Rod Douglas was my dad. He was born in 1947, suspiciously about one week after Aleister Crowley, famous British occultist and believer in reincarnation, died.
I’m not linking the two but it’s worth remembering…
Now I don’t know much of my father’s childhood or indeed early adulthood, aside from rumours of excessive speed in motor vehicles – which he seems to have passed on – I do know, however, that at the age of 21, Rod Douglas married my mother Mary. In 1969 no less, the year they landed on the moon, two major achievements in one year that no one could have predicted.
My parents shared 46 years of marriage, there were ups and there were downs and there was me. There were rows and there were happy times; family trips to Morecambe, holidays on the Norfolk Broads, we even went abroad once. Sadly my father wasn’t a flyer, so we didn’t do it twice.
In amongst these happy memories there are some regrets; the things that we did not do that I will desperately miss; never having had a beer together in a bar, no father and son projects undertaken, no late night chats or shared wisdom. In a way though this serves as a lesson to me and guides me as a father.
Where my father and I did have a bond was in a shared love of technology. Shared is perhaps not an accurate description, it was his love and fervent belief in technology that was imprinted on me, as I am led to believe was imprinted on him by his father Hugh.
A tale I was often told by my father was that Hugh once said to a television repair man who was in his living room fixing his television; “It’ll a’ be different when ther’ hingin’ aff the wa'”, it is reported that this was greeted with a look of bemused indifference from the engineer but my father always knew that Hugh was right.
Sure enough twenty five years after his death his predictions came true, televisions were indeed available that could be hung aff yer wa’.
What my father perhaps never realised was that he too told me something that stuck in my mind as much as his father’s story did for him, something that would later by a significant influence on my career choices.
In primary school I was asked to write about something that would make the most impact in the future, my father insisted I write about the rise of computers. His hingin’ aff the wa’ moment came when he excitedly told me that one day in the future your computer would be tiny, would go everywhere with you, would wake you up in the morning, know when it was your birthday and perhaps let you talk to it, ask you question and even talk back to you.
He was right.
I know he was proud of me, though he was unable to articulate it in any meaningful way for most of my life, partly due to his upbringing and partly due to his dour nature. That dour nature evaporated though when he was in the presence of his grandchildren. We have so many photos of them together, splashing in puddles, giving cuddles and him looking proudly at their antics.
My father was a fiercely intelligent man and as I now recognise, quite clearly on the autistic spectrum. Unfortunately for him he grew up in a time when such things weren’t recognised and in a family and area where attributes like intelligence were considered a sign of an inflated sense of superiority.
With the correct encouragement my father could have been anything. It is deeply sad that the encouragement and understanding he needed, at the time when it would have mattered most, never appears to have been given to him by his family.
Oftentimes I wonder what my father could have made of himself. He and my mother moved to Newcastle in the early seventies, should he have decided to stay in Newcastle and not return to Annan what could he have become? These ponderings are short lived however and I am glad, in a way, that he did decide to return, had he not I might not have the life I have now.
There are numerous memories that have bubbled to the surface lately that remind me of my father’s company and his provision of amusement, usually without his even knowing it.
His inadvertent advisement of the punishment for being late to the opticians sticks in my mind; “If you don’t get to that optician’s on time you’ll be buggered”. He didn’t talk to me for a week after I told him that, as punishments go, that seemed a bit harsh.
His fast forwarding through the sex scenes in The Terminator when I was a teenager, thereby missing a key section of plot that left me at a significant disadvantage when, a few years later I was discussing the sequel with my friends.
His agreement when I was ten, after weeks of badgering, to let me watch an American Werewolf in London, if I could just watch one little clip without being scared. He knew what he was doing. I soiled myself and didn’t watch an American Werewolf in London for another fifteen years.
His inability to express any positive emotion without downplaying it. The best I ever got from him on anything was “Aye, it’s alright.” or “For those that like that sort of thing…”, in a way that made the rare times he actually got excited, all the more special. Saying that, I could always tell when something really did excite him, even when he downplayed it. He just didn’t have the confidence to say it, no doubt as a result of childhood experiences with his family.
Our shared love of video games, which usually saw me watching him complete them – The Last Ninja being a particular favourite of his, which he completed when he was the age I am now – but on occasion afforded us the opportunity to enjoy the hobby together, I’ll never forget playing Bubble Bobble with him, a game we both loved. Later on he even managed to play with his granddaughter, there was pure joy on his face that day, nothing could have not let that shine through.
Since my father’s death I have been greatly heartened by the number of people that have expressed their sympathies to my mother. Clearly I had underestimated the effect that his life had had on others.
Rod Douglas was a good man, a loyal husband, a proud father and father-in-law and a very loving grandfather. He will be greatly, greatly missed.
At this time I am reminded of a rather lovely piece of writing from, of all things, Doctor Who. It’s from the episode Vincent and the Doctor and concerns the Doctor explaining to Amy why we should focus on a person’s life and our part in it, rather than their death. It goes like this:
I think that sums things up nicely.