ALUN RHYS GRIFFITHS 

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REMEMBERING MUM AND DAD AND THEIR ROLE IN MY LIFE; A BRIEF HISTORY OF ME

Introduction

In 2012 I lost my father. And ten years before this, I lost my mother. Most peoples' lives are closely shaped by their relationship with their parents, but mine more so than most. It would therefore seem appropriate to write something in their memory. It is not their life story - just a few personal reminiscences loosely based upon reflections I gave at their funerals; reflections which capture the essence of the relationship I had with them.

The page also covers how my life has developed through all the years in their company and since losing them. Forgive my self-indulgence here, but this page marks a special landmark occasion for me - this was the 100th web page I published online.

Everyone's experiences of life and family relationships are different, so there may not be very much of value in these reminiscences for others. Maybe there will be. But here they are for the record, because I wanted to write them down. Read if you wish.

Yours Truly

A Very Brief History Of My Parents Before Me, And How I Came To Be

My father was born in South Wales on the 7th February 1926, and brought up in the town of Neath in the County of Glamorgan. This was traditionally coal mining town, and he was the son of a miner. He had one younger sister, Joan. Three years later on 13th December 1929, my mother was born in Trimulgherry, a suburb of the City of Secunderabad in the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh. Her family was in India at the time because her father was serving in the British army as a military policeman. My mother was the second of five daughters.

My knowledge of the early years of either parent is sadly too limited, and will perhaps never now be acquired, but I do know that as a child my father attended the Grammar School in Neath and with good grades and a developing interest in engineering, later studied courses in Engineering Science and subjects such as Applied Mechanics, Mathematics and Machine Design at Swansea Technical College. He was on his way to becoming a qualified Instruments Engineer. By the late 1940s or early 50s, and following a brief spell working in Persia, he was taken on by the UK Atomic Energy Authority in their nuclear fuels site in Preston in Northwest England.

 

My mother meanwhile, had left India when her father's military posting came to an end, and she then spent time growing up on the lovely Scottish Isle of Skye. She later trained in secretarial skills, and I believe that after the family had moved once again back to mainland Britain, she acquired a job as a typist - working at the Atomic Energy Authority in Preston. And so they met.

How the relationship developed, I do not know, but my parents were married on 22nd November 1951 at Wokingham in the County of Berkshire. Then in the early 1950s my father began working as an engineer with a petroleum company - an appointment which involved uprooting from England and going to work and live briefly on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. By this stage my mother had already given birth to a daughter, Christine, and whilst living in Trinidad the family was increased by the birth of two sons; the first of these was my brother David, and the second was me. Sadly, given my later love of natural history, the family would leave the exotic tropical islands of my birth for good when I was just one year old, primarily because education was becoming an important consideration for my older siblings, and the education in Britain was fundamentally better at this time. We sailed back to England on an oil tanker, and the family settled soon afterwards in a suburb just north west of London.

And it was sometime soon after this, that my first recollections of life begin.

My father and mother

are married in 1951

My father, as a young man

My Father's Role In The Life Of The Family

My father's career progressed after moving back to England. He worked over the next few years in several electronics companies - British and American - before ultimately assuming the position of Sales Director in an American company based in New York State - 'Rochester Instrument Systems' - a company which sold electronics equipment worldwide. In this and in other capacities he travelled widely, notably spending time in America, in India, in South-East Asia, and in Eastern Europe. (He was in Czechoslovakia at the time of the abortive anti-Soviet uprising in 1968). My father was indisputably bright. Indeed, recalling some of his opinions and his commenting on news events, financial affairs and other matters, and also his handling of his many business activities, I maintain to this day that in his prime he was probably the most perceptive person I have ever met. That is not a biased opinion - I am objective and I can recognise faults as well as virtues in my parents. But in the case of my father, intellect was not an area in which he was found wanting. Unfortunately my father's career meant that he commuted long distances to work, and his overseas travels meant that he also spent much time away from the family. And when not at work, his hobbies and interests were few. D.I.Y was a forte, and he enjoyed watching sport, but little else of note.

My mother, as a young woman

My Mother's Role In The Life Of The Family

My parents' marriage was very much a traditional one of the time in the sense that it was my father who went out to work and concerned himself with the bread winning. My mother's role was that of housewife, staying at home throughout all of the childrens' younger years. Her role as she saw it was to provide meals, keep the house clean, and generally look after us. In this she worked tirelessly, seemingly spending far more time in the kitchen than relaxing or enjoying herself. This applied throughout our childhood, and later on in her role as grandmother to my brother's two young children. She became the gel which would hold the family together when dad was so often away on business, and when the children - and then the grandchildren - were young. it seemed she lived her whole life without personal ambition, drive, or desire to develop a career. Her only genuine interests other than the needs of the family, were knitting and gardening.

And she doted on my father. Sadly my father was much less 'touchy-feely' and he couldn't always give her the obvious affection she would have craved. About a week after she died, dad uttered one sentence to me - 'I think I was the luckiest man alive' (to have her) - it's not the kind of sentiment I'd ever heard him express when she was alive, but I really hope he did so, at least in private to her.

My Life With My Parents : A Peculiar History

I'd say my life has been oddly normal or boringly different. To explain the oxymorons, I've done nothing outstandingly unusual or of great note in my life, and yet some aspects of the way I have lived have been very far from conventional.

I developed an intense shyness in my early teens. Although the reasons are not entirely clear even to me, I had become a child who rarely ventured far from the home on days away from school. It didn't help that we lived some distance from my school and from my school friends, so it wasn't so easy to visit their houses. I stayed alone. My nature was also that I wasn't into the kinds of social activities which appealed to most others - I wasn't into pop music and I never liked social crowds, and as I grew older, I never developed a taste for alcohol - almost a pre-requisite in that era at a teenage social gathering. Instead I was content to engross myself in solitary activities such as reading or watching television or pursuing my own personal hobbies. I lived in my own little world with my parents. My sister and brother would soon leave home, but I would stay.

I did head off in the fullness of time to the College of Swansea in the University of Wales to undertake an Honours Degree in Zoology and Botany, but when that was completed in 1978, it was back to the family home that I headed. I had failed to develop any really close friendships which would survive beyond the university years, and I then failed for various reasons to find a career in the fields in which I had studied. I had also failed to get a girlfriend, hanging out as I had with just a select few friends in the university common rooms. I blame my shyness for that.

So I was back to living with my parents, and that was the way it stayed throughout my 20s and even for most of my 30s. The reasons I think were threefold:

  • It was practical. I was not earning much money and it was cheaper and more hassle free to stay at home.

  • It suited my nature. It saved me from having to make life-changing decisions, such as buying my own house and generally having to look after myself - not an easy thing  for someone who was rapidly developing a very acute indecisiveness to go with the introvertedness.

  • It became important for the family. Circumstances which I won't go into meant that it was essential for me to stay with my parents in the 1980s during what was a very difficult period for them. I am proud that I did so.

The 1970s - Mum and Dad

in their back garden 

1981 - Dad and mum on Miami Beach

Living all this time at home meant that the relationship with my parents was becoming unusually close, and I was relying on them so much for everything. The downsides to this lifestyle were that I could find neither the courage nor the motivation to go out and meet people - the introvertedness and the indecisiveness just grew, and with it so did the inability to lead an ordinary social life. Career-wise, I initially took employment with a pest control company, but when this proved dull and uninspiring and I couldn't find an alternative job which satisfied, I chose to do my own thing and I opened a small pet and garden supplies shop in which my mother worked with me as unpaid voluntary labour. Even so, my income was not good, and not enough to truly support myself long term. I was in a depressed rut, and after nine years of this, things had to change.

I first undertook a mental aptitude test run by Mensa - I knew I was quite good at solving logic problems and I felt that membership of such an organisation (whilst limited in its true significance) would help to boost my own self confidence and might stand me in good stead in any future job applications. Then in 1993 I decided to enrol in a second degree course - this time in radiotherapy, a vocational course with a guaranteed career and a decent, secure income at the end of it. And now at last some aspects of my life were to gradually improve. The degree course led to a job as a therapeutic radiographer at Southend Hospital in Essex. At least equally importantly, the worst aspects of my shyness now began to recede - the combination of daily interaction with customers whilst I had been running my shop, followed by my second bout of student life, and then a hospital career treating patients as part of a team of radiographers, all meant that I was becoming more and more used to speaking to people. At the age of nearly 40, I began to acquire a new set of friends and at long last, a semblence of a social life.

I still, however, had no home of my own, lodging as I was in 'temporary' hospital accommodation - a one room apartment. I still went back to my parents every weekend, and they still remained the most important people in my life. That was the state of my life in the year 2000 - as I approached my mid-40s.

My mother with her first grandchild, Michael, in 1980

My Relationship With My Mother

Throughout my adult life until the turn of the new millennium, I'd never really settled anywhere even with a house - let alone a family - to call my own, and because of that, no matter where I'd happened to be living, studying or working during the week, I'd nearly always returned home to my parents at the weekends, on special occasions and on holidays. And when I was driving home, I knew that my mother would invariably be looking out for me, and worrying about whether I'd arrive safely. And when I did arrive, she would almost always make sure she got to the door to open it for me, to greet me. The kettle would most probably be on the boil, and if it was evening, dinner would soon be cooking.

That was typical of mum. Throughout her life, her all consuming interest was her family. She devoted herself 100%, to being a wife, mother and a gran, looking after us as best she could, and worrying about us, and it was through this care that she showed her love. I'm not sure my mother ever really thought about her own future, or even about our future. All she wanted was to perform the 'duties' of a housewife, look after us, and for us all to be happy.

And I think that because of my unusual circumstances, she was especially close to me. Some time after she died, my father was going through the bedroom drawers when he found buried under some of her clothing a short letter. It was a letter in which she made a special request on my behalf. She said in the letter that she believed I had sacrificed so much for her (by staying in the family home at a time when she felt in great need of company). But of course the truth is she had sacrificed much more - her own personal life for my sake and for my father's sake. The letter remains as undoubtedly one of my most treasured possessions.

My Relationship With My Father

People show their feelings in different ways. Dad maybe didn't always find it easy to show his feelings. He wasn't at all sentimental, and wasn't given to any great shows of affection. He left that 100% to my mother. For most of his life, he'd found it easier to show he cared in the ways in which he felt more comfortable, with practical help and advice, and in generous financial ways.

After he was widowed in 2002 and his health and physical abilities began to seriously decline with the onset of Parkinson's Disease and associated ailments of old age, so my relationship with my father began to change, and in some ways it was for the better. As his dependency on me became more significant than my dependency upon him, so he began to show his feelings in more human ways - and as a result he and I were undoubtedly closer in the final ten years than in all the previous forty. We probably spoke more too, because when I wasn't with him, we now talked daily on the telephone.

Towards the end of his life, he moved into a care home, which was not something he’d ever wanted to do before. But he accepted his lot. His final year was not easy to cope with, with many difficult and depressing aspects, but the one up-side was the way in which perhaps we became the closest ever. He now needed me for companionship and so I still visited him every weekend, and even though he could no longer offer advice as he once did, I still felt a need for him as the only person in the world who really depended upon me. Whenever I left him during these times to return to my home, it was always with extremely mixed feelings. At times I’ll admit everything seemed so stressful that I really just wanted to get away and back home where I could relax. But when I did leave I’d immediately feel guilty because he would always insist - despite his frailty - on trying to stand to watch me leave through the window. He’d have to wedge himself between his chair and a chest of drawers, and I had to hurry to my car and drive off quickly so he wouldn't have to stand too long. As I drove away he would be watching and feebly waving.

 

In earlier, better years, he’d never normally have even bothered coming to the door to say goodbye. Only my mother had done that. But now he was making considerable effort and risking a fall, just to wave to me.

And that’s probably actually how I’d like to remember him best - he wasn't at his physical best, but he was showing his true feelings and affection more than he ever had before. As far as I was concerned, whether it was offering advice or helping in practical ways, or whether it was wanting to talk on the phone every evening or just trying to wave goodbye - he cared a lot more than he ever liked to make apparent.

My second graduation ceremony in 1996

A Special Realationship

Circumstances make for a special relationship. My circumstances, and those of my parents, led to a closeness and dependency which no one other than the three of us could possibly understand. Now I am alone with that understanding. With my mother's death, that 'gel' which I said had held our family together began to evaporate, and some family communication came to an end. And when my father died, sentiments left largely unexpressed came to the fore, leading to problems between some members of the family. I will not say more, but my relationship withy my parents had been a special one which could not really be appreciated by anyone who was not there at the time.

Relationships were not perfect, and there are of course regrets - some real and some the natural inevitability of things left undone or unsaid at the time of death. My extra close relationship with my parents shaped my life and in some ways handicapped my life. but I would not have it any other way. They could not have done more for me.

The Phases Of My Life

My life has passed through three significant phases - but not the traditional and natural changes of childhood, young adulthood and then settlement into life with a family of my own. My significant phases have all been related to my parents.

The First Phase : The first phase was by far the longest. All of my life until the age of 45 had been one of close association with my parents. Through all this time I remained lacking in the the maturity, self-confidence or motivation to really follow my own star, pursue my ambitions, or make my mark in the world. I was trapped in a mind set which eschewed risk and change. I allowed the world to just keep on spinning and revolving and carrying me with it, just living with whatever life threw at me; hoping that life would treat me well, but doing nothing to ensure that it would.

Golden Wedding celebrations for my parents in 2001, just 7 months before we lost mum

The Second Phase : With the death of my mother in 2002 and the deteriorating health of my father, things changed, and I entered the second phase of my life. I began to realise that finally I could no longer rely on my father to help me. Quite the opposite. I was moving into the position whereby I would have to help him. I felt ill-equipped to do that and perhaps unwisely preferred to leave as much as possible of that to others in the family. The loss of my mother coincided with another major change in my life. I had always lived with my parents, or else in student or work-provided accommodation, but now at the age of 45 I was obliged by the hospital authorities to stop living in their subsidised apartment, and that meant moving into a home of my own, and that of course would bring with it new responsibilities and also financial concerns for the first time in my life. I finally bought my own home (with my father's help) in the village of Great Wakering not far from the hospital at the end of 2002. I also realised at this time - 20 years too late - that life was passing me by, and there was a need to get out, and to try to live a normal adult life.

I began to travel when possible, making good use of my vacations to visit foreign lands. I also began to feel the need to enjoy life in other ways. I'd long held extravagant ambitions to achieve so much in my life, but with absolutely no confidence to go out and pursue them. One by one, age and practicalities had led to the sorry abandonment of these ambitions, until just one remained - creative writing. One can do that at any age. So I began to write on the internet. Lastly I also decided that this was the time to actively try to have someone else in my life; a girlfriend. And with minimal success prior to this, I took in 2008, the only route which I felt was still open to me - internet dating.

 

However, home and family circumstances were still leading to low level depression, and with that depression came a lack of motivation. At the very time I was feeling a definite need to get on with my life, I couldn't motivate myself to anything much more than a half-hearted effort.

The Third Phase : The third phase began with the death of my father. Now there was no one truly close to me. Family and estate issues led to disputes and the breakdown of some of the family relationships. Other family, I still had a good relationship with, but rarely saw. Simultaneously I received a lot of warmth from people at work, but these were people with their own families and lives to lead. The net result is that I felt more alone than ever, but also more free than ever, with no responsibilities to anyone other than myself, and no one to please, other than myself. Finally I was able - perhaps - to live a 'normal' life.

My father with his first great grandchild, Alfie, in 2008

June 2013 - 2018

Almost all of this article above was written in 2013 soon after my father's death. But the rest is being written several years later at the start of 2018.

 

Back in 2013, I wrote that I felt I had become free to do entirely as I wished in life. I did of course also have the worries and the personal responsibilities to make decisions which go with that freedom, but the opportunities were there for me. My weekends were no longer tied to anyone - they were entirely my own.

 

But I was like a bird who had lived its life in a cage, dependent upon others to feed it, before one day finding the cage door left open. Can it fly free? Not at first. Fear of the great outside world is not so easy to overcome. It takes time to build up courage to spread one's wings and explore.

My life had been full of contradictions. There had always been some self-confidence about my own abilities, and yet at the same time huge fears of failure in everything I did. There had been a desire to move on with my life, and yet at the same time  an inability to take the decisions to do so. And there had been a desire for a healthy social life, and yet at the same time a lack of the social skills to achieve this.

 

Back in 2013 I was alone in England and there really had to be change in all these areas, and that is what I have been trying to achieve since then. I have developed my writing on an internet content creation website, and since giving up my radiography career in 2016, I have also begun opening my own personal websites, yet without the confidence to venture further out into the big wide world of commercial writing. Perhaps that will happen in the future.

 

And I also developed an incongruous habit of acquiring girlfriends. First on a holiday in Cuba several years ago, and then again twice in Thailand as a consequence of internet dating, I finally found myself in my late 40s, in my first ever serious relationships. This article is not about that aspect of my life, but suffice it to say that such is their convoluted nature that all of these relationships developed more in the manner of a movie melodrama than real life. I'm not sure my parents would have totally approved of the way in which this has come about, but they would certainly readily approve if the end result is my happiness ...

A Fiancée

... and I continue to hope that the end result will be my happiness. On Valentine's Day 2017 I became engaged to my girlfriend in Thailand. At the moment that engagement is more of a sign of commitment rather than an immediate prelude to setting a date for marriage, because I am aware - as is she - of the many pitfalls in such a relationship. First Wanna must come to England for a visit - that is the responsible thing to do to discover whether she can adapt to a very alien culture, whether she can adapt to life away from her family and friends, and whether she and I can really be happy together in an environment very different from that in which we meet in Thailand. It is about whether two people who are seemingly mismatched in many ways, can truly love and be happy together. Wanna and I will try so hard to make it work. And the motivation is certainly there to make it work. But whether or not it works, I feel I am now entering the fourth phase of my life. Wish me luck with that.

The Future - A Road Without Signposts

The future is a road without signposts. We may walk down the road with purpose or we may walk it with great caution. Some do not walk, but prefer to drive fast without due care and attention - neither knowing nor caring what lies around the next bend or beyond the next hill. Sometimes it will be calm and uneventful, whilst other times the road will be laden with potholes and hazards. All we can do is take the route which we believe is best for us and then hope that it leads us to where we want to go. My particular road may have as its destination loneliness, depression, and an intense sensation of a life wasted. Or it may conclude with a loving relationship, exploration of new horizons, and the chance to do the things I've always wanted to do. A life of contentment. For the first time I may now live in the way I truly want to live. I know my parents would wish that for me more than anything else.

Thanks for reading.

I’d Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun