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Dad: the sub-editor and hero

This is something I had wanted to write for the 4th May, a year on from when Dad died.

Instead, life got in the way. An election, an essay; before that, sorting an event for work and trying to tie up loose ends. I’d built up this ‘anniversary’ in my head so much that it was like an approaching juggernaut. But then the date arrived and I barely had time to think about it.

In some respects, it was the perfect tribute to Dad. We were up at 3:30am, ready to deliver by 4:30. Okay, we were half an hour late, which he’d have muttered about. But still, we were ready to deliver by 5:00am on Thursday. Up and down the streets of St Julians, delivering sheets of paper with Lib Dem birds on.

And then the day just went. Really quickly. Until we were standing at the count, looking at the possibility of losing the seat just under a year since Mum won the by-election. I wasn’t sure whether that was something we could cope with. But after two hours of feeling hopeless, we started to see it was closer than we thought. And then we managed to win. Not only did Mum keep her seat, but Hol (my sister) won hers as well.

In some respects, that whole day was the perfect tribute. A tribute to all his near misses, all those years of pushing forward despite being knocked back, and a tribute to the times that hard work paid off.

My first memory of Dad winning an election was in 2004. I was fifteen, so I hadn’t gone to the count. But in the morning Dad came in to my room and just whispered, “We won.”

That was a bloody good feeling. Dad had been working in St Julians for years at that point, and the world felt a little bit fairer on that morning. “We won.”

I think that probably cements his place as one of my heroes.

That, and the feeling in Newport around the 2010 election.

Dad was always much more than just a politician, and sometimes I wonder whether it would be better if his anniversary wouldn’t forever be tied up around an election day of some kind. It means that inevitably his memory becomes something political and professional, rather than the deeply personal thing it should be.

A year on, and it hasn’t got much easier. It isn’t quite as constant and painful as it was, but it remains still quite constant and painful. There are still times when an autopilot takes over and I go to call him for advice. Somehow in my head I still think he’ll be calling again, that he isn’t gone, just misplaced. Which I know is silly, but he never feels gone, just not currently here.

Sometimes I am able to think in much more detail about the last few weeks. Sometimes I just veer away from it all because it is too difficult to remember. But recently I have been trying to think of those last weeks in more detail. Because it was in those last weeks that Dad was at his bravest, and I very, very rarely heard him moan or gripe.

It was also the time when we came together as a family. When I think how many days we were cramped together in the house, barely making sense, sometimes just sitting in silence or something laughing at something ridiculous, I think that we were lucky. We had so many of us around, with siblings and partners, that nobody was left alone or forgotten about. Some of us had different experiences, some may feel differently, but we were all there.

It could have been so much worse.

Someone like Dad was always going to leave a big hole in the lives of those around him. Mum still hears residents in St Julians talking about something he did to help them, something he never told us about. And every so often when I’m sitting in the quiet of my thoughts, I remember something he did for me that I took shamelessly for granted. Or the quiet calm praise he gave – never hugely effusive, but calm and measured. Or his classic line, when I gave him things to read: “Do you want me to read this as your Dad, or as a sub-editor?

”Well, sub-editor, always.

But as this past year has gone, I’ve come to the gradual realisation that the sub-editor was always Dad all the same.

I really miss him, and I’m sure he’d take one look at this and the red pen would come out. But at least he’d know that I was grateful for everything he’d done, that I loved him, and that he helped make me who I am today.

Thank you, Dad. You were amazing.

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