My father was the straightest-talking chap you’d likely ever have the privilege of meeting — except when he claimed not to like cats; that bit was palpable nonsense.1 He was calm and civilised in a way that’d make you doubt the efficacy of genetics if you’d met me, a loud bastard prone to ranting, first. But he certainly passed on his deep aversion to bullshit and his ability to enjoy simple pleasures, unworried by the vagaries of fashion or other peoples’ opinions as to their merits.
Today would’ve been his 75th birthday. Early last year, he was diagnosed with cancer of a sort and stage for which medical interventions were all likely to do much more harm than good. But he quietly beat his prognosis by a factor of two or three, for which we all counted ourselves hugely lucky, and (to borrow the useful cliché) he lived right up until he died ― even managing a half-round of golf and a tidy-up of the garden (his two enduringly-beloved hobbies) just days before the end. As he’d planned (and insisted, with his beautifully serene stubbornness) he died at home with his family, and as I watched I was awed at how he quietly and deftly snatched a fistful of dignity from the capriciousness of disease and death. If you have to go ― and I’m afraid I must inform you that you almost certainly do have to go, some time, somehow ― you’d do well to go out like he did; with pragmatism, authenticity, and grace.
He would’ve bought me my first beer, and I probably bought him his last. The beer that wound up as my first doubtless actually started out in his glass: I was a weird kid2 and took to bitter things, like coffee and beer, unusually early and remember wrangling small samples of each quite often. At some point in my teens ― probably during my parents’ thirtieth anniversary party ― my ration was upgraded to a whole serving. Dad’s tastes tended unashamedly towards the classic simple pale lager, stripped of any parochialism or brand loyalty. He was always open to trying the madder things I’d bring to share, but his favourites were his favourites — and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that — so I did my best to keep his fridge stocked with Dad-friendly stuff, for him and his visitors. Occasionally, in some kind of shock, people would comment on the ‘mainstream’ things I’d drink at his house, but I was having a beer with my father, and it was invariably quietly-but-utterly marvellous.
So today, I’m going to dig a hole so we can inter his ashes and plant a tree. After that, I’m going to have something that might seem out of character for a proud beer geek — but it won’t be. I’ll have a beer for my father, since I can no longer have one with him.