Dad was a man of many names. Literally.
Some, possibly most, of you know him as “Joe” or “Joey.” His more recent friends – and those old friends willing to humour him – called him “Byron.” But, to my high school boyfriends, often to my embarrassment, he insisted on being called “Mr. Smithy.”
You have all no doubt heard the story multiple times before, but since 1798, “Byron” had been one of the male Christian names in the Smith family up until my dad. He always expressed deep regret at the thought that this tradition ended with him, but it wasn’t until after he had a daughter that he decided to legally add “Byron” to his name.
At 57-years-old, my dad took his first successful stab at having a family.
In the hospital shortly after my birth, an old man approached this glowing new father and said, “That’s a beautiful grand-daughter you have.”
My dad, pride somewhat damaged, puffed out his chest and haughtily responded, “I, sir, am the father.”
Expecting this man to crumble with apologies, my dad was surprised to hear the old man snigger and retort, “You old scallywag, you!”
My dad could not hold a grudge to such a response, and he laughed along with him. Instead, he realized that he ultimately had to get accustomed to people assuming that he was my grandfather.
He had mentioned to me the guilt he felt for bringing a child into the world so late in life.
Despite his age, or possibly because of his age, he was a phenomenal dad. I joked that he was a “dinosaur” and was “obsolete,” but the truth is, it was my dad’s lifetime of experiences that allowed him to raise me as well as he did.
My dad’s life was absolutely filled with love, adventure, and excitement.
He was born in Leeds during the depression to two loving parents. Despite being an only child, he was fortunate to have lived with his three female cousins while his dad was off at war.
Being the only young boy in this household, he was very spoiled. By 12-years old he was already seeking adventure, and he took his bicycle for an overnight trip far away from home.
In his early teens, he spent summers working hard. In 1950, at only 18 years old, he took a train across the country to London to work as a barman.
He performed exceptionally well in school, and he even regaled me with stories of chess tournaments and national school competitions.
My understanding is that my dad initially had ambitions to pursue a career in law, but after a lack of drive and poor performance in his first year of university, he abandoned that plan.
Truthfully, it is difficult for me to imagine that my dad did not complete university, as he was the most intelligent and driven man that I knew, this is, of course, notwithstanding modern-age technology.
As life would have it, my dad ended up in the army. This surprised even himself, as he often admitted that he was not the most “manly” man. He was not particularly athletic, and he was painfully shy when he was young.
He stumbled upon his job in the military, but I couldn’t imagine a better life for him. He was a true patriot. He was incredibly loyal to his country and queen, and I know he was very proud to have served this country. The military also allowed him to see the world and make many lifelong friends.
My dad had many great memories with his military comrades. Many of his stories, however, revealed his addiction to alcohol. His strength of character is especially evident in the fact that, with the help of Alcoholic’s Anonymous, he overcame his addiction and maintained sobriety over the last 42 years of his life.
Throughout my life, I never saw him take a sip of alcohol, although there was this one time in the backyard of this church, when he was sure it was just juice in that bowl…
Although he had been long-since sober by the time I came around, my dad never hid from me the fact that he was a recovering alcoholic. AA meant a lot to him, and during his early years of sobriety, he provided counseling for communities with people at high risk of alcoholism. I had seen him provide advice and kind words to homeless alcoholics over a cup of coffee, even if just to give him some cash in the end for a bottle of gin.
And over the last few years, I saw my dad work hard as a sponsor to help friends working through their alcoholism. I admired my dad’s ability to empathize with people suffering from an addiction. He taught me the value of a support group and encouraged me to seek help when in need and to, in turn, help others. Helping people was among my dad’s greatest pleasures in life.
He also loved culture and nature. Growing up, I am flooded with memories of hiking and traveling, and hiking while traveling.
One of my earliest memories would have to be napping on my dad’s back in my backpack carrier. He loved showing off his new baby girl to the world and consequently carried me like that everywhere until I was frankly too old to be carried any longer. My parents even had to hide the carrier from me because the moment I saw it, I would jump in, ready to be carried.
I have many memories of traveling across Asia, Europe, and North America as a family. Eventually, I complained to my parents, “there’s going to be no where left for me to go!”
If only I had understood how lucky I was.
As I mature, I find myself growing more and more like my dad.
I can’t wait to explore the world for myself. He prided himself in seeing nearly 90 countries, and I hope that I can make it to 100 for him. Like my dad, I’m painfully stubborn, often to a fault. However, I think this quality has also driven me to persevere throughout many challenges, academic and otherwise, even when I feel like giving up.
Throughout elementary school and high school, teachers have laughed and complained about my ability to talk incessantly. If you’ve ever even briefly spoken to my father, you can guess I acquired this trait from him. That man was loquacious, and even that is an understatement. I was often amazed and irritated by his miraculous ability to speak chapters with very few breaks, but his ability to tell long-winded stories is among the traits I miss the most.
My dad was a silly man. He enjoyed laughing and making others laugh. Up until his last moments with us, he was cracking jokes with everyone around him.
A “Byron Smith Classic” would be how he would innocently look at you with his big, blue eyes, after passing gas, and say, “I guess a storm is coming in…”
I truly appreciate that he made life easier with his humour, especially when I knew times were hardest for him.
He used his humour to comfort me when I needed it.
In high school, I dated quite a bit; a father’s worst nightmare, I’m sure. But my dad never belittled the hurt I felt after each breakup. He was incredibly empathetic. I would lie in bed with him crying. He wouldn’t ask for any explanations, but he would just hold me, and let me cry. When the time was right, he’d say something to make me laugh.
One of my favourite memories was the break up jerky. I remember opening my bedroom door and seeing my dad standing there with a package of Teriyaki Beef Jerky.
“I don’t know if this will help,” he said, “but at least it’s healthier than chocolate.”
That’s the kind of man he was. He didn’t always know how to deal with a situation, but he found his own way to show how much he really cared.
If you’ll recall, my dad felt guilt for having brought me into the world at such an old age.
Recently, a family friend told me that my dad had said that the moment he saw me walk across the stage at my graduation, he could feel his guilt being lifted. This was such a blessing to hear because my father made my life amazing, regardless of his age.
Even though it was exasperating to hear my dad continually brag about me, it was nice to know that I had always made him proud. Ultimately, it was because of his extraordinary influence on my life that I have become the person that I am today.
I’m so fortunate and grateful that I had a father so capable of expressing his love for our family and me. Although he will be forever missed, I feel comforted knowing that he accomplished more than he could have dreamed in life. I’ll hold you in my heart forever, dad; I love you.
Burial Chapel, followed by graveside burial at location F7.
City Of London Cemetery & Crematorium, Aldersbrook Road, London E12 5DQ
The main service will start at 1:30pm, followed by the burial for friends and family at 2:30pm.
We ask that you join us in raising a toast afterwards.
The funeral was arranged by the fantastic team at Compassionate Funerals.