Thoughts: John Atherton 1939-2016

 

He was my dad, my boss, and one of my very closest friends.  My other close friends have known for many years that, for me, the loss of this person and all he was to me, would be monumental.  In fact, I described the prospect of losing my dad, on a great many occasions as, “The thing I’ve dreaded most for the longest time”.

 

How I dreaded it.  And when I knew his end was almost with him, I cried.  Of course I cried, but it was a numb crying. Now, four months down the line, it’s like re-opening deep wounds when I think of him.  But yet I must think of him because he made me what I am, faults and all.

 
I  thought I’d feel alone when he went, but the truth is, in more than one sense, that he hasn’t left, and he won’t ever leave.
 
The truth is that three weeks after dad’s death I asked him for guidance.  I asked him “A or B,” which to choose?  I received an answer in the most dad-specific way possible.  I couldn’t brush it aside as a coincidence.  Then, a couple of weeks later, I asked another direct question with 2 simple answers. Dad’s answer was unequivocal, not just with voices in my head by in clear and unmistakable signs.  Two answers.  The first manifesting as a book.  The second, a mug.
 
But he is also here all around me, not just in his books on my shelves, and in his photographs, but in so many memories.  He left, on his table made from storm damaged elm, two books barely begun, one about Adam Smith and one about Edinburgh.  I intend to read both in tribute to him.  He also left behind a key ring from a visit to the Bayeux tapestry and a tub full of Tesco ballpoints (which he greatly preferred to the beautiful ballpoint pen his mum had spent a fortune on).
 
My most treasured recent moment with him occurred just a little while before he went into hospital  for his final stay, when we were sat together in his study.  I’d just assisted him typing up his last piece of research to send to his good friend Normunds in Stockholm.  He put his hand on my forearm and squeezed it and with tears in his eyes he then told me how much he loved me and how grateful he was to me and how I wasn’t just his daughter and employee, I was his dear friend too.
 
And we were friends – such good friends.  And there are so many memories.  Memories of his frequent IT support requests, his tiny little pieces of paper covered with completely unintelligible scrawls which were in fact my task list… the lunches he used to make for us when the kids were little – chicken goujons, new potatoes with butter and parsley and vegetables or salad all helped down with mayo or a special chutney. 
 
And, oh my God, the strength and size of his alcoholic measures, and the depths of pain he felt at losing his wife, my mum.  I’ll never forget the day she died, when I’d brushed her hair and fed her tinned peaches, and we both thought she was probably getting better.
 
We talked so much, and talked about everything.  The fact is that whenever I had something to tell, it was always him I wanted to tell it to.
 
He was a very singular, arguably slightly eccentric man, with great determination, strength of character, and unbelievable kindness – at the same time as a kind of bonkers flippancy too.  I can’t forget when my son took exception to his granddad describing many things as “really rather nice,” and how my dad then felt compelled to say it all the more to him as a form of aversion therapy, till it ceased to be an annoying overused phrases and became instead a sweet family cliche. A family legend, almost.
 
My dad would have been sorry not to have experienced the later-than-usual return to their nest by the swallow pair who, some years back, took residence outside his study window.  We used to love sitting and working with their flapping wings in view from the corner of our eyes.  The swallows didn’t come this year till after he died (a good many weeks later than usual) but when I visit the house now it gives me comfort that their babies have again grown under the protection of dad’s roof.
 
It was easy for me to grow under the protection of my mum and dad because both were people who made you want to transcend your mistakes and limitations and to constantly try your best to become a more decent, reasonable human being.
 
As a child, being told off by my dad was the worst experience ever!  When my mum told us off, she would perhaps shout and then the job was done, but my dad did the thing of getting me to consider all the consequences of what I had done.  Not a guilt trip as such, but more of an ethical check-in reminder.
 
So dad, bye for now.  I’m waiting and hoping that you’ll choose to talk to me again when I need it.  But even if you don’t, even if you don’t,  I’ll still talk to you and tell you everything that’s been going on with life down here.  With love forever from your devoted daughter, Lesley xxx

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