Sitting up without sleep again (both sides of my mouth conspiring to keep me awake tonight), so I wanted to tell you about my Dad.
Brian Thomas Donbavand.
The best man I’ve ever known.
He worked incredibly hard to provide for his family. We were never rich. Quite the opposite, in fact. But, we never went hungry, and my brother, sister and I always got to go on school trips, etc.
My Dad was a coppersmith (think blacksmith, but with copper instead of iron or steel). He learned his trade in Liverpool, working as an apprentice with The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company where his dad (my Granddad) was a carpenter.
That wasn’t his first choice of career. He wanted to join the police force but, back in the mid to late 1960s, his six-foot frame was turned away…
…because he wore glasses.
That’s the way it worked back then.
So, he joined thousands of other men – and some women – in tackling the dock road before and after work each day.
Years later, those same dock buildings would house clothes boutiques, swanky coffee shops and apartments people who grew up in Liverpool could never possibly afford.
My Dad lived at home with his parents – Thomas and Norah – and his brother and sister – Les and Shelagh – at 26 Captain’s Lane in Bootle. That was a brilliant house. There was a brick shed and adjoining coal shed in the garden that had an old, thick tree growing behind it.
I spent a lot of my younger days climbing that tree in Nan and Granddad’s back garden and surveying the world (well, Bootle) from that shed roof.
My Granddad had lost part of one of his thumbs thanks to a splinter of an unusual wood (I want to say Greenheart) and it had be become infected. This shorter thumb always fascinated – and slightly scared – me as a kid.
In the course of things, my Dad met my Mum (then a nurse), they got married and along came yours truly. We lived with my Dad’s parents in Captain’s Lane to begin with but, from what I understand, it was a tense situation – so my Mum and Dad moved to a flat in Rutland Street.
My earliest memory is from there. I remember tables had been set up along the cobbled street, tables that were piled high with cakes and sandwiches. The event was the centennial or bicentennial of the local area, and I clearly recall sitting on my Mum’s knee at the table, scoffing down a Bakewell Tart, and chuckling with a girl in a pink dress as she ran around us.
My Mum told me that I would have been around 14 months old at the time.
After a few years, we moved first to the top flat in three story block in Walsingham Close (where my sister, Sue, joined the family), and then to our first real home – 15 Haddon Avenue.
The house in Haddon Avenue was huge. Aside from the kitchen, it had three large rooms downstairs (which we rather imaginatively called The Front Room, The Middle Room and The Back Room) – at least until my Dad knocked the first two rooms through. This must have been sometime around my birthday, as I remember getting brick dust on my newly gifted football boots.
It was at this house that my brother, Bryan, completed the family. And it was also here that my Dad bought an old stand-up piano for the middle room (now the far end of the front room). It was old and battered, but it worked and I spent many happy hours banging dreadful tune after dreadful tune on it.
Other memories of Haddon Avenue: my sister filled butter tubs with water and mixed in petals from the flowers in the small garden (mainly snapdragons). This was her way of making ‘perfume’, which she used to add aroma to the beads from her childhood necklaces and bracelets.
I remember finding one of those beads on the floor on day. I wondered it it was one of the ones Sue had soaked in her home made perfume, so I raised my palm to my nose and sniffed hard.
We spent several hours at the local hospital before doctors could get that out.
This was also the house where – just as my Mum was getting us ready to go to school one morning – I opened a bag of spooky themed crisps known as Bones, and got one stuck in my throat. By the time we arrived at the hospital, this was being reported as ‘he’s got a bone stuck in his throat’.
Eventually, the crisp dissolved, and we went home.
I loved that house, and had a very happy childhood there. What I didn’t know was that my Dad’s workshop at the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company was coming close to shutting down.
He had spent years there, working with copper piping to help make new boats and repair older ships. He’d occasionally take me down to the docks after he’d finished work, and point out which of the ships he’d worked on, telling me where in the world they were sailing off to with their precious cargo.
But that was about to come to an end.
My Dad needed a new job, which he found over 30 miles away at British Leyland, then still based in a town I’d never heard of – Leyland, in Lancashire.
So, we packed up and moved – from this big, weird house in Haddon Avenue, Liverpool to a smaller council house in Leyland.
25 Robin Hey.
This was where we lived next door to a murderer. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to hear that story…
My Dad hated his job at British Leyland. There was just no imagination required. Where he’d had the chance to be creative in solving problems with his precious copper piping for Liverpool’s great ships, here he sat at a machine all day and bent copper pipes into pre-designated shapes.
It drove him mad, and he lasted about six months before he moved to British Aerospace – first in Preston, and soon after at the Wharton Aerodrome.
From ships – to lorries – to fighter planes.
We moved house, too – to 7 Northlands, where my brother, sister and I would spend the remainder of our childhoods.
And where my Dad would continue with his practical jokes.
He convinced my then girlfriend that the M6 motorway was cobbled if you went further north than Preston.
One of his colleagues in the coppersmith’s shop at British Aerospace spent months going to night school to learn computer aided design so that he could better his prospects with the company. After the interview, this guy received a letter through the internal mail system explaining that he’d done well when meeting the interview panel, that they were impressed with his new qualifications and drive to learn….
Unfortunately, however, they weren’t going to promote him to the design department because they didn’t like his choice of tie.
Yep. Somehow, my Dad mad persuaded one of the secretaries to type up the letter and sent it.
There was one guy who always borrowed my Dad’s newspaper for his morning trip to the gents. So, my Dad planned ahead. One day, he bought TWO copies of the Daily Mirror, took one into work and kept the other inside a carrier bag on the top of the wardrobe for a year.
On the matching date the following year, he took the old newspaper into work and – as he always did – his mate nicked it and went off for a lengthy read.
He later said that he’d reached the what’s on TV pages before he realised anything was wrong.
Years passed, we all grew older and, eventually, my brother, sister and I left home. My Dad retired and all seemed well, until we realised that my Mum was becoming increasingly unwell (for more details, click here to read the post about my Mum).
Despite my Dad growing older, his sense of humour remained the same. One time, back during the first Gulf War, I returned home from eight months away on the cruise ship where I worked. My Dad made me a cup of tea and handed over the post that had arrived since they’d last been down to Tilbury (where the ship docked in the UK) to see me.
My blood ran cold. There, in this pile of seemingly innocuous post, was a letter from the Ministry of Defence, postmarked from London. I opened it with trembling fingers, and my worst fears were realised.
Inside the envelope were my call-up papers to the army.
I was to be trained to join the ongoing fight in Kuwait.
The letter gave the time and date that I was to report to my training camp, and what I would need to bring along with me.
I’m fairly certain I was crying at this point. I’d only just embarked on a career at sea, and I was looking forward to many more years travelling the world and entertaining cruise ship passengers as I went.
Then the letter explained that, due to army cut backs, I would be required to buy my own tank. That wouldn’t be a problem, however, as there was a superb range of 0% finance Chieftains currently available…
I nearly punched him!
My Dad was never meant to be alone. Losing my Mum hit him hard, and he struggled. Not with everyday life – he had us for that- but he struggled simply having to be by himself.
And then he met Barbara in an online chat forum. They quickly became good friends, and then more. They just clicked. Barbara made him very, very happy and – eventually, they moved into a house together in Southport.
He once told me that he’d been given a second chance.
Then came the news that he had prostate cancer.
It was a shock, but not unusual for a man of his age.
The treatment was complicated, and painful – but he battled through and was eventually given the all clear. We couldn’t have been happier for him.
Life continued. He enjoyed his time at first Sue’s wedding, then mine, and then Bryan’s. Here he is in a restaurant after Bryan’s nuptials in Lindos, Greece.
The family continued to grow – and my Dad loved every minute of it. As each new grandchild arrived, he seemed to be happier and happier. He and Barbara had a great social life, they enjoyed holidays abroad together and even opened a small DIY ship near their home in Southport.
In this picture – my son, Sam (then around 6 or 7) is singing for his Granddad, and charging him a pound per song! I got my sense of humour from my Dad, and I guess it didn’t stop there…
Then one day, around a year and half ago, he called me. I’d been to the cinema with Kirsty and the boys, and we’d just stepped outside into the sunlight when my ‘phone rang.
“I’ve broken my arm, Tom.”
“What? How did you do that?”
It transpired that he’d been sitting down, had felt a sneeze coming, and was trying to get his handkerchief out of his pocket when the sneeze hit, sending a jolt through his body and breaking his arm.
It made for a good tale, and we all gently ribbed him about it for a while. Until it became clear that his arm wasn’t healing.
He had x-rays and blood tests galore, but the bone simply wasn’t knitting together. There was only one possible reason.
The cancer was back.
This time, it was in his bones. And it hit him hard. He was in excruciating pain, to the point where he could barely move around the house. Eventually, he was spending his entire day in a reclining chair in the living room.
I remember the first time I saw him in that chair. I’d been to visit him and Barbara many, many times. I’d seen him sit in that chair on several occasions. It was a normal, everyday chair.
But now, it looked as though the chair had grown too large for him. It swamped him on all sides and he looked so unbelievably small sitting in it.
That scared me a lot. Seeing my Dad looking so small.
By now, he wasn’t eating much and he started to sleep in the chair at night, rather than attempt the painful walk upstairs. It wasn’t ideal, and everyone knew it.
So, my brother Bryan helped Barbara set up a bed in the living room for him.
For days, he resisted getting into it. Looking back, I think I now understand the reason why.
He knew he wouldn’t get back out of it.
From then on, we all spent as much time as we could with him – sitting at his bedside, watching TV together and chatting. He started to sleep more and more, and so many of our visits with him were spent in silence, just holding his hand and listening to him breathe.
He died early in the morning of 15th June last year, 2015. We were all at his bedside with him.
Like my Mum, I miss him every single day, and I find myself thinking about him often. He was a wonderful man. Kind, caring, loving, strong.
Most of all, he was a family man.
He was my Dad.