Dad who hit life's high notes

Mike Kent

I met Theresa in Sainsbury's last night. I hadn't seen her since her children left us, but her husband Tim was rather special - the sort of dad we'd like all dads to be: someone who takes his children to interesting places, who reads with them and makes them laugh, or catches them when they leap out of their depth into the swimming pool.

He'll be there to catch the tears, too, and he'll swell with quiet pride when they perform in the school concert. He'll do his best through their difficult years, and then understand, with a little sadness, when it's time to step back and watch them come to terms with their own adulthood.

All three of Tim's children enjoyed school. Even during their reception year they were often sent to me with an interesting story they'd written, or a little magazine they'd produced at home, or an artefact brought back from a weekend trip.

They were keen to write and paint and craft, and their imaginations seemed highly tuned. Tim was a musician, and his children wanted to play instruments as soon as they came into our junior department. Tashi chose the violin, Molly the keyboard, and Lucas guitar and trombone - because his dad played those. With her effortless enthusiasm, Tashi soon became the most talented violinist we'd had.

Their harmony as a family quickly became apparent. I use the first assembly of the term to ask the children what they've been doing. Many want to come to the front and talk, but Tim's children always had something interesting to say.

I remember a seven-year-old Tashi holding the children spellbound on one of these occasions. Her dad had said, "I've got a good idea - let's go camping." And off the family went in their ancient Volvo to do battle with dreadful weather in a rain-sodden field.

With her effortless command of vocabulary, Tashi recreated the delights of cooking over a fire and eating from rain-filled plates. She'd also had, she told us, a wonderful time. And Tim was never happier than when he was close to nature, writing and performing music, or watching the night sky in a field on a clear summer evening.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have seen Tim around school very often. His children were never a problem. But he was also a very effective school governor, and if he promised to organise anything, you always knew you could consider it done.

He had a really passionate interest in education and did a tremendous amount of musical work with young people. It was hardly surprising that he was so loved by his family, and he seemed to have everything going for him.

That only made it all the more devastating when, just before Christmas, he was diagnosed with a virulent form of skin cancer. He wrote to me saying he might have to stop his work as a governor while he received treatment, but he hoped to be back some time in the new year.

Another email followed shortly afterwards. He'd had more tests and the odds were against him. He'd been given just three months to live.

His funeral was unlike any other I've attended. The coffin, made of driftwood by friends, was carried to the crematorium in his trusty old Volvo. His children and friends played their instruments. They sang and read poetry. It was involving, uplifting, and utterly heartbreaking.

There can be few things worse than not being there to watch your children grow up. But they'll be fine. Like all great dads, Tim gave them what they needed in their formative years. And they will look back on their early childhood with untold affection.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London.

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