My dad

My dad’s name was Colin Norman Smith. He was born nine months after the end of World War Two. He grew up in a council house on the Downham Estate in Lewisham, South London. He was the oldest of five children. His father, the late great Norman Smith, was the last of a long line of glassblowers from Lancashire.

My dad passed his Eleven Plus in the 1950s and went to a grammar school. He left school at 16 and got a job in a London branch of Barclays Bank. He married a woman named Jane, who he later divorced. He then met my mum, the daughter of forklift truck driver from Lambeth, who’d also left school at 16 to work behind the counter at Barclays Bank. He married her and they had two children - my brother and me.

My dad was a quiet man. He rarely showed affection, especially with my brother. But he made me laugh. He spoke in Cockney rhyming slang. He liked a drink. He smoked like a chimney (everyone did back then). He was a Special (a volunteer policeman) and used to go on the beat in Streatham every Friday night. He policed Millwall football matches on Saturdays. He was brave. He was once interviewed on TV for arresting a dangerous man with a machete. He always wanted to be a policeman but his eyesight was appalling so they didn’t let him in. He was happy when he was on the beat. But he wasn’t a policeman. He worked in a bank.

The recession in the 1980s threw us into turmoil. Barclays gave him the option of a job overseas or redundancy, so we moved to Africa. He set up a training centre in Botswana, training local staff to work in branches. Then he did a similar job in Kenya. When I was 15 he left us for his Kenyan secretary Grace.

He was made redundant and moved back to England, bringing Grace with him. I moved into a little townhouse with my mum and brother. Dad moved into a flat with Grace. My brother struggled. He went off the rails.

My dad took the Knowledge and became a black cab driver, ranked at East Croydon station. Passing the Knowledge was a big deal for him. He was happy, perhaps for the first time ever.

I moved school and did my A levels. I saw him occasionally. He took me out for a few driving lessons. I went to his flat to type up my coursework on his computer. He took me to the airport when I went on my first holiday with my boyfriend. Things were ok.

He married Grace in a small ceremony at Croydon registry office. He spent his life’s savings on a brand new black cab. He came to my 18th birthday party in it. He was so proud of his taxi.

He woke up one morning covered in lumps. I’d just started university in London. He was 53. He was admitted to hospital immediately. He said it was nothing.

He was dead within two weeks. It was lymphoma. He’d been a heavy smoker for 40 years. So I guess that’s what did it.

I didn’t realise he’d die so quickly. I thought cancer took months. Things weren’t as they should have been on the day he died and at his funeral. I didn’t get to say goodbye properly.  I was too young to be assertive. I was too young to say I wanted a minute alone with my dad. To this day I regret that.

We’ve never talked about what happened. And no one ever asks me about my dad. Sometimes I’d just like to talk about him. Writing it all down today has made me feel a bit better.

It was 20 years ago today that I lost my dad.

Thanks for reading. x

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  1. Thank you for sharing! My dad died when I was young.

  2. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. It's honest and vulnerable. I'm sorry for you loss.

  3. Thanks for writing. Love your honesty. My wife lost her dad when she was 16. Even more respect to you and all that you are.

  4. Thanks for the writing this. It somehow made me see the parallels with my life. But I am the dad.
    Life, and death, doesn't follow a path that is true and straight. We experience joy and pain in little nuggets of time. Develop your wisdom to help how you affect your children.

  5. Hi Jo,

    Tear in my eye reading this. A lovely post that makes one grateful for what they have.

    Thanks for all the blogs and resources.

    Tim x

  6. I am sorry for you loss Jo like you I lost both parents 20 years ago to cancer I try to keep both parents memory alive by talking to my children about them and showing the different places we were when I was young and they were still alive. It is good to talk about it the hurt will lessen but the memories live long