My father died in 1973.
He was 67 years old at the time of his death. He would have turned 68 in about three months. I remember, after his death, finding the beginning of a book he had started upon retiring. The first line was something like: “People consider 'profit' a dirty word, but I don't.” He never finished Chapter 1. I can't now remember if he got much beyond the first two pages.
He and I never talked that much. He seemed worried, as did my mother, that I didn't like girls enough. I was painfully shy and a complete social misfit, but I definitely preferred girls. I masturbated a lot to photos of women, but real-life relationships were beyond me until I graduated from medical school and moved away to intern in a different city.
All that is to say that my Father never ever talked about himself. I knew he had been a professional photographer back in England before the Second World War. Some of his photos hung about the house. Some were of Mousehole, Cornwall where I understood he had lived and worked with his first wife. At some point, I remember learning that he had been a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. It wasn't until after his death that I learned how difficult it was to earn such a distinction, nor that he had published articles in the Royal Photographic Society's magazine.
It wasn't until December 2019, more than 46 years after his death, that I ran across an obituary of his first wife, Geraldine, written in 2003. I learned more about my father than I ever knew. He and his first wife had moved to New York during the 1930's Depression and earned a living as freelance photographers. He had been a pilot in Coastal Command during WWII. She had wound up living in Florida for a time after the war. I wondered if that didn't explain a ferry passage record from England to Florida that I had found for my father on Ancestry.com? It was after the war and he was on his way up to Montreal where he had met my mother, but it had seemed an odd route to take to get there. Had he needed to visit his first wife to discuss finalizing their divorce, because he was planning to marry my mother? Their ceremony had been a civil one.
Growing up, one of my first plane trips was a family holiday to New York that my father had arranged for one of my birthdays. He never said a word, ever, about being there before, let alone living and working there during the Depression. He never ever mentioned that he had learned to fly multi-engine aircraft, nor where he had done so. Never do I ever remember a war tale from him, even watching all the war movies or Remembrance Day ceremonies over the years. I had always thought he was in some branch of photo reconnaissance. He always kept a small plaque recording the King's thanks for him having been mentioned in dispatches. He never ever told me what that meant or why he had earned it. In fairness to him, I never asked.
My sister mentioned to me that our father had also completed a successful apprentice as a professional baker. All of these achievements had been earned after leaving school at thirteen and three-quarters. The school leaving age had been told to me many times. It seemed to be both a mark of his success as a business executive and a warning to me to continue my schooling and not have to fight for a living the way he had had to. His achievements, and his life, put mine to shame in many ways, yet he was not loved by me very much. He made our family life hell, or at least he and my mother seemed to hate one another. I was so ashamed of our family and of myself. My mother always saw everyone else's grass as greener. Every neighbour had a better house, better marriage, better jobs, better everything. I am not sure when I was told that my father had been married once before. I think it might have been my mother who told me, perhaps shortly after my father had died. She said that she had had to agree that she and my father had committed adultery in a British court. It was one of the few grounds allowed for divorce in England in the 1940's. My father's first wife never remarried and there were no children from the marriage, but her obituary said that she had come from a large family. I understood her to be Irish, but I have no proof of that fact. Was she Roman Catholic? The divorce was civilly true, but she had stayed true to Catholicism as once married, always married? Her obituary mentioned no religion and mentioned no service. She moved around quite a bit and never to Ireland.
Equally strange to me, eager for any details I could find all these years later, the unpleasantness around the divorce was carefully avoided by the person writing the obituary. “They eventually grew estranged and divorced.”