My Dad died recently. Unlike many of my blogs, I do not have a (what I think to be) humorous punchline to open this blog with. Brain and lung cancer brought to an end a traumatic and harrowing eight weeks during which time I watched the man I love die by centimetres. Even now as I write this, I have a weird and unsettled feeling. Parentless at the age of 51, I feel anchorless, alone and somewhat an orphan.
At the Quaker funeral, I read out some of the letters Dad had sent to me; Yorkshire instructions to the core, part Geoffrey Boycott (cricket commentator), part Michael Parkinson (chat show host). These forthright and fortnightly instructions were often sent with newspaper clippings from writers he deemed to be worthy of reading: Tony Benn, Will Self, Owen Jones and Caroline Lucas, with numerous citing from the Amnesty International magazine. At times, this further production of yet more articles to read used to irk me, as it often seemed so obvious. “I know, but there is absolutely no funding in education, Dad”, was my last real conversation with him as he sent me yet another article, with highlighted quotations from Sir David Carter, whose idiotic suggestions on ways schools could/should save money were the source of yet more seething rage. Carter’s view could be paraphrased into the following suggestion: schools becoming MATs (Multiple Academy Trusts), making redundancies and turning themselves into small businesses, was the politest summary of this ‘one size fits all’ education drivel. However, I do know I will miss the genuine interest, the sounding board and different generational perspective. I have to, somewhat grudgingly, admit that Dad’s habit of distributing interesting articles is yet another area where I could be accused of turning into my Dad. I regularly send articles torn out of educational magazines to my beleaguered staff, who politely put them in their burgeoning reading pile. Another area I follow Dad in is the practice of letter writing. I was flabbergasted to learn from the Scarborough Amnesty International branch secretary that Dad’s ten letters a week, he estimated, had produced approximately ten thousand letters, providing much needed comfort to forgotten souls and forgotten causes. This puts to shame my monthly rant at the latest idiotic MP, such as the speaker of the House of Commons.
My weekly letter writing to Scarborough was replaced by the monthly headteacher blog. This became cathartic for me in trying to order the ever-changing educational priorities, as well as politicians’ whimsically repressive and unreasonable demands. This blog was written by me for my Dad, replacing my illegible scrawl with a computer screen and a font size of 16, which he could look at and comment on. Incredibly, I recently found a folder containing copies of all my blogs, in date order, which were kept by Dad. Some had been marked by him with ‘incorrect commas’ to the fore in an unforgiving red pen, no trendy green pen for my Dad, or any chance for this student to reply to his comments that were clearly written in the margin as future prompts for the next phone call and the next challenge to prick my pomposity.
In school, as I try to make sense of this loss, I am drawn to some of the 16 youngsters who have recently lost parents, and somewhat superficially, seem to find the rhythm of school a major comfort. As I nervously await adhoc English GCSE papers, I stand by Charlie (name changed), whose Father died two and a half years ago. He will be allowed no exam considerations, as the death did not fall within the exam window. He is expected to now cope! His nervous knee-jigging and reassuring smile fills me with pride but anger at the unrealistic expectations that we place on all our youngsters.
I will continue to write my blogs for myself and my Dad. I will continue to try to lead my school with my unshakeable beliefs, as he led his life. He was a pacifist, humanist, internationalist, whose green socialism carried him through his life. A man of integrity, a man of principle, something to aspire to.