Over the weekend, we had a large family gathering to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday, and also buried my Uncle, who died recently.
At the dinner, we were encouraged to say directly to my father those thoughts that are normally reserved for eulogies, which they therefore never get to hear.
Sitting at a carol service several years ago, a service which brought back memories of my earliest Christmases, I realised that my life could be described as a “voyage around my father” (sadly not around both parents as my mother died soon after I was married). When you are young, if you are lucky enough to have a warm, supportive family, you take them entirely for granted. That is simply how your life is. These are my parents. These are my brothers. As you forge your own relationships, you move away. Not that you love them any less. But they are no longer the absolute centre of your life. In my case, you now have a wonderful wife and children of your own.
But in later life, I have noticed a completion of that circle. A renewed appreciation of the family that I originally took for granted, but which, I am now increasingly aware, forged me into the person I am today: the reliable touchstone which has always been there. My foster brother, Graham, had a traumatic early childhood, and I remember my mother telling us that, if she needed to be late collecting any of us, she would always get Graham first because he might panic. The rest of us would, I am sure, have waited days if necessary, sure in the belief that our parents had simply got the wrong day, and that they would, of course, duly arrive and take us home. It is as if I could sink up to my neck in quicksand, and still be sure that there was solid rock about to touch my feet. What an astonishing gift to be given by your parents.
Even more remarkably, with three brothers, a foster brother, three step-siblings, and the hundreds of children for whom he has been a headmaster, who often tell me stories of the enduring influence of my father, he has also given that gift to a host of other people. Since retiring as a headmaster, he has become a non-stipendiary Vicar to continue ministering to a flock.
Some of the members of King Crimson were much less lucky in their childhoods – and, in conversations with them, I have seen how the repercussions follow them to this day: a salutary reminder not to take my good fortune for granted, and to endeavour to offer the same to my own children, who are already setting sail on their own voyages of discovery.
In a changing world, one thing that we may not have is the knowledge of our final resting place. My uncle, who never married, always knew where he would be buried. We laid him in the same grave as his grandparents and his parents, surrounded by his many uncles and aunts in a small village church in the Cotswolds. My father, of course, took the service.