Earlier this week, I received news that my father had
suffered an accident while on holiday in France. He’d fallen out of a loft, and
suffered head trauma. He was in a coma in the hospital, but when the doctors
ran their tests there was no sign of higher brain functions. He’d already gone.
He would have been seventy this December.
It’s a shock of course, losing a relative always is. But in
some respects, it’s not as distressing as it could have been. We all have to go
sometime, it is inescapable, and I feel he would rather have gone like this –
in a random accident, being the same indomitable spirit he had always been –
than to fade away in a hospital. We had to go through that when my mother died
of stomach cancer, and it was especially hard for him as he wasn’t raised to
share emotion openly.
As a young man, he worked with seaplanes and boats while
stationed with the RAF, first in Ireland working with Sunderland flying boats
before being stationed in Singapore in the late 50’s. At the time of the Cuban
missile crisis he was in Gan, a tiny island in the Seychelles, south of India;
a refuelling base for the southern ocean passage. It was all a grand adventure
to him. When he mustered out, he took a number of different jobs before meeting
my mother and starting a family.
We moved to the Isle of Wight before I was one year old;
they were building Stansted airport near where we lived, and my parents didn’t
want to live in the shadow of jet planes. So I grew up in the bucolic splendour
of a small rural island, just thirty miles across. It undoubtedly secured my
love of nature, and as a family our house was overrun with animals – at one
point we were living with more than two dozen different species.
As a coastal tourist destination, we had many amusement
arcades and piers when I was a young boy. Several burned down in mysterious
fires as I grew up; I guess it wasn’t as prosperous a living as it could have
been. My Dad loved taking me to the arcades to play. He was in charmed
admiration of my competence at videogames, which is a wonderful thing for a
father to offer a son. He genuinely enjoyed watching me play arcade games, as
they were too fast and demanding for him to enjoy himself.
For several of my birthdays, he took me across to the
amusement park at Southsea, just an hour’s ferry ride across the Solent. It was
the site of the largest amusement arcade for hundreds of miles, and it was
always a great pleasure to go and see the new games. I first saw the 1983 Atari
Star Wars cabinet there – it was a
sensation at the time, and it was several years before any of the Island
arcades could afford one.
My father was a Christian in the same manner as John Waite’s
character of John Walton Sr in The
Waltons – doctrine mattered little to him, and he was not a regular in
Church, nor did he belong to any particular denomination. Rather, his
Christianity defined his moral and ethical world. It encouraged him to travel
to Africa in the early 1980’s to build hospitals, first in Ghana, and later in
Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). It supported him through the tougher trials of
He was very proud of me for going to university, and my
various degree courses; he came up to Manchester with my sister and Nan for my
undergraduate graduation ceremony. And when, several years later, I was to get
married in a field in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee, he and the rest of
the family flew out for the wedding. I am so glad that both my Dad and my Nan
were able to be there that day, along with so many of my friends (whose tent,
incidentally, was struck by lightning a few hours before the ceremony).
Thankfully, I don’t feel I had any unfinished business with
Dad. He knew I loved him, I knew he loved me, even though he wouldn’t say
something like that out loud. My wife and I had him up to visit a couple of
times over the last few years, and he did some work on the house which was a
great help to us and a cause of satisfaction for him. The last time he visited,
he confided in me that he was struggling with getting old. He was still willing,
but his body was no longer as capable as it once was. He still enjoyed life,
but it seemed to me that he feared aging to the point of incapacity more than
he feared death.
Dad was an exceptional man, filled with an exuberant love
for life and a playful spirit. I feel lucky simply to have known him. That he
was my father was an immense blessing.
Albert William Charles Bateman, 1936-2006