So it was that I took the girls through on a Saturday afternoon. They were both excited as they loved seeing their Papa - he usually let them away with things I didn’t, such was the role of the doting grandparent as I would subconsciously demonstrate years later. And dote on them he did. By this time - early 1997 - my father was sadly on his own again. He had split from his third wife and had recently moved into a council flat in Paisley. He remained friends with the woman I used to call Mrs Smith III but he was back to living on his own once more. It was almost as if he preferred it that way. Our visit that Saturday was to be our first to his new flat in a not exactly upmarket area of Paisley.
We got off the train in Paisley around 2.00pm. Unusually, there was no sign of my father. He was many things but he was always a man of his word - when he said he would be somewhere he usually was. 1997 were the days before mobile telephones were in such widespread use so I headed for the nearest call box (ask your parents, younger readers) in an attempt to phone him at home. No reply. Well, he must be on his way I thought to myself, although it certainly wasn’t like him to be late. After waiting at Gilmour Street station for half an hour - although with an increasingly bored Laura and Michaela it seemed like two hours - there was still no sign of him. By now, my anxiety had increased. This was so unlike him. I had his new address so I decided to jump on a bus and head round to see him.
Eventually, we got there only to find there was no reply. There was silence, no sign of life - as it turned out literally so. My wife Pat had been working that day until early afternoon but I called her from Paisley asking if my father had been in touch. He hadn’t been. He had previously mentioned about going away for a weekend with Mrs Smith III in an attempt to patch up their relationship so I asked Pat to phone her. I called Pat a few minutes later - she confirmed there had been no answer from Mrs Smith III’s home either. That was it, I assumed. The old blighter had gone away for the weekend with his estranged wife and had forgotten about us! Although something didn’t sit right about it. It was most unlike him, normally the most organised of people. We headed back to Dalkeith, somewhat irritated over our wasted journey. My irritation increased over the weekend as repeated phone calls to Mrs Smith III’s house weren’t being answered. That had to explain everything - she was obviously away for the weekend as well - with my absent-minded and absent father.
It wasn’t until three days later on the Tuesday evening when I returned home from work that the bombshell dropped. The telephone rang. It was Mrs Smith III. Had I seen my father? she asked. My heart sank. She explained she had been away for a few days - but not with my father. She had been to see her daughter in Ireland. Now I feared the worst. I have two half brothers who at that time lived in Cumbernauld with my father’s second wife - their mother. Mrs Smith III said she would contact them and phone me back. I anxiously paced the room, my heart pounding. I just knew this was bad news. Half an hour later, the phone rang again. It wasn’t Mrs Smith III. It was my Uncle Jack - my father’s brother-in-law - phoning from Aberdeen.
The police had broken into my father’s flat in Paisley and found his body slumped in a chair. He had been dead for several days - certainly he had been lying there the day I had gone to see him with the girls. The newspaper lying on his lap indicated he had died the day after I had spoken to him on the phone the week before. His heart simply could take no more and stopped. Mercifully, he had not suffered any pain when he died although I didn’t find that particularly comforting at the time.
Devastation overcame me. I had become closer to my father than at any other time in my life and now he was gone. Gone before I had the chance to tell him how I really felt about him. Gone before I could thank him for helping me make a life for myself in Edinburgh. Heart-breakingly, gone before he could see Laura and Michaela grow up and develop into two wonderful people of whom my father would have been so proud - and before Laura had produced two equally wonderful children of her own, Jack and Hannah. How my father would have doted on those two wee scamps…
His death was the one of the worst episodes of my life. Like most people who lose a loved one, I miss him terribly, even today, thirteen years on. I went into automatic pilot mode for the funeral and the immediate aftermath. I didn’t grieve properly until some time after and on my own. In my mind I wanted to go somewhere no one could find me. It’s a trait that remains with me to this day and is now evident in my daughters, particularly Michaela who has had her own tragedy to deal with in the past year.
Every year since 1997, on the eleventh day of March, I take time to remember my father and reflect on his passing. This year will be no different…