I remember my dad saying to me a couple of years ago that he would not be around forever and I immediately insisted that he had at least another 15-20 years left ahead of him. His untimely passing has come as such a devastating shock to us all. There was no warning, no long goodbye, no chance to say farewell. Two weeks on we still can’t make any sense of it.
And of all the days for us to receive the news on: March 12th. It’s the date we all know as Mauritian Independence Day. It was also the day in 1987 when my dad took us from our mum and we went to live with him. Coincidentally this also happened to be on a Thursday.
My dad: the man who arrived in the country at the age of 14 and did something which really wasn’t common three decades ago- a stable parent figure raising a young family. Gina, Michelle and I initially, but later on there were times when Tony would come stay with us for a while when things got too much with mum.
And things were hard for dad; really hard. He lost his house a quarter of a century ago, just one of the many sacrifices that I could only truly appreciate the magnitude of once I had reached adulthood. But he made the best of the hand he was dealt, there was the weekend trips to the seaside, the holiday camps at Pontins or Butlins and of course that never to be forgotten two month trip to Mauritius.
I did three further trips to Mauritius with my dad, and there was also a visit in 2006 when our trips clashed coincidentally and wasn’t planned at all. The first time we did a holiday just the two of us was in March 2007 when he was helping me to get my Mauritian ID card. This was my 4th trip in two years so I was starting to get confident, but I soon realised that his wisdom and experience was so essential as I ran into wall after wall trying to get my citizenship.
The first time they told me I would not have the citizenship, we left the office building and made our way to Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis. I was convinced my dreams were over, but dad was so relaxed. It’s like he knew this was not the end of it, and he told me that there is no consistency when it comes to Mauritian bureaucracy and that I should not give up. So I didn’t, and a year and two months later I was holding my certificate of citizenship.
Even when I did trips without him, most recently four months ago, I never felt like I was alone. One of the first things I always did whenever I landed in Mauritius would always be to buy a local simcard and send my dad a text so he had my temporary Mauritian number. Who taught me that trick? That’s right: dad, on our 2007 trip. I’d been racking up a fortune in roaming charges even for basic things like sending a text message and suddenly I was now able to call the UK from my mobile for peanuts!
I would always be able to have that security of knowing dad was never far away. He may have been 7000 miles away in North London, but he was available instantly through a text message or in an emergency on the phone. His guidance, knowledge and experience when it came to Mauritius would be so valuable. As he always pointed out to me: I’ve visited Mauritius a lot in the last decade, but I’ve never lived there and he had that unique viewpoint.
A lot of people have told me I’ve been so lucky to have a relationship with my dad which a lot of people will never have, and it’s true, there is so much to be thankful for. Yet equally I have often asked the question during the past fortnight that if we had a more conventional relationship, then maybe the pain would not be as sharp. I would be mourning the loss of parent, but then I would not be distraught over losing such a valuable friend.
So many people have tried to be so supportive, giving the prep talk on bereavements. But the truth is I’m very experienced when it comes to grief- I’m the one who lost two friends to gun crime, who lost all his grandparents in 2.5 years. The trouble is the one I turned to in all those dark moments is the one we are gathered here today to remember and I really need his help now because I really feel lost.
I caught some of the coverage of the Jeremy Paxman interviews this week, but couldn’t pay attention for more than five minutes. This would be something I’d normally be able to talk to my dad about. I can’t follow any of the football and I can’t find any comfort in watching Arsenal. It’s all just too painful.
Practically everyone knows me and dad had our moments down the years and indeed our relationship could be broadly broken up into three chapters: the era up to me leaving London in 2001, the period between when I was 22 and 27 and then the part since I was 28. I take away positives from all three chapters, but it was definitely the last 7 years which were the best. I saw dad more often than at any time since I had left London 13.5 years ago.
I was looking at Facebook the other day and found some messages between us from spring 2011, I had sent him something which I had written about the AV referendum. He was full of praise and even felt that I was educating him which I found surprising and I responded back to him that he had shaped my political outlook on life. I explained that if anything it was him who was continuing to teach me: well into my 30s.
But now that precious tuition has been closed down permanently, and it’s really scary. We’re distraught that we will never hear his reassuring voice again. We will miss his calming (he mellowed so much in later years) influence and wisdom. And most of all we will miss the love that he had for us all.
I used to hate having the name Clency as a kid, which morphed into “Clency Jnr” and “Little Clence”. It sounded so condescending and patronising. Now I am so proud that Michelle and I had his names from birth, because now that he has gone, he will live on. Quite literally.
When we met the funeral directors for the first time, I noted that the time of the service today was fitting. 3.45pm would normally be half-time in a traditional Saturday afternoon football fixture. And for us, his children, this really is half-time in our lives. We now have to utilise all the expertise and knowledge that he provided us during the first half of our time on this earth. Now the second half begins and this 3.45pm ceremony serves as a reminder to us all that while we may feel like life as we know it is over, in many ways, it is only half-time. We must now pick ourselves up from this unbelievable shock and make dad proud of us: to prove to him that all the selfless sacrifices he made were justified. That will be the perfect way to honour his memory and ensure that his incredible legacy will survive.