Despite being the most distressing life event I’ve thus far experienced, I never wept when my father died in the October of 2017. I similarly remained tear free during his funeral, even while delivering a twenty minute eulogy I’d written as a tribute to a man I adored. A beautiful person whose passing devastated me; his departure leaving a cavernous void in my soul that feels like it’ll never mend.
This lack of outward emotion partly consequential of notions that now I was the eldest male of the brood I needed to ‘step up’ and to cry would’ve been a sign of weakness. At the time, misguidedly opining openly sobbing somehow demeaned the role I’d begrudgingly, but nevertheless’d, inherited from the old man.
Of course, thoughts on cloaking the utter torment I was experiencing inside were utter nonsense. However, grief is an enigmatic mistress, unyielding in its torment a bereaving mind, with a consequence of manifesting the most misguided of notions upon those afflicted.
Yesterday thoughts on my lack of emotion, along with a general paucity of tears under any existential circumstances, manifested while watching a rugby league benefit game. This friendly pre-season match a benefit game for a duo of Leeds Rhinos legends, Jamie Jones Buchanan (JJB) and Rob Burrow (RB) .
JJB a forward still adorning the amber and gold shirt professionally. RB the retired scrum half/hooker whose last game on 30th September 2017 saw him, as a member of the treble winning Rhinos team, conclude his career at the pinnacle of the sport.
Rob Burrow’s final game in 2017 less than a fortnight prior to my dad’s passing in Wakefield Hospice on 11th October. RB and his colleagues victory that day meaning my old man’s final sporting memory of note was of his beloved Rhinos securing the final in a trinity of 2017 trophy wins…….. News raising one of the last smiles on the Leeds lad’s visage as he laid awaiting his inevitable passing.
Anyhow, I digress…… As alluded to above, witnessing the Sky Sports broadcast of this pre-season friendly in honour of Jones Bishop and Burrow bringing to mind my penchant for avoiding displays of outward emotion.
The driver behind these notions the emotionally charged storyline underpinning the whole occasion. In particular Rob Burrow’s late cameo appearance a matter of weeks after being diagnosed with the incurable degenerative motor neurone disease (MND).
Consequential of this dreadful pre-festive period revelation for the father of three, 37 year old, in association with his moving return to the Emerald Headingley pitch for a final few moments, there wasn’t a dry eye in the packed Leeds stadium at referee Ben Thaler’s final whistle.
Sat at home armchair supporting the game, GJ Strachan, a man who even avoided weeping when he lost his beloved father, joined the stadium audience, along with no doubt 100,00’s of fellow TV viewers sobbing openly.
This rare exhibition of tears completely blindsiding me. Not to mention raising questions why this sporting occasion had broken my usual resolve of not displaying outward dew eyed melancholy. What was happening? Why, when I didn’t cry on my much loved mentor’s passing, was I weeping over the (admittedly deeply sad) plight of a man I don’t know.
As much as I enjoy watching rugby league, my viewing of the sport is ordinarily undertaken from a living room armchair, or stood on a beer soaked pub floor. I’ve only ever attended about a dozen games in my life, and they’ve all been since turning 50.
As a kid I was similarly an armchair Leeds RL fan, as the Rhinos were know pre-Super League era. Even though by 1970 we’d moved from our Leeds home to Gateshead (where rugby league wasn’t played), my Loiner born and bred parents ensured their offspring cheered on the amber and gold shirts from afar.
To not have embraced a like of the game and cheering on the rugby league players representing our birthplace would’ve been unthinkable in my parents eyes. That being said, I’ve not been by any stretch a lifelong fanatic of the game. However as I’ve meandered towards.and into middle-age it’s the game I view and enjoy more than any other.
Mum and dad’s love of the game and roots resulted in witnessing 1970’s broadcasts of Grandstand. Along with televised Tuesday evening floodlit matches. involving Leeds RL was undertakes with tribalistic fervour. This an era of capricious success on a pitch graced by iconic Leeds players like Sid Hynes, Les Dyl, Alan Smith, John Atkinson and John Holmes.
Club legends whose rugby ball skills were relayed to our living room by BBC TV commentator Eddie Waring. His distinctive effervescent oration of proceedings in dulcet Huddersfield tones almost caricature like in delivery.
Footnote – John Holmes the 1970’s Leeds RL full back shouldn’t be confused with porn star John Holmes from that era. The latter an ‘actor’ who starred with Linda Lovelace in the hardcore movie Deep Throat!…. Or so a friend told me!!
I’m told in late ‘actor’ John Holmes line of business size definitely does matter. Rob Burrow, standing at 5′ 5″ tall, was living proof that even in physicality strewn rugby league battlefields that isn’t necessarily the case. He a multiple medal winner, not letting the fact he stood more than half a foot, or more, smaller than most opponents negate his brilliance at the sport.
In early adulthood my interest in rugby league was fleeting, however in middle-age the likes of Rob Burrows and JJB have contributed in a big way to re-igniting the interest my parents valiantly endeavoured to drum into me during childhood.
Yesterday made me realise there’s nothing wrong with a good weep. Blimey, even ex-Leeds forward, now Sky TV pundit, Barrie McDermott lost his composure at the games conclusion. This a tough guy who during his rugby league playing days would’ve probably laid you out for misspelling his christian name as Barry. Concrete proof, if you needed it, that crying isn’t for wusses…… If you disagree with that observation you can take it up with Bazza!
Who knows, after yesterday’s lesson I now might even be able to properly grieve my dad’s loss!!
2 kids who've flown the nest, 1 wife whose flown with Jet2. Born at a young age in 1960's Leeds, the author became interested in the literary life when his wife bought him a dog. Having an allergy to dogs, he swapped it for a typewriter. Being unable to train the typewriter to retrieve tennis balls, he reluctantly turned to writing...... Website - www.writesaidfred.org