Last night I attended a firm’s annual dinner with my father. It was a fun evening and ended up with several speakers in succession paying tribute to him on their hind legs, which was a somewhat surreal but welcome circumstance for me as a family member.
Why? Well, because these were tales and observations coming from people who only knew him in a ‘work’ context, whilst (if you get my drift) I, who only knew him in a ‘private family’ context, was hearing others speak about him as he operated in a world of which I had no personal knowledge other than that which, over the decades, he had passed on, no doubt having first applied his own ‘quality’ filter – and here I make no comment as to whether this might have been with a design to ‘big up’ or play down his own actions as then described.
The set-up had similar echoes to that in the aftermath of my mother’s death some eight years ago. One day, during the period between her funeral and thanksgiving service, I entered my father’s drawing room to find him sitting on a sofa with tears unashamedly rolling down his cheeks, reading through a large pile of condolence letters that he had received.
“I tell you what’s effing ridiculous …” he said upon registering that my presence, “… everything is completely the wrong way around. Everyone should get the opportunity to read all the nice things people write about them before they die, but they never do.”
At the time I could see where he was coming from. Last night was – in a small way – an opportunity to rectify just the issue that my father had been complaining about. It was an opportunity for him to hear just how much his former colleagues and juniors had respected him as an executive and loved him as a mentor, boss and team member, not that he was looking forward to the function (as he had confided to me earlier in the day) although I have my suspicions that secretly the opposite was the case.
I guess we’re all a bit like that really.
Even those that are genuine in their personal modesty and self-effacement can be rendered privately pleased and proud when some third party, apparently unprompted, takes the trouble to thank them, or to pay tribute to how they performed generally – or, alternatively, to tell of how how the subject of the tale, as a senior, had dealt with some particularly sticky problem upon which the speaker had sought their help or advice.
Last night the warmth in the room was plain and the tributes genuine and heartfelt. I hope I’m not being inappropriate here but I found myself acknowledging the possibility that not a few of those present were taking the trouble to attend and speak because of the possibility that – given my father’s advanced age – it might be one of the last times they’d have the opportunity.
Whether that was true or not, it was a splendid and, for me, rewarding outing.