Have you ever worried that when the big call comes it’ll be just your luck to be out? Last weekend I thought I had missed a telephone call direct from heaven, whilst I had been out taking my daily exercise. But before I tell you that story let me tell you about my dad.
In the early days of this crisis I was glued to the daily Government Coronavirus update. At first I was shocked. Every day the official number of deaths kept growing. As the weeks have gone on I feel I’ve become immune. This week with the numbers starting to fall I have even found myself thinking that’s good news, less than 400 people died today of the disease!
In the past when considering the virus in this column I’ve written that Every ‘1’ is precious. I was writing to myself as much as to anyone else but as time passes, well, they say you get used to anything.
Stan Pope retired teacher who became a hospital visitor
Last week losing a loved ‘one’ became all too real for me. My lovely father passed away at the age of 96. Sometimes ‘passed away’ can be a softer way of saying ‘died’ but in this case I think it paints a better picture. For most of his life my dad was bright, funny, thought provoking, caring and full of life but over the past few years he has literally passed away. The virus couldn’t catch him but in the end time did.
Last Saturday I decided that I would go for an extra long run and have a chat with my dad. I hadn’t had a proper chat with him for a long time and now that he was free to talk it felt good to be open with him about how I was feeling. We started by looking back at the old days.
As a family we had been brought up with he sound of hymns, Bible readings and prayers ringing in our ears. Every morning we would gather as a family for my dad to read the ‘Thought for the day’ before sending us out into the world after one last prayer. Now I agree that seems pretty intense, but for me it was a normal start to my every day. I told him I was grateful for the start he and mum had given us but also that he had always tried to make us think for ourselves.
I thanked my dad for football. I started playing for the school team at the age of 8 and carried on for the next 7 years. In all that time my dad didn’t miss a match. Every Friday night he would make sure my boots sparkled and then first thing Saturday we would pack our car with my school mates and travel to Paradise Park or Ashleigh Road.
For one season he was in charge of the team. When we couldn’t get a teacher from our school to take the team the only way to keep going was for my dad, as the headmaster of the Remedial school in Cwmbwrla, taking responsibility for us out in the field. He had his opinions I’m sure, but he would defer to some of the other parents for team talks. The fact that one of my teammates was Jeremy Charles and his dad Mel, and occasionally his uncle John, would be on the side of the pitch took away some of the pressure. I still remember looking at my dad dwarfed by the Charles brothers who would always call him Mr Pope. That was because he had actually taught the boys when they were in school when he was a student teacher.
Stan Pope telling his grandchildren another story
As a child one of the most frustrating things about going out with my dad was that he talked to everyone. A 5 minute trip to the shops would take hours. On my run last Saturday, we started talking about my early music days. I reminded him about the time I had been recording during one half term holiday and he had been my chaperone. Elton had flown in to say hello to me as their newest and youngest signing to Rocket Records. For once I was lost for words but not my dad. As I ran along Swansea Bay I could still see him in his best Sunday School Superintendent suit chatting to the pink haired rock star about gardening and their joint love of roses. That made me smile.
People have been very kind this week and a number have said my ‘deep faith’ must be helping at this time. Hmm, the thing is my faith, such as it is, isn’t as straight forward as people might think and that’s because of my dad. Real faith is a funny old vulnerable thing. I remember once when I was expected to be taking a Sunday service in our church I had to ring the pastor to say I wasn’t sure if I could make it. He asked was it a last minute engagement. ‘No’, I replied, ‘I’m just not sure if I believe any of it anymore’.
This week I was really struck by one sentence written in a sympathy card by an old colleague of my dad. It probably goes some way to explain the nature of our conversation last Saturday. She talked about how he had an obvious love for the Bible and its author, then she said in brackets (though at times quite unorthodox).
My dad had been in the navy during the war. He joined up aged 19, a naïve, tiny framed, boy from the back of beyond. I remember him telling me about how shocked he was to have his sailors knife stolen by a comrade. How as the tea total, ‘Holy Joe’, he would bring his drunken friends home after a night drinking making sure they didn’t choke in their sleep. How he was haunted by the young German submariners he knew his ship had been responsible for destroying in the Bay of Biscay. After that it was hardly surprising his view of the Almighty might be considered ‘unorthodox’ to some.
So, I don’t think he would have been surprised at all by our conversation last week. We probably got onto the subject of faith somewhere on my run between the Slip and Blackpill. I told my dad I wanted to hear from him, but I was quite specific. I told him that unlike those Bible stories this time dreams wouldn’t do. I had had plenty of dreams over the past few weeks where my dad was fit and well. That could have been my subconscious wishful thinking so it wouldn’t do. I told him he knew I wouldn’t go to a séance so that was out, it appeared his options were pretty limited.
The last thing I remember saying quite clearly to him was, if there was a there, and he was there, then could he let me know?
With that I got back to my car and instinctively picked up my mobile phone. There was only one call I had missed.
It was from Stan Pope calling from home.
I sat there for a moment stunned. It was only as I gathered my thoughts that I realised that the call must have come from my cousin Stan Pope, who had been named after my dad, and who my mum and dad had cared for when his own mother died when he was a little boy.
And then I laughed. The first time I’d laughed since I lost my dad and I’m pretty sure he was smiling ‘there’ too.