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A Family Tribute

I would have loved my mum, Gretta, to be here too. Mum and Dad were very different – an Irish woman and an English man, an extravert and an introvert, one very driven and one a peace-maker, one an exerciser and one an eater – but they built a marriage that demonstrated the best of both of them.

The last few months have allowed a lot of time for reflection. I’m incredibly grateful for that time with dad. I know I will treasure it. I’m also so glad I’ve shared this time with my brother Paul. Thank you Paul for walking this together, valuing family and relationship, setting the bar high and keeping going. You’ve honoured our dad.

So I wanted to say a little about dad as a family man, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a grandfather, an uncle.

As I’ve got older, I’ve become aware that I had the most incredibly secure, loving upbringing. We always had what we needed and more, but above all our parents were always there. I’ve often heard the advice that children need quality time not quantity time. Dad gave us both and I have to say I valued the quantity – listening, watching, paying, eating, encouraging, disciplining, reading, writing.

I’m not sure he even did those 37½ hours a week Paul mentioned at Westminster Press & the Financial Times as he used to skip off work every Wednesday afternoon to watch every sports game I played at school from age 8 to 18 – as well as Saturdays.

David Blacknell, Jed Blacknell, Ric Bodenham, Andrew Blacknell. 2014

This picture shows him continuing the tradition with my son Jed and the same old rugby coach I’d had 30 years ago who fondly remembered dad’s presence on every touchline. Dad was a cricket, football and table tennis lover but I played rugby and ran cross country so he just grew to love those sports too. I can still picture him, often the only dad on the touchline for more distant away games, cheering us on.

He got home from work every day at 6.13 on the same train, never late. If people worked consistently long hours he used to ask “Is their job too big for them?”

Every Sunday we had a roast lunch together as a family – with home made wine that, fortunately, we moved on from. Mum would cook, dad and I would wash up,.. Paul…. you do the maths!

He ordered his life to put family first. “He cut his cloth” as he would say. My abiding memory of my childhood and my dad will be that I know he loved me, not so much because he said it, that wasn’t the way in the 60s and 70s, but because he did it. He showed it by his actions and priorities – to be home, to show up, especially when it counted. It was unthinkable that dad would choose work over a family meal, parents evening, bridge match or sports event.

A few people have praised Paul and I for how we cared for dad, enough to make us discuss it. I found myself saying to Paul that “A man reaps what he sows” – which is why we had that passage in Galatians read by Tom that says the same. It was obvious, natural that we would care for dad. This has not been a big deal to us. It was unthinkable that we wouldn’t look after him. All we did was copy in a very small way his care and sacrifice for us over the course of our lives. He reaped a little bit of what he sewed in us.

So I wanted to say a bit more about what dad sewed into our lives, characteristics and values that I hope that I and my children reap and inherit too.

He was kind. Although he could get pretty cross with people he hadn’t met – Margaret Thatcher, Jeremy Corbyn, Field Marshall Montgomery, Rupert Murdoch to name just a few – and loved to see them ridiculed in Spitting Image or exposed in Private Eye – he always thought and spoke well of anyone he actually knew. He assumed good intentions. Kindness is a much under-rated quality today, but I can tell all of you here today and listening online, we heard so, so many good things about you.

Just one story -Paul and I took mum and dad to see his beloved Notts County play last year with his old table tennis friend Mick pictured here with us.

David Blacknell, Mick Leverton, Paul Blacknell, Andrew Blacknell. 2018

I stopped at a rather grim service station on the drive back so that Paul could get his car. It was dark and raining. I jumped out of the car and ran across the car park into the warmth and comfort of the services. I looked back to a sight I will never forget – dad walking slowly through the rain, patiently holding my mum’s hand and arm and guiding her slowly to the covered area. I will never forget his example in marriage.

Given his kindness, the second characteristic isn’t so surprising – he was a great friend. Faithful, generous and funny and always interested in you. He rarely talked about himself, so much so that Paul and I are slightly incredulous about how many times he was a best man. We knew most of them, but in the last few weeks we kept finding more, a lot more. Friendship is a wonderful thing and not always easy. For many, he was the very best of friends.

He was clever. He liked to read proper books, listen to classical music and go to concerts. Paul and I managed to dumb him down over time. But more seriously his education was a travesty for someone who loved learning and had an excellent mind. He got a chance to show his talents by taking just about as many of Paul and my O Levels as legally allowed – well actually not allowed. He (I mean I) got 39/40 for my Arnhem O Level project including a great day away at the Imperial War Museum. I can also remember a teacher telling me that mine was the only university entrance form out of the 130 in the year that was completed without a mistake. I can assure you that wasn’t me.

He was always hungry – that currant run bun by Don in his teens wasn’t the last. Although mum tried to manage dad’s diet, especially, his daily lunch in the director’s dining room, she was up against a professional at the very top of his game. I have never seen dad order or eat a salad. I suspect this was perhaps the only area of their marriage that lacked transparency. Although he was not known for his culinary skills until he retired, he frequently offered to make Paul and I an evening snack of jam sandwiches. As you lifted up each slice, he would have taken a large bite out of the one below.

We used to laugh at each other but, concerned mum might realise, dad would raise his eyebrows as much as to say “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. If we passed a newsagent, he’d ask me if I wanted a Marathon – the king of chocolate bars. Then he’d have one himself. He has left me a life-long love of snacks and treats, that don’t have to cost the earth, but feel like a luxury. Often as I reach for the snack drawer for the fifth time that day, and my wife Alex says “really?” and Jed and Ben say “Ooh, go on then”, I think of him. Thanks dad.

He was Modest – always understated – I can remember a family camping holiday with a table tennis table in the middle of the site. One dad was beating all-comers, including me. Now it has to be said his appetite had, by now, taken its toll on his physique and footwork, so he didn’t look like much of a threat as he approached the table. But he comfortably beat this dad.

Unknown, Mick Leverton, David Blacknell, Unknown. 1952

The other dad was clearly confused by what had happened. He shook his hand and said “it was closer than the score implied”. “No it wasn’t”, I wanted to shout out. “It was a massacre and my dad can’t even move his feet”. As we walked back, I can’t remember exactly what dad said, but I remember the feeling that that just isn’t the way.

He was also modest in lifestyle. Truth be told, I didn’t like this growing up. Unlike me, he didn’t hanker after a more prestigious car or a bigger house. He’d just say “a car just needs to get you from A to B”. Of course it was this relatively simple lifestyle that allowed him to watch my sports matches, be home for every meal and be generous to others and free of financial stress. My family have a toaster magnet that says, “the most important things in life, aren’t things” – and I love that toaster. But dad has helped me not to think I will be happier when I have an even better toaster, phone, car or house.

David Blacknell, Anna Blacknell. 1997

He was generous with his time, money and attention. When I lived at home in my first job, I fell asleep more than once on the last train and woke up in Orpington or Sevenoaks. He’d drive out to pick me up at gone midnight, laugh and smile without a word of condemnation. Whenever, I’ve gone round to see him for the last 30 years, I’d find myself sitting in an armchair – answering lots of his questions that demonstrated his interest in me, my family and friends.

I often left knowing nothing about what was going on with him.

He really valued humour – and thought almost any situation can be improved or avoided by a joke or funny story. He was particularly good at using humour as a diversion from excessive emotion or awkward situations. He had a pretty good line in dad jokes and would tell me a new one almost every time we met – what’s blue and smells like red paint? Blue paint.

Some of you may wonder what part, if any, faith in God played in dad’s life. But that wasn’t his way. Because the last quality I’d mention is that he was very private. A product of the war, rationing and harder times than I’ve ever known. As a kid we didn’t hug or say that we loved each other. But just as he learned to cook and use an iMac and iPad, he started to tell me he loved me and hug me in a slightly awkward way as the years passed. I already knew it, but it was all the more impressive to hear it and to see how he was able to change.

His life to me is a picture of God’s grace, of God pursuing someone. I told him a year ago that he was to me “the perfect dad” and that his example in caring for my mum will never be lost on me. I videoed the conversation and watched it back and can see him, shaking his head, adamant that he was not a perfect dad or husband. He knew, like most of us, he wasn’t perfect. He needed forgiveness and I think he found it in Christ.

Libby read a passage from Philippians that says “he who began a good work in me, will be faithful to complete it”. In the last four weeks of his life, he left the house three times – to go to church. His only request for the funeral was “And can it be”. Have a look at the words of that hymn. Last thing every night, we prayed the Lord’s prayer together. God began a good work in dad and He has now brought it to completion. As Anna read in John, God has prepared a room in advance for dad where he will now be face to face with his maker.

Dad, thank you for your love of sugar based foods, well really all food except beetroot; your jokes, often at your own expense; your passion for any and every sport – except motor-racing and horse-racing which, I agree, aren’t really sports; your amazing generosity, constant love and faithfulness. Goodbye, I’m going to miss you.

Thank you Heavenly Father for giving me my father.

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