I wrote this tribute to my darling Dad after he passed on November 16th last year. Fathers’ Day seemed to me the perfect time to share with you all what a truly wonderful man he was.
Peter Halliwell, My Dad
15th October 1931 – 16th November 2014
Always Missed, Never Forgotten
Nothing has seemed normal here since I got the terrible and sudden news on Sunday, November 16th, of your passing. Numbness engulfed me when the words did not ring true. The sudden overwhelming freight train of grief crept up; silent and unnoticed, then careered with full force into my heart and crushed it. Despondence followed and haunts me still. Even the most mundane of tasks takes on a surreal air, as if I am not here at all. On autopilot. Crying at the drop of a hat when the emptiness of losing you consumes me and batters my broken heart.
Then I get to thinking.
“What would my Dad want me to do?”
I receive an answer from the ether in a flash.
“Remember, cherish, and celebrate his life. Tell all who will listen, so that everyone – even those who never had the privilege to meet him – will know and remember the good man Dad was.”
And so, I do what is in my soul to do. I write from the heart, and conjure up treasured memories of you.
Time without number, we’d snuggle up in our chairs, watching Last of the Summer Wine, and laugh at Compo, Foggy, and Clegg’s hilarious antics on the small screen. I’d comment with impish cheek how Foggy reminded me of you, and you would poke out your tongue in defiance and feign annoyance. But I knew it was just for show. That timeless television program will forever hold strong connections to you. Especially the episodes that include Foggy.
From a young age, I shared your love of melodies and rousing symphonic masterpieces, through your benevolent influence. You were responsible for my early and continuous obsession with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto #2, and I will be ever grateful to you for introducing me to it. I love it still.
Whistling through your teeth, you’d sit with headphones on and eyes closed, oblivious to the world around you, conducting a symphony orchestra from a vinyl record. Listening intently to your whistling, and the echoes of a vaguely familiar melody. You’d turned up the volume in compensation for your reduced hearing from time in bomb disposal with the Royal Engineers, an army background that echoed in your impeccable manners, upright gait, and love of military films. I would try to guess which of your favourites you were enjoying so much. Mahler, Wagner, Vaughan-Williams? It didn’t matter. That the music had enveloped you with such sublime peace was enough. I smile broadly at the sweet memory, every time I listen to our beloved classical music. And I do so daily.
Your mastery of architectural excellence filled me with wonder, when I helped out at the office one summer as a Girl Friday. Working alongside you, I saw first-hand your talented hands in action, drawing straight lines on a large sheet of planning paper – without a ruler. That you had found your true vocation was clear, and my heart brimmed with pride whilst I witnessed a true artist at work.
I watched in awe when you crafted, with meticulous precision, model trains and boats, with those same talented hands, in your shed where we also shared cigarette breaks. How you manipulated those tiny parts into such magical works of art, which all who beheld admired, continues to amaze me. When one of your model boats gained a place in the Scottish museum, I burst with delight. And there, in that historic place, it rests, and will ever rest. A permanent and public testament to your incomparable aptitude for precise detail and your skill with a lathe.
You taught me how to sail in a full-sized dinghy drafted with your own hands, on Maxey Lake. A gust of wind caught the mail-sail, and my heart pounded a drum roll when the Syndia became vertical on the water, skimming the waves ever faster, until we leaned with our bottoms off the side as far as we could in the opposite direction. I thought we would tip up and fall in! But we didn’t. Thanks to your expertize and patient instruction, we handled the small craft – albeit with slightly dented dignity – and saved ourselves a soaking.
From little adventures to Ferry Meadows and boating trips on the Norfolk Broads, to the yacht that you, Mum, my brother, my sister, and I sailed down the river Thames when I was a child and plans for a small fishing dinghy, which you drew up recently especially for my husband and me. Boats have always been a part of our lives.
Sunday outings to zoos and wildlife parks. Trips to our beloved, mountainous Scotland, for which you nurtured a special affinity, ever since you met the love of your life, my Mum, there and married her more than fifty years ago. You always considered yourself Scottish at heart. The kilt you sent to us will always hang in our house. A cherished keepsake, eternally dedicated to you.
You surprised me on my sixteenth birthday with a beautiful model of my favourite plane, Concorde, which you had spent hours putting together especially for me. It still holds pride of place on my shelf. I gaze to my wall at a frame containing copper etchings of giraffes, painstakingly crafted by you.
Your favourite films included; The Battle Of Britain, Bridge Over The River Kwai, The Guns Of Navarone, The Vikings, Lawrence Of Arabia, The Italian Job (original version), The Cruel Sea, Zulu, and Ring Of Bright Water – a story that enhanced and nurtured a love for otters, one of your favourite creatures. I think of you whenever I watch any from that list, and I seek them out on purpose – especially now – so that I can feel even closer to you.
These recollections are just a slice of times we shared, but all my memories, sweet as the cakes you loved, vast as the oceans you adored, tall as the mountains you climbed and revered, and stalwart as the military echoes that ran through your life shall ever keep me company. Fond memories laced with tears, as the realisation that I shall never again look upon your beloved smile reasserts itself with renewed and sudden certainty. Time after time, and with no fair warning. All are tucked up inside, and I shall keep them safe, like the precious treasures they are.
You are sailing someplace else now.
Are you conducting your own orchestra with Mr. Mahler, Mr. Vaughan-Williams, and Mr. Wagner, and sipping your own Summer Wine?
I’ll miss you as the sky would miss the sun and the moon.
I am so proud to be your daughter.
Thank you for being MY DAD.
Rest In Perfect Peace, Dad.
Until We Meet Again.
Alice White © 2014