Eulogy for Dad

My dad, Steve Chapman, passed away just before Christmas. This is the eulogy I read at the funeral. My sister and Mum both wanted to read it again and suggested I share it here. So here it is. I miss him like crazy.

It’s hard to talk about Dad without talking about Mum as well. They were two parts of each other with a shared outlook. Dad always said that he didn’t need anybody, all he needed was Mum. As long as they were together, he was happy. If he ever had to be left alone, he was like a lost toddler. Occasionally, Mum would have to go away for work and when the evening came around, he would show up at my sister’s front door. She would open it to his silly smile and he’d say, “What are we having for dinner, then?”

He loved cars, and thank God. If he didn’t, me and my brother and sister probably wouldn’t exist. Let me take you back to the 1970s. My parents are teenagers. The Cardinale nightclub in Bournemouth. Mum was dancing with her friends. Somebody she knew from school waved her over and introduced her to a man named Steve. And there he was. A gangly, thin man, wearing a tan jacket with tassels and winklepickers. He asked her if she wanted to dance, and she looked him up and down, and said, “No thanks,” and walked off to re-join her friends. But my dad was persistent. He strode over and joined them. I have never seen my dad dance. I don’t think my mum let him after the first time she saw it. She tried to demonstrate his moves to me a few days ago. It went something like this (feel free to visualise me doing a little stiff jig here, which drew some laughter). She told him to stop dancing and sit down. Which he did, and luckily, and God knows why, she joined him, and they started talking. He couldn’t dance, didn’t know how to dress. So how did he impress her? But what he did have, was a Triumph Spitfire.

The second time they met, as they left the pub, Mum was bundled onto the parcel shelf of the Spitfire—because she was the smallest—and Dad pulled out and honked at somebody, not knowing there was a police car behind him. They pulled him over, saw he’d had a few, and chucked him in the police station overnight. It was the perfect start to an enduring, and never boring, life together.

My parents and their friends had a pretty good time of it for about a decade, and then tragedy befall them all. They had kids. We three were born unto this world, and all hell broke loose. It was hectic. The house was alive with kids. Roger and Pauline had Barry and Mark at the same time, and we all grew up together. They were like bonus brothers. We were one big out of control herd.

Dad had a unique way of raising us. I don’t know if he was incredibly wise, or just as bad as we were. We would do something insane and dangerous and instead of grounding us, or telling us off, he would be entertained by our antics. Often, he would be right there alongside us doing the insane thing.

I remember once we had a big party at the house. We had a barbecue set up in the garden and a bar set up in the garage. The problem was, for people to go between the bar and the barbecue, they had to leave the garden by the back gate and go into the garage via the road. Which is inconvenient. After thinking about the problem for a good three or four seconds my brother said, “Why don’t we just smash a hole through the wall?”

Now, most Dads would say, “Don’t be daft, people can just go around.” But he looked at the garage wall and considered it for a moment, and then he went and fetched the sledgehammer.

We smashed a double door-size hole in the side of that garage and pissed ourselves laughing the hole time. The party was great.

He gave us so much.

He taught us that work came second to life. Even though he worked incredibly hard his whole life, growing successful businesses in two different trades, he rarely worked weekends and never worked around Christmas.

Family was too important. We did something every weekend. If we wanted to stay home and lounge about, watching TV or playing games, no chance. We’d be dragged out of the house on some adventure. We’d go out to Mudeford Quay and sail across to Hengistbury Head for a hot chocolate at The Hut. Or we’d go crab fishing. Or pitch up a tent. It felt like we were putting tents up and taking them down every five minutes. Or Mum and Dad were, while we went off exploring and causing trouble. He’d take us bike riding through the forest, swimming at the BIC. I think we went to every National Trust and Heritage site in a hundred-mile radius. Dad had itchy feet. He needed to be up and doing something. There was no such thing as rest. He wanted to see the world and he wanted us to see it too.

He showed us the world. We spent Christmas in Africa one year, travelled all around Europe, often on a whim. “Fancy popping over to France?” he would say, and we’d pile into the car and just go.

He was always planning the next holiday. Constantly searching for the best deal. He would hear about somebody’s planned holiday to Egypt, or somewhere, that cost them five grand and would spend an hour seeing if he could do better—just for fun—and he would find the same holiday for £200 and book it.

When he got ill, he had to cancel three holidays. Three!

He gave us music. A lot of the music we listen to and love today are the albums that he played in the car on our many road trips. And we spent a lot of time on road trips. If it was physically possible to drive somewhere instead of fly, he would do it. We once drove for twelve hours to L’Estartit in Spain and we listened to music the whole time. There is more to that story that I don’t have time for; accidentally driving up a mountain, on a spiral road all the way to the top, in the dark, during a storm, with no barrier on the edge of the road. It was terrifying, but the music was turned up loud and everything was fine. Queen, Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, Dire Straits, Billy Joel. As kids we would sing along at the top of our voices, and head bang to that bit in Bohemian Rapsody just like they did in Wayne’s World.

He would go along with any hairbrained scheme and be enthusiastic about it, no matter how absurd. Like running a market stall with me in January, trying to sell 10ft paddling pools in the snow. He loved Only Fools and Horses. We used to have a sign up on our shared office door that said, “This Time Next Year, Rodney.”

Him and David started a building business at one point and one of their first jobs was fitting a kitchen on the TV show, DIY SOS. They didn’t get paid, but the breakfast buffet was free. He joked that him and David put on at least two stone during that job. I know he cherished that memory. It was one of the last things he spoke about with me and Rachel a few weeks ago.

He hated the winter in England. Him and Mum would leave the country for sometimes four or five weeks just to get away from the cold. He loved Thailand. He loved the walking streets and the live bands. While we shivered in England, he was drinking a beer in a hot bar listing to a Thai girl in dreadlocks singing AC/DC.

Even though he hated the cold, one of his favourite things to do was to have winter BBQs. He loved an excuse to light the firepit and sit around it with friends and family, drink wine and cold beer, and listen to music. We’ll be doing exactly that later today.

I’m running out of time and there is so much I wanted to talk about, but don’t have time for. He loved taking us to my auntie Terry and Uncle Derek’s on bonfire night. My sister and Kate share the 5th of November as their birthday, and they used to put on a huge fire at their place. Dad even took us there on the night my sister was born, leaving my mum, with her permission, and the new baby at the hospital to taking us, along with the leggy blond Spanish student who had been staying with us at the time

This thing was originally twice as long as this, and I had to cut it down. I could have kept writing forever. He did so much. Lived so much.

I’ll leave you with my favourite story about Dad. In 1991, him and Mum went to a caravan convention at the NEC where they saw an American RV for the first time and fell in love. Since that day both my parents dreamt of one day traveling across America in one. The man there gave Dad a business card. 23 years later, he still had that card in his wallet. My parents made a decision in 2014 that was amazing to me then and I still find amazing today. They sold everything. The house, belongings, all of it. All that was left from forty years of marriage and family was two suitcases and a handbag. They went to America, bought an RV, and travelled for a year. We were all lucky enough to fly over and visit them during their adventure and it is the happiest we’d ever seen them. I’m so proud of them for doing it and I hope I am brave enough to put everything on the line in pursuit of a dream in my own life. They did the thing they’d been dreaming about for over two decades, and it was amazing.

They loved it so much they brought the RV back to England with them and decided to stay in it. Life in the RV has been rich and peaceful and fun.

America was one of his favourite places in the world. He would have lived there if he could. Traveling around, seeing the whole country. One of his favourite places in that country was Graceland. By chance, one of his favourite albums was Graceland by Paul Simon.

We’re going to play the title track from that album now.