The last time I saw my Dad was when he saw me off at the train station at Eastbourne, a seaside town on the south coast of England. We said goodbye at the ticket barrier, but as I was starting to walk to the train a little voice inside me said, “Turn around and watch your Dad.”
Dad was 94. He lived alone in a small ground-floor flat directly across from his favorite pub in a village called Pevensey Bay, not far from Eastbourne. I had come over from British Columbia to visit him. He died less than a year later.
As I stood at the barrier and watched Dad walk slowly and deliberately toward the exit, I marveled at how upright he was, and I felt a quickening of love and admiration for him I had never felt before in my whole life.
He was 6’3”. He was careful, and yet so unutterably proud, in the way he walked. Straight as a ramrod. Upright as a redwood. Careful, though, not to take too big of a step. Careful in the way he used his stick to help him. Careful not to trip or fall. But never losing his poise.
What I saw bursting through him with each step he took was his indomitable spirit. A spirit tried in peace and war. In 75 years of brave journalism – to quote a commemorative silver plate he received toward the end of his life from fellow London journalists -- and in a million other ways.
He was as brave at 94 as he was when he was 60, listening to a judge sentence him to 6 months in prison for refusing to betray his principles and reveal his sources to a government spy tribunal. His quick jokes, a specialty of his, didn’t diminish in quality as far as I could see, and he remained as gallant as ever to the ladies. It impressed the heck out of my wife the first time they met when he insisted on carrying her coat.
In this world in which we live it seems as if there is less and less upon which we can really depend. Jobs quit on us. Relationships quit on us. Institutions quit on us. Sometimes friendships quit on us. Some argue government is quitting on them.
Cars are quite well-known for quitting on people, too, though in fairness to automakers it does seem as if they are doing a better job these days.
But there is something you can trust that will never quit on you, and it is your own unconquerable spirit. The idea of quitting never enters its head. And its love never fails.
I feel Dad’s indomitable spirit present with me more strongly than ever, cheering me on, shall I say. And with all his flaws, and all my flaws, I’m glad he was my Dad.
Please write if you have any thoughts you’d like to share. And if you enjoyed this post, please pass it along to a friend. Stay strong.
Re picture: Left to right, my Aunt Kathleen, my wonderful wife, JoAnn, and Dad