Father with son: Building together (part 1)

The sins of the son shall be upon his father?

In January 2020, my Dad died at the ripe age of 93. In this two-part blog, I write about my vivid memories of helping him build his garage in the 1960s.

My dad built his brick-built garage, one small piece at a time. Back in the mid-1960s, he could not afford to buy the concrete for the base in one purchase, but he could buy and persuade others for oversupply. Perhaps four or five such pourings made the garage base complete; bricks came in small batches too, as money allowed. Dad was not a builder, but he was an engineer and knew how to make accurate measurements, except for one unforgettable incident.

Frugality was the dominant theme of British civilian life from the war period until the mid-sixties, though many of the “veterans”, that is those born between the two world wars, never quite broke free from the constrictions it placed on every area of life. For that generation, thrift was in their psyche from birth. Dad did eventually break free of its stifling power in the second half of his life.

Brick-work starts with the corners. Get the corners right, and all else follows. As Dad laid bricks, I would stand with him and watch. To me, he seemed like a proper brickie. The corners came along well; the rows followed.

Everything was going well until Dad told me off one day. I don’t remember what it was about, but I felt angry. Revenge was on my ten-year-old mind. In a quiet moment, I slipped out of the house and moved his line up a row of bricks at one end so that the string now sloped. The gentle upward slope of the line was not apparent to a casual glance. Having done my deed of sabotage, I forgot all about it. Why shouldn’t I? I felt better now.

Later, to my horror, Dad was laying more bricks. It is clear that the row started well, level to the undiscerning eye, but I could see that the mortar gradually became thicker. That is until the middle of the row when Dad discovered his mistake. I say “his mistake” because that is how he relayed the error to my Mum. As he told my Mum of “his mistake”, I froze with a mixture of horror and fear. Suddenly my small act of rebellion escalated to fear as I wrestled with “Should I tell him?” and “What would happen if he suspected me?” I decided to tough it out and hope that he never suspected me of ruining his work.

Evidence thwarts toughing it out. A recently discovered photo shows the thickening mortar as the row progressed. It also shows the point at which Dad got some revelation and realised that the line was not level. From the point of realisation the cement joints then gradually returned to the usual thickness.

I wanted to vent my anger; not to create a monument to it. Consequences of our actions are sometimes more abiding than we intend.  To this day, I feel mildly guilty that my act of rebellion remains evident in his mistake.

Some years later, I confessed to my Dad, and he saw the funny side of it, but my act of sabotage has left evidence. I never understood why when discovering his mistake that he did not redo the row. Mystery.

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My Dad: 1926-2020 – A tribute

Dad and mum, with grand daughter Hannah and three great grand children, 2016.

I recently lost my Dad, Derreck Parkes. At 93, he was worn out and faded away peacefully on 28 January this year. Since it was clear his life was drawing to a close towards the end of last year, I prepared for his loss, at least to some extent. Losing my Dad has caused me to reflect on his qualities as a human being, and his impact on my sister and me as a father.

What’s important here is not the year he was born, 1926, or that he died in January this year; these are mere markers of a life well-lived. No, what matters is what his life contained in that little dash between the two dates. If you are a bit nerdy, like me, you might be interested to know that he lived for 34,068 days.

As a devotee of the “Full English” breakfast, he got through a lot of bacon, quite a few sausages and eggs, and a few punnets of mushrooms, and a pallet or two of butter beans; sadly I can’t give you an exact number since there are no records, I would have liked to, but I’m sure you understand.

After breakfast, there was a life to live. That life started in Nottingham on the 20th October 1926. It was a cold, cloudy and dank day; October was unusually cold that year. The General Strike of 1926 had left the Nottinghamshire miners with a bitter taste in their mouths. Dad often spoke about the General Strike, but his earliest memory is of a trip to London with his aunt Mable to see his Uncle Billy. Dad thought this was 1930.

Later, during the war, Dad was in a reserved occupation. From 1941, he served his apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce, Derby in the Merlin experimental department as part of a team that was trying to squeeze more power out of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Dad was proud of the fact that they achieved a power increase from 1,000 horsepower in 1941 to 2,200 horsepower towards the end of 1944. Later, in 1961 he became an author with Rolls-Royce writing the overhaul and repair manuals for jet engine servicing. He finished his career in 1989 writing for the RB211 the first commercially produced three spool by-pass jet engine. I remember feeling very proud of my Dad’s contribution to the RB211 engine on a demonstration fly-by of the Lockheed TriStar around Derby in 1972.

The greatest crime committed against my Dad, Derreck, was that he remains to this day the unacknowledged author of the Rolls-Royce publication The Jet Engine. In keeping with his character, he bore no bitterness.

He met my Mum, Dorothy, in Paris in 1948, an adventurous excursion at that time. She admired his suede shoes; he loved her hair. Mum said “ I’ll have him”, my Dad, ever the one with a handy chat up line  said, “Have you got a day off school?” They quickly discovered that they only lived about 3 miles from each other. One thing led to another, and they married in October 1952.

On the day that Dad went to buy the rings, with Mum, he diverted into an engineering workshop in Nottingham and bought piston rings for his dismantled motorbike. My Mum never quite forgave him, for putting piston rings on the same level as an engagement ring. But to Dad, they were both just as functional and to be useful both need to be kept well oiled. Despite early ring trouble, their marriage was to last 67 years. I was going to tell you that their marriage lasted 25,573 days, but I decided not to include it because I thought you wouldn’t be interested.

As a Dad, he took me to my first Forest match on 13 February 1965. At the City Ground, we went in the poplar stand and paid half a crown to watch Forest play Stoke. Sir Stanley Matthews was at the end of his career, aged 52, he turned a reasonable performance. Forest ran out 3-1 winners that day, but more importantly, I became bitten by the life-long disease of following the Tricky Trees. I am still thus afflicted, remaining ever hopeful of better days.

Football was always a regular talking point between us. Indeed, while in the hospital during dad’s final days, he had been unconscious for some days, or was he sleeping? I found it hard to tell, but he suddenly came to and asked me what it was with Forest losing 4-0 to Sheffield Wednesday at the City Ground. How he remembered this fact in a coma, I’ll never know, but the pain of defeat must have been foremost in his mind.

His mark on my life is indelible, and I shall be forever grateful for all the experiences we shared and the values he imparted to me. I shall miss him; no, I already miss him, but I am confident that his faith in Christ has reserved him a place in the realms of heaven.

Quietly, the unseen hand of God was at work, softening his crust and improving his understanding so that he could embrace the love of God. At what point he came to faith, I don’t know, but I can say that his faith was real and secure. As he lay dying in the hospital, I asked him if he felt the presence of God, and although mostly unconscious, he grunted an acknowledgement.

Only a few days before he died, I reassured him that everything was taken care of at home and that all was in place for Mum; I then said to him, “Dad, it is OK to let go of life if you want”. He finally let go at 10:00 am on Tuesday 28 January this year.

In the final analysis, we can say Dad matured and mellowed through life just like a good wine, and that he finished well. For this and so much more I will be eternally grateful, and in writing this tribute, I hope that it will speak to a future generation of the positive influence that a father can have on his family.

As I finish, I would like to propose that his epitaph should read:

“Derreck Parkes, a man of integrity who loved people and invested in them”.

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