My dad passed away at 48 years of age. I was 20 when it happened. It just felt so wrong; he was far too young. After recently celebrating my 40th birthday, I realise now how awfully young his passing was. It feels positively tragic.
The story I’m about to tell you shows it’s never too late to change your life and be what you want to be. It just takes guts and passion.
I was inspired to write it after reading an article on LinkedIn by Odile Faludi who wrote a wonderful tribute to fathers, and in particular her own.
My dad grew up in a very poor house in a very poor working class area of Manchester. His father was an alcoholic, he had a sister who lived with a complex intellectual disability and family life was pretty tough. They stood out and on a rough council estate, that is never a good thing.
He left school at 15 with no qualifications. Getting a job in itself was considered a success. He had a stammer and if it wasn’t for his ability to play rugby league and box extremely well, life could have been decidedly worse.
My dad was a simple man in the nicest possible way. His life’s goal was to marry a nice girl, work hard, and have some kids whom he could love and cherish. And that’s pretty much what happened – and he worked awful jobs and long hours in a factory to support his young family.
But my dad’s life’s goal posts dramatically changed when we, the three children were born. He suddenly became dedicated to his children receiving the best opportunities in life. Call it an obsession maybe, but he orchestrated for us to learn to read before we even started primary school, play musical instruments, never watch television, excel at as many sports as possible, study at weekends and most importantly, go to fantastic schools regardless of how far they were from home (his children all got scholarships to attend private schools).
We again stood out (the above didn’t happen to kids where we came from). Plus there was very little money in the house, and this meant no money for holidays, cars, and even curtains in some rooms. I honestly don’t know how my mother coped.
Then something happened. My dad was injured in a work accident at the local factory and he ended up getting asbestos in one of his eyes. I remember he wore dark glasses for some time and wasn’t able to work for a few months.
The life of a blue collar factory worker had almost killed him and my dad just couldn’t go on anymore.
He sat down with us and announced, “I want to show the world that anybody can become educated – I want to be able to have intelligent conversations with people and I’d like to become an intellectual.”
As cruel as it may seem, we all laughed, as we didn’t really take what he was saying too seriously. But my dad continued, “I’m going back to school.”
In the early days it was a monumental struggle. He could barely read and I vividly remember his first essay assignment when the teacher passed his efforts back and said, “John, why are you handing me a note? Where’s your actual essay?”
He would often stay up all night, reading, studying and learning at a snail’s space. I’d even find him sitting in the car at 6am with snow on the windscreen, fast asleep with a cigarette butt in his mouth with a big fat philosophy book on his lap.
He was consumed by his new mission, but he never once waivered in trying to be the world’s best dad.
He often remained unemployed or worked low paid jobs, which created a financial strain on the family. But he never stopped studying and reading, and slowly and surely, we saw him pass his O Levels, A levels and then remarkably – attain a place at university.
When he achieved a first in his political history final year dissertation, we got it – and we were so proud of what his sweat and toil was achieving.
On graduating he decided to go to teacher training college. One of my dad’s strongest values in life was to give back and love everyone in the world. He informed us of his career decision that he wanted to teach in the prisons to help other uneducated people. His dream!
It was only a few weeks later however, that he received the big C diagnosis and was given just a 3 month window of life.
My dad unselfishly devoted his life to family and towards the end to his education. I remember at his funeral feeling so proud to see such a large bunch of people, but especially the ones crying with whom he got to have intelligent conversations in the final period of his life.
I hope my post from the heart resonates with you, and shows you what can be achieved if you want it badly enough.