I have only just discovered that my father was a plagiariser. Dad hammered into us for years, the rhythming date of his birthday: “Always remember the fourth of November”, never realising that he was reinterpreting John Milton’s poem of the 1600s, In quintum Novembris, its opening line: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November”.
Why 5th November? The historians among us will know immediately, for that was the day in 1605 Guy Fawkes was arrested, part of the Gunpowder Gang who had intentions to blow up the House of Lords in London and kill King James I. Google it if you want to know more, for this story is about my father, who also forms history, but not as far back as 1605.
Dad was born on 4th November 1927 and would have turned 94 today. However, he never came close to such a remarkable age, dying of cardiac arrest aged 55, younger than I am now.
Dad was an atheist. When I was 18 he tried to talk me out of my faith, suggesting that Christianity is just a crutch for people. Perhaps that is so. I certainly lean, perhaps into, not on, Jesus Christ. But there would also be many times when I lean on my faith, for it gives me hope and purpose.
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The last time I saw my dad with a beating heart was the day of my husband and my wedding reception. As Dad hugged me and waved us on our way, it never occurred to me that would be the last time I would be held by him. My husband Peter and I drove back to Melbourne the following day (from Sydney) with warm, somewhat tired hearts and a car loaded with wedding presents.
Two and a half months later Dad underwent a quintuple bypass. He had put the surgery off for years. As a doctor, he understood the risks. He had his first heart attack, aged 39. My mother thought he would not last through the night. I was seven. He had several smaller heart attacks in the years that followed. But as a child, apart from watching him swallow bucket loads of tablets each day, he was just Dad. A man who loved life. Loved a cheeky story. Loved to tease his way-too-serious third child. And who totally loved his family.
Just prior to going under, Dad asked me to pray for him. Wow! That was amazing. Maybe he was ticking all the boxes in the hope that all avenues were covered, but he had never asked for prayer before.
My father formed me. But the God of the heavens knew me before I was born. He knit me in his own image.
We are talking 1983. A quintuple bypass is pretty jolly serious! He died and was revived on the operating table. The medication was intense. He hallucinated in the recovery ward and for a day or so afterwards. But he pulled through. At least initially. My last phone conversation with him was to tell him I had resigned from my job. He wanted to know if I had another job. Of course, I said. Then he told me I should have started with that! Good point. My dad, life and soul of the party, always one for the risqué jokes, liked good news.
However, the phone call that came in the early hours of the following day, 27 May 1983, was not good news. Dad had died in his sleep. The man who had helped form the person I was to become; the man who loved his children and believed girls could work in whatever they wanted and achieve whatever they aimed for; the man who modelled to his son and his daughters how to love and honour; how to be generous and a good friend; was no more.
I remember being on the plane, flying from Melbourne to Sydney, amazed that the world hadn’t stopped. How could people still be going about their business when my heart was broken. My father, the first man I had ever loved, had died. And perhaps was going to hell.
There is so much I want to tell you about my dad and his family. His mother died in childbirth, having the child after Dad. He was the fifth. The sixth did not make it. Dad’s mother, Gladys, graduated with a Master of Arts majoring in psychology out of the University of Sydney in 1915! His father, Roy, was gassed and shot on the Western Front in WWI, and awarded a Military Cross. Roy, a schoolteacher, retrained after the war as a doctor. Sadly he died in the 1950s on his honeymoon!
My mother also went to university studying physiotherapy. My daughter is a fourth-generation woman to receive a tertiary education. Pretty cool, I think.
But back to Dad. Apart from the deep grief of his absence, I was also very concerned about his lack of faith. This is something that occupies the minds of many Christians as we feverishly pray for our children, or our grandchildren, our friends, our parents, our extended family, the world. How do we manage the fear we feel for the eternal souls of our loved ones?
I sought the advice of my minister, Rev Peter Corney. His words have provided me with comfort for the last 38 plus years. Peter said, “Remember, God is a God of mercy.”
That is the wonder of our God. God has all the attributes that we need, depending on our circumstances. He is hope. Love. Redeemer. Judge. He offers grace for those who ask. He forgives. He provides comfort, rest and solace. Peace that surpasses all understanding. He is the ultimate Father. Saviour. Creator. Lord. Creator of the Universe. There before time, timeless.
We all love and therefore we all grieve. Deeply. But we have someone we can call on in the depths of our despair. The Psalms speak so much of grief and loss and comfort. My father formed me. But the God of the heavens knew me before I was born. He knit me in his own image. I cling to Peter Corney’s words. I hope that I may be reunited with my earthly father in heaven. But perhaps that might not even matter, because we will all be in awe of the God Almighty and will be joining the heavenly choir in praise to God’s holy name.
In the meantime, I especially remember Dad each fourth of November, and don’t care too much about the fifth, even if it is a public holiday in the UK.