I’ve had enough of writing about my dad’s death. It’s time to write about his life.
Dad was Roy, born to Vera and Theo on 17 February, 1950. He had a much older brother, Donald, although his parents weren’t married when he came along; Donald was brought up by his grandmother, and his surname was Sweeney. Dad lived in Craigcefnparc, and Gorseinon, but beyond that I don’t know very much. The details of that side of the family are sketchy. Time makes them sketchier.
Mam has a black-and-white picture of Dad as a toddler, though, wearing a cowboy costume. It’s not clear if Dad was named after Trigger’s owner, or if the family were just having fun. Dad has chubby cheeks, and dark eyes with a glint in them.
Dad loved Craigcefnparc. I know this from a secondary school friend of his, Myron. I found Myron online, or rather a poem Myron had written dedicated to Dad; it talked about “time’s torrents” and how casually they dealt with things. I e-mailed Myron a few years ago, and went round his house, where we talked about Dad over milky tea and thick rounds of sandwiches. Myron’s memory was patchy. He remembered Dad crashing his bike into a wall as a teenager, and going into hospital for treatment. Dad was good at science too, he said, but I knew that; he’d taught at the comprehensive school I’d go to years later. I was in the intermediate class and awful at physics. Sorry, Dad.
Dad was handsome as well. He had heavy, blue-black hair, as thick as strong wool, and proper Welsh melancholy swimming underneath his heavy brows. My mother first saw them, and him, at a bus stop in Fforestfach, as she set off for her first day at Swansea’s teacher training college with a friend. This boy got on the same bus. He got off at the same stop. He climbed the same hill as them, and turned off when they did. She told me this recently, her eyes still alive at the memory. He wore a red V-neck. They got talking in the common room, she said, just because everybody did.
The first time he came home to Borough Road, Grandma’s friend, Merle, went, bloody hell, he’s a bit of alright. Mam and Dad married four years later, on a hot July afternoon. I arrived five years later in 1978, seconds after Swansea got promoted to the third division under their new manager, John Toshack. My brother Jonathan arrived on Guy Fawkes’ Day four-and-half years after that, and fireworks were let off at the roundabout at the end of our cul-de-sac.
Dad nearly got roughed up once, at a Swansea-Cardiff derby with Uncle Huw (Uncle Huw’s not my real uncle, but he was my dad’s best friend, so he is). They were in the gents’, at the urinals, Huw told me, as deadpan as ever, on a Facebook thread out of the blue a few years ago. Dad had my mother’s school scarf on – I’ve always loved him even more for that. They were down Swansea’s end, Dad and Huw, and two Cardiff fans appeared out of nowhere, rough and ready for a fight. My mother’s school scarf was in Cardiff colours, so Dad fibbed about his allegiances. A clever bugger, my father. Just don’t tell John Toshack.
Dad kept getting mistaken for people who weren’t as Welsh as him, too. Once, for some reason, George Best at another Swans’ match, with my mother. Another time, in Sidoli’s ice cream parlour in town, someone Italian. Swansea was full of Italians, so that wasn’t unusual. Senor Sidoli himself came up to Dad, rabbiting away in full lingua madre; Dad shook his head softly and answered in lilting Swansea English. I still remember Dad’s voice, because I have a tape with him on it from 1983; he’s encouraging my baby brother and I to talk into the microphone on it. His voice sounds deep, rich, soupy, like so many voices I know, but stiller somehow, and stronger. It remains as familiar to me as water.
My own memories of Dad are captured in round-cornered photographs in faded browns, oranges and greens. It’s hard to know if I invented memories to fit those frames, or if those recollections lingered properly in my mind. Him reading to me – I’m not sure if that’s from my own head. Him teaching me how to write programs on his Spectrum 48K computer – that has to be. I remember being a bit older, 8 or 9, making a tune on the rubber keys in that way on my own, then writing a one-armed bandit game from one of Dad’s ZX magazines. God knows what he’d make of the world now. 10 PRINT “JUDE”. 20 GO TO 10. RUN.
I also remember going to Dad’s last school, a primary, just before he stopped teaching, and meeting his infant class, who were around the same age as me. Dad told me to get his keys from the staff room from a white box, so I did, and there was a chocolate bar next to his keys with my name on it. The sweetness, the fun, in that gesture, is what breaks my heart, really. But it shouldn’t break it, should it? It should make it swoop and sing.
Six months ago, I gave birth to my first child, a son. He arrived in an operating theatre, the same environment as the one where Dad died. After I numbly felt the doctor’s tug, pull and wrench, there were a few minutes when mine and Dan’s baby didn’t cry. They were the longest minutes of my life. And then Evan did.
My son has chubby cheeks, and dark eyes with a glint in them. He also carries the surname of his mother, and her father. When things get hard, I must remember that I was given life, and that I have given life. Life passes on through us. It has to. It always will.
Jude Rogers is a writer and broadcaster for The Guardian, The Observer, Q, Marie Claire, In-Style and Radio 4.