Today is my dad’s 80th birthday. I read back over the post that I published here on the occasion of his 75th birthday in 2013, and to be honest, it still holds absolutely true. Dad has had a tough few years health-wise, but he has borne all that has been thrown at him with typical fortitude and the unfailing support of my mum. I have cut and pasted the post from 5 years’ ago for today’s contribution with immense pride and absolutely no regrets. Happy birthday dad – still my hero.
Tuesday 12th November 2013 is a landmark date for our family. It’s my dad’s seventy-fifth birthday, and this blog (on the eve of that momentous achievement) is dedicated to him.
My dad is my hero. This is something that I’ve never said to him (to be honest, neither of us is very good at talking about that sort of thing), but I am so proud of him that I hope he’ll forgive the embarrassment that reading this will cause him. I also hope that he’ll understand that I am writing this as a tribute to the man he is because it’s really important to me that he understands how I feel now. Life really is too short to leave these things until it’s too late. So – sorry dad – but you definitely deserve this
The concept of “the hero” has arguably lost some of its value in recent years, with sporting performance being described as “heroic”, and moderately talented pop-stars acquiring “hero-status” with their juvenile fans. But my dad is a hero in the traditional, classical sense : “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his… noble qualities” (dictionary.reference.com definition).
Paradoxically, my earliest memories of my dad are linked to the fact that he wasn’t there! This is not because he had abandoned us, but rather because he had made the decision to train as a social worker, and was completing his Certificate of Qualification in Social Work at Aston University, Birmingham. This involved leaving Cardiff each Sunday evening and returning each Friday for the duration of the course, living in digs in Birmingham during the week. None of this had been in the original plan. My dad is the eldest child of a large family that was living in Splott, literally in the shadow of the steelworks, when my paternal grandfather passed away. It was at this point that my dad assumed responsibility as the main breadwinner for the family, leaving school and taking a job in the steelworks as a teenager.
During this time, my dad was also regularly attending the Bridgend Street Methodist Mission, effectively a place of worship and local community centre all rolled into one. It was here that my dad met my mum (her dad and grandfather were instrumental in setting up and running the Mission throughout this period, but that story is for another time). The ‘Mish’ (as it is was affectionately known then) provided my dad with access to the two great passions in his life (in addition to my mum of course!) – namely, his Christian faith and football. I have only very vague memories of watching my dad playing football, and they are all centred around a period towards the end of his career when he turned out for Bridgend Street and we would go to see him on the ‘hallowed turf’ of Splott Park. Before that, though, he had played in the South Wales Amateur League for Cardiff Cosmos, and was feared and respected in equal measure as a tenacious, skilful and prodigiously quick centre forward who belied his slight stature and possessed an almost gazelle-like ability to spring into the air to win headers against much taller centre halves.
It was during his time as a member of the youth club at Bridgend Street, and then having graduated into a leader role, that my dad felt that he was being called to the Ministry and set about preparing to put that call to the test. He became a Methodist lay preacher, taking services around Cardiff and further afield, at a time when transport involved buses, trains or – if feasible – Shanks’ pony. Eventually, he secured an interview for a place at Cliff College where he hoped to be accepted to train as a Methodist minister. The panel that interviewed him decided that full time Ministry was not the right path for my dad, an aberration that I have no doubt that they would put right without so much as a second thought with the benefit of hindsight. However, the Methodist church’s paid ministerial loss was definitely social work’s gain.
It’s impossible to know what our lives would have been like had dad been accepted into the full-time Ministry, but I know one thing for absolute certain – I wouldn’t change a thing. Throughout the whole period of my childhood, my mum and dad worked incredibly hard to give their three boys the best possible start in life. As well as working full time in a variety of social work and probation roles in the Cardiff area, my dad also worked two evenings a week as a Youth Club leader in Llanrumney, and ran Youth Centre football teams on a Saturday morning and afternoon. Neither social work nor youth work were particularly profitable occupations in the 1960s and 1970s, but we never went without. Looking back, I’m still not quite sure how my parents managed it, and I’m sure that there must have been many occasions when they weren’t quite sure how they were going to do it either, but none of us ever missed an opportunity to go on school trips, take part in sporting or musical activities, or otherwise take advantage of whatever was available to us at the time.
Having initially started his social work career in the probation service, my dad’s work saw him moving up through the ranks via posts as a Prison Welfare Officer in Cardiff Prison, a hospital social worker responsible for patients with spinal injuries at Cardiff Royal Infirmary, and on into Team Leader and senior management roles in the Vale of Glamorgan, north Cardiff and finally at County Hall. Along the way, he completed a BA (Hons), part time, at the University of South Wales, graduating in the late 1980s; and throughout all this, he continued as a Methodist lay preacher and was a Deacon at Christchurch United Church in Llanedeyrn (where we had moved into a new house in the mid-1970s).
So far, so factual (or at least, it’s how I recall it, and any errors of fact are entirely my own). But in and of itself, none of this really justifies the ‘hero’ tag. That stems much more from who my dad is, rather than what he has done. I cannot recall a single instance of my dad losing his temper with us as children – even though we must have driven him nearly to distraction on many occasions. He always seems to be so in control, so calm, so measured. “Slow to anger” could have been written for my dad, but that should not be confused with any lack of determination or weak-will. Once his mind is made up, there is little that will divert my dad from his chosen path – evidenced by his completion of the inaugural Cardiff Marathon in appalling weather conditions. I like to think that some of my dad’s sense of fair play and sympathy for the underdog has rubbed off on me too, but I am under no illusions that I have a long way to go before I can claim to be in his league. Even now, at 75 years old, he will be completing his stint at the Foodbank later this week, helping to provide a vital and increasingly busy lifeline to those who are literally destitute.
I have so much to thank my dad for – for always being there when I have needed his advice, support and wise counsel; for being prepared to not be there in order to complete his training for a career that would enable him to give us a better start in life than he had been able to enjoy; for being such a superb role model as a husband, father, and man; for simply being there when words were not needed.
Happy birthday, dad; and thanks – this one’s for you…