
If he’d known I was there, he would’ve wiped the tear away roughly and sung “My old man’s a dustman..” Claimed it was hay fever. But he didn’t. He hadn’t noticed me hiding in the shadows.
He just let it roll down his face and drip off the end of his chin
I was five years old at the time, but even back then, I remember thinking I’d seen something special. Something I shouldn’t really have seen. Something private between a little boy and his hero…
I crept back up the stairs as quietly as I’d come down. Pretended I hadn’t seen it.
My dad had cried…
And the next day, he was back cracking jokes again. Doing his impressions of Norman Wisdom: “Mister Grimsdale… MISTER GRIMSDALE…” Goofing around with cartoon voices and rolling round on the floor just to make me chuckle.
But I paid attention after that. And his little pearls of wisdom made more sense and became all the more important.
“Don’t borrow money if you can’t pay it back…”
“Never wish for things you know you can never have…”
“Live a good life, be kind, work hard, and always do the right thing…”
I paid a visit to his resting place last week. Freshened up the flowers, brushed the moss off the headstone.
DANNY JONES it says:
22.12.22 – 18.11.86
Simple. Poignant. And no indication of what he’d meant to me.
It took twenty agonising years for the Nephritis to eat him away from the inside out. And only once did I ever catch him crying….
”Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play,
Now I need a place to hide away, Oh, I believe in yesterday. …”
He would’ve said it was the song. The LYRICS that made him tear up and cry.
But if there was one moment in his life that encapsulated everything, it was that night as I sat on the stairs and watched the greatest man I ever knew, completely lost in that one special moment in time…singing “Yesterday”
Bravest man I ever knew: MY DAD…..
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