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The Death of a Father

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Date December 11, 2009

My father, William Francis Brady, died in hospital in Pontypool just after 2 pm today – Sunday, November 29th. He was 80 years old. Everyone called him ‘Bill’. He’d been unwell for several months and we knew that death would probably take him from us before the end of the year. Obviously, my immediate thoughts are ones of great sadness. He was my dad, the only dad I’ve ever had, and a great dad at that. My mother died 10 years before and so my sister and I are at last left all alone, as it were.

At the same time there is a great thankfulness to God. I am thankful that I had a father who I knew and who I knew well. I am thankful that I had him there for so long – 50 years. I am thankful that for most of that time he was fit and well, especially as I was growing up. I am thankful that he was a moral man who brought me up according to the ten commandments, as best he knew how, and disciplined me so that I would not end up a fool. Although he never taught me the gospel, not knowing it, he never stood in my way but supported me as best as he knew how in seeking to be a Christian and a minister of the gospel. I am thankful that he had a long life and that God gave me many opportunities to testify to him and towards the end to read the Scriptures with him and pray with him too. The last time my boys gathered at his bed and I asked him to say something to them he told them to hear the Bible and listen to what it said.

As far as I’m aware my earliest memories of my dad go back to the time before I was five. My first is of him wet shaving in the kitchen of the first house we lived in. Shaving, especially wet shaving, is a fascinating process for a young boy to watch. Whiskers themselves are fascinating at that age as is the removal of them. Singing and whistling are in there too, which my dad did plenty of – and quite well. He loved to croon. There was also the concern over hot water. My parents were always very alert to danger and I know they were concerned about that. In my mind’s eye I see the plastic cup of hot water into which my dad would dip his shaving brush and in my head I remember learning the word scald and at some point differentiating it from the word scold.

The other main memory from the first house is the day of my fourth or fifth birthday. I recall being at the table with friends from school who were there for the party when we heard someone entering by the side door of the house. ‘Hello’ rang out my dad’s inimitable voice. All the kids were afraid or pretended to be. I remember being amazed. Why would anyone be afraid of my dad?

There is also a vague memory of a Christmas in the first house and being given a Scalextric (racing car game) and my dad spinning me some yarn about Father Christmas. (I remember my mother telling me that my dad and the man next door played with the Scalextric most of Christmas morning!).

The other memory finds us in the kitchen of the house we moved into after my sister was born. Again it was my birthday but I am definite this was my fifth. It is not the party I recall, though, but my dad coming home with this box containing a green scooter which he proceeded to assemble before my gazing eyes. His favourite colour was green.

There are loads more memories, of course, including being taken to see Godzilla and The Guns of Navarone when I was far too young but those are the first few. He would often tell me that if I didn’t work harder at school I’d ‘end up on the ash carts’. He found it odd when things that came naturally to him – like a sense of direction, arithmetic, dribbling a ball – didn’t come naturally to me. My dad was a big man, six foot two inches, with long legs. He almost never had much hair. He was generally patient but could lose his temper with us at times. He hated lying but believed it was permissible in some cases – but only as an act of kindness. He loved to sing, as I have said, and was a fine yodeller. He liked most types of music including jazz. I remember watching the Oscar Peterson show with him sometimes. Glenn Miller was his all-time favourite. He always felt that not being able to read music was a great disadvantage but he was musical enough to sing with a band or in a choir. Sometimes when singing he would forget the words and inadvertently repeat himself. He loved to dance as well and loved a smooth floor and good musicianship.

He was a natural at most sports and loved soccer. He played football and baseball at a decent amateur level and was a good swimmer. His racing dive was legendary. He would watch any sport on television, especially golf or snooker. He usually read two newspapers a day (from back to front) but avoided books as he tended to get so absorbed so that they took over his life. When he was reading the paper it was often difficult to get a response from him. He wanted us to be sensible, thoughtful people who enjoyed life and persevered with the things we set about doing.

He had a good sense of humour and liked jokes and puns. He was quite a good story teller too, full of anecdotes. He was careful with money but generous at times too. He liked to gamble, especially on horse racing but even on one armed bandits. He drank bitter weekly and whisky at Christmas. He liked his food and was never a fussy eater. He had a healthy appetite. Marriage was a lifelong commitment never to be questioned. He saw his chief duty to us as a provider and guiding hand.

It is staggering to think at this vantage point of a whole life gone. How quickly the years have somehow passed. It won’t be long before we’re all in the grave.

My dad belonged to a Boys Brigade as a boy and possibly heard the gospel but was put off by some wrongdoing that appeared to be going on in the Baptist church he attended. He hated hypocrisy and most forms of deceit, especially of the religious sort. Being a man of great moderation and a strong will he found it difficult to think of himself as a sinner and that probably hindered any spiritual progress. A certain self-confidence of the ‘I’m no worse than the next man’ didn’t always help either. But who knows, God is very great and it may well be that in those final years and months he came, like mother, to accept the truth. In the latter years he would sometimes say to me, quite seriously, ‘how do you know I don’t believe anyway?’ Will not the judge of all the earth do right?

I have had good messages of condolence by various routes. I received this helpful quotation from John Ling’s book Edge of Life. It echoes and strengthens my own thoughts.

There is the reality of the deathbed conversion, and we should never underplay it. Nor should we necessarily be downcast if we do not observe it. Who knows what occurs during the last hours of a person’s life? Searching for God, recalling earlier-heard truths, memories of Christian teaching and testimony, who knows? The dying thief is our exemplar (Luke 23:43). But we should also beware of creating false hopes in ourselves and others. We do not always know how God works, except that it is forever in love, according to his purposes and sovereignty. Conversion is not our business, it is God’s. It is he who has said, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’ (Exod. 33:19). Our task is to be true and faithful. Nevertheless, the death of someone with uncertain saving faith and undecided eternal destiny should cause us to, ‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near’ (Isa. 55:6) and prompt others to do the same. But can we doubt that we are going to be astonished by some we meet in heaven?

Gary Brady is Pastor of Childs Hill Baptist Church, London. The above was posted on his Heavenly Worldliness blog.

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