Submitted by Alienorajt
I’d like to think that there might be people out there who once knew my father, Captain John Browning: who perhaps served in the Navy or Army with him, or who were taught by him – people who will read this and recognise something of him in it. That would be lovely.
Our daddy. Dad. He was many other things and I could stitch together a tapestry of facts – but it is the person, the husband and father, of whom I wish to speak. He was a gentleman and a gentle man: honourable, dignified, brave and kind, yet sensitive and intuitive too. It seemed as if the membrane between Daddy and others was thin, so that their fears and pain leaked into his system. He worried about us, but was immensely proud of us all too and wanted us to know that.
Tears did not come easily to him, yet he felt things deeply and was not afraid to share his feelings with his family. He was a good listener too: was honest if he did not share someone else’s point of view, but never dismissive or sarcastic. If he did not know the answer, if there was no advice he could offer, he would say so – but always with the rider that of course we had his support and, if there was anything he could do, we’d only to ask.
He was extremely fond of his four sons-in-law and his daughter-in-law – and was, I think, delighted that they had taken his offspring, particularly his daughters, safely off his hands! Our happiness and peace of mind was very important to him and he thoroughly enjoyed signs of marital felicity. His children’s partners found him a tolerant and welcoming man, always willing to look for the good in everyone.
Thanks to Fliss and her husband, we all now have copies of Dad’s Diabetes CD. Made in 2004, it is a recording of him talking about his fifty years as an insulin-dependent diabetic – and it is a remarkable and heart-warming gift. At one point, talking of his earliest serious hypo in 1957, he speaks of a feeling of utter despair, wondering if there was any point – but then he berates himself for a fool, and says that one just has to get on with it. To quote from the saying in the downstairs loo at Cumbraes*:
Life ain’t all yer want
But it’s all yer get
So ‘ave it.
Stick a geranium in yer ‘at
And be ‘appy!
Very Daddy – and a timely reminder that bravery is not just about taking physical risks, fighting, being fearless (though he had his fair share of those fighting in Korea in the fifties); he felt great fear at times and distress and despair, but he soldiered on regardless – and that, to us, is the epitome of true courage.
He spoke quite openly about his diabetes: how embarrassed and undignified he felt after a bad hypo; how much he appreciated the care he’d received from the Oxford Diabetic Clinic and his podiatrist; how he positively rattled because of all the pills he had to take for high blood pressure and so on. The younger members of the family were fascinated by the pen syringe, and would regularly ask for ringside seats when he did a blood test or administered the insulin dose.
His beloved grandchildren have many precious memories of being taken to see the swords (one found on a First World War battlefield, the other a Japanese Samurai sword); conversations about history, poetry, books, archery, ideas; cuddles and stories in the eagle chair, delivered in that wonderful booming voice.
His children think of early visits to see ‘The Mikado’ and a subsequent shared love of Gilbert and Sullivan; punting from Magdalen Bridge; holidays in Budleigh Salterton; the open air Shakespeare plays in the gardens of various Oxford colleges; the Greek plays at Bradfield College – and all approached with Dad’s dictinctive enthusiasm, knowledge and the sheer pleasure he always took in sharing things he loved with his precious family. At every event, that lovely warm smile, lighting his whole face, shining from deep-set blue eyes.
He was traditional, but also open-minded, always interested in learning new things. For him, manners were vitally important. It went deeper than simply being polite and was bound up in such things as treating people decently, behaving with integrity and bearing up even when times were hard. He was, in Chaucer’s famous words, ‘…a parfait gentil knight.’
He was an open-hearted man. Buying people presents they’d really like was very important to him. At the same time, he was always touchingly grateful for the smallest kindness shown to him.
In the end, his vast and generous heart gave out – but metaphorical splinters shot out and, like fleshy arrows, found their way into our hearts. We are flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood, bone of his bone. He is shared out between us, in memories and thoughts and love.
Despite everything that has happened since then, despite the darker side, I stand by the sentiments expressed in that eulogy.
*The family home for forty five years.