Four Welders and a Funeral
GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT the "Picking Up the Pieces" episode. Today, instead of celebrating the triumph of success, we're exploring what happens on the other end of life's spectrum. What we do when things don't look so good. Our next story comes to us from across the pond. SNAP JUDGMENT's Davey Kim spoke with Mark Dowd.
MARK DOWD: So it's 1992 and I've had a really tough day at work. It's about 10 p.m. in the evening and I get in and my flat-mate looked at me and said Mark I think you better sit down. Now, there's something you need to listen to. He put a bottle of whiskey and a glass next to the answering machine and I just pressed the play button. And in about 30 seconds, a message was left for me from a relative. A man saying he was my uncle, telling me that my father had died. For 10 minutes I was just numb, and I had these images of my father passing through my mind, things I hadn't said to him. I gulped the whiskey and finally I dialed those numbers expecting my tearful mother to pick the phone up.
DOWD: Hello. Swenton (Ph) 8199.
It was my father. Oh, it's you?
Is that Mark? Are you alright son, you don't half sound queer?
Well, my dad knew I was gay, but I guess he was using queer in the sense of sounding a bit flummoxed, a bit off balance.
What you're doing, it's a quarter to 11, you don't normally ring this late? Are you in trouble?
No, no - I thought you...
So I went through this pretend conversation for 10 minutes and limply ended up saying that I will call him later in the week. I thought, what was on that answer phone message? My father is not dead, but somebody's dead, but who? So I pressed the play button once more and the second time around listened much more intently into the context of this message and I picked up this name, Ronnie Craddock - who purported to be my uncle. And I thought to myself, Ronnie Craddock, the last name Craddock - oh, and it was like one of those flashbacks in the movies. Suddenly I'm 18 years old, its 1979, and at that time I had a job in a furniture factory, carrying out all sorts of very complicated mechanical jobs on ceiling valves, shipping out bits of machinery. And I was paired up with this guy called Bob Craddock.
He was an older guy, small, wirey, muscle-y, a divorcee. I understood he actually had a son in a previous relationship. Well, it was pretty clear after a week or two that Bob had taken a bit of a shine to me. He liked beer, I liked beer. I'd found a new friend. So we'd been at the job for two or three weeks and then one day in the boiler room, absolutely out of nothing, Bob puts the moves on me. He lunged towards me and just kissed me really passionately. He was a macho masculine guy, the least likely gay man you can ever imagine in the world. Ever since I've been 13, 14, I'd been coming to terms with my sexuality and I'd come out to my parents gently, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that my first serious relationship was going to be with a welder in a furniture factory. He kind of grew on me in the time in that factory. I mean, sure he was older than me, but I was 17. I had a fairly difficult relationship with my own father and here was somebody, well, old enough to be my own father I guess.
This guy had an embrace that was so - kind of strong and so unconditional that that's why I think I began to fall in love with this guy. And so we began this intense relationship in the factory, a more dangerous place you can't imagine for two gay men. We were surrounded by homophobic guys who looked at semi-naked pictures of women in the British tabloid newspapers. There was a lot of pressure there to conform. Things between us were fine for the first few weeks, but it began to become more and more difficult. I was frightened that everyone would find out, but he was so passionate that he didn't seem to take any of these concerns on board. One day I just absolutely lost it. I just said to him, look, this has got to stop and he exploded, we had this huge row in the factory. I just flung my overalls on the floor and I said, Bob, stuff you it's over. I was out of there - heading to the factory gates, slammed them shut. I hopped onto this passing bus with some of the other workers and we sped off. Peace and quiet at last. This lasted for about five minutes and then suddenly there was a little jab in my ribs from a woman who I recognize in the factory. And she said,
excuse me love, I don't want to interrupt you but there's a man in a car behind I think he's trying to get your attention.
And as I turn around in the back of the bus I saw Bob in his metallic blue Ford Cortina - face practically pressed against the windscreen, driving like the clappers trying to catch up to the bus. And I thought, oh my God is anything this man won't do just to get his own way. Suddenly all the traffic surrounding the bus came to a halt. Bob had come alongside the bus and blocking all the oncoming traffic drawing everybody's attention. He leans over to the passenger window and starts shouting out,
I love you, I love you don't let it end like this, just get off the bloody bus.
And of course all the passengers on the bus were looking at him and thinking, well, who's he talking to. Where is the big Swedish blonde who's the object of his attention? I'm now hiding behind my newspaper with my face burning like a tomato. And suddenly one man turned across sharply from the seat and pointed at me and said, it's him, it's his mate. (Laughter) Bum chums. They all began to bang on the floor - shouting out these abusive terms. I felt like a caged animal. So I had no choice, I just had to get off this bus, jump straight into the Cortina with Bob who instantly slams in ABBA and we just drove off.
I said what have you just done? And he was smiling- that worked didn't it, we're back together. Worked? What do you mean? You've just outed us to the whole of the factory. What are we going to do tomorrow if we have to go back and work there? We're going to have to face an inquest. Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Well, you better get thinking. You know, I hardly slept that night. I thought how are we going to get over this? What are we going to do? And so at 7:30 the next morning with that slow paces, I got toward the factory gates and instantly recognized several of the people who had been on that bus. They were all waiting. And I though, here we go, here we go. But to my total amazement, they were all smiling.
And they all came up and patted me on the back and said, hey, lad, oh, we're so sorry about what happened on the bus. What do you mean? We didn't know. Didn't know what? And they pointed over to Bob who was about 20 meters away. He just raised his hand in acknowledgment and smiled. About you and your dad. My dad? Yeah, well, he got in early. He's been telling us all. I mean, we knew he was divorced and we know he had a son, but we didn't know it was you. Well, it all makes sense now doesn't it? I mean, all that I love you stuff from his car. I mean, you know, sorry we thought you were a couple of, you know, them. I looked at Bob and there was this smart look and I sort of looked at him, I said what's this all about, dad? Well, you knew I've got a lad, don't you. Bob, I think you did mention that, but it's not me. Well, it is now. Flash forward 13 years back to the present, back to that voicemail message that had been left. That voice was from Ronnie Craddick. That was Bob's brother. I had no contact with Bob since we broke up 10, 11 years ago. It was a really messy rather sour affair between us and yet here he was, his brother telling me that he was dead. Bob must of been in the 50s. I ring up Ronnie, the brother.
Oh, laddie, we've not seen you since you were 2 or 3, not since your dad went off and broke up with your mother. Listen, he said, I've planning this funeral for Bob for Friday, for your dad. You'll be coming won't...
Well, hang on a minute. I'm not Bob's son. I'm just a really good friend.
No, no, no, you must be. When he died we went to his flat. We found all the photos of the two of you on vacation together. I mean, everybody's got those photos. We found all your newspaper articles. He recorded all your television documentaries. He never stopped talking about you.
And all of a sudden I just felt really guilty. I though, you know, I couldn't reciprocate his feelings. This guy held me in his heart for all this time and I almost felt as though I'd let him down. Now, at this stage I could have outed Bob to his family. But he had spent the whole of his life keeping this bout from his family. Here was his brother grieving for the loss of Bob. I mean, who was I to put the cat amongst the pigeons at this point? And he got very serious and said. look, I don't want my brother coming across as a liar, think about it. There's an expectation that at least with Bob's death, we'll finally get to see his long-lost son. If you don't come, there's going to be a huge disappointment around here, you have to come.
So I took a long gulp and I said, well if it's just for this Friday the funeral. So the night before the funeral I'm staying in Manchester where my parents live and my dad says to me,
What you doing in Manchester. There was that funny phone call the over night and now few days later you're here. What's going on?
Well, it's a bit sad really, I've got to go to a funeral tomorrow.
Well who's died?
Well, you won't remember him. He's a man I worked with in a furniture factory.
Oh, he said, I remember that. It was the man who taught you to drive wasn't it? Bob.
Oh, dear he said. Well, where's the funeral?
Just south of Manchester.
Oh, well listen, he said, I'm not doing everything. I'll come with you tomorrow for a bit of company.
Can you imagine the prospect of my fake father in a coffin and my real father sitting next to me having absolutely no idea about the nature of this relationship. And I tried for the next few hours to persuade my father not to come.
No, absolutely not. When a man dies you've got to pay your respects. That man was good to you, the least we can do is give him a good sendoff. Nope I'll be coming with you. The fact of the matter is, my dad knew I was gay, fine, it's another thing for me to behaving a relationship with a man who's passing himself off as my father. It would have wounded him. There would have been silence for days and days and that's not something I could risk happening. So the morning of the funeral comes in the first thing I do is I recruit my younger brother, he knows everything about my back story, he's going to be the chaperone to my father. We get to the church and look round and saw that the seats in the front had been left vacant. And then Ronnie, Bob's brother, gently grabbed me by the arm and beckoning towards the seats at the front where the family would normally sit and my father was looking at me very puzzled and blurted out.
What are we doing here, were not the family?
One or two people stared at him and I thought, oh get me out of here and just in the nick of time, a voice from the front. It was the priest.
Please open your hymnals. Let's sing "Lord of All Hopefulness."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LORD OF ALL HOPEFULLNESS")
DOWD: the service itself is fun. Ronnie does a real nice sincere tribute but then the horror of the reception were potentially could all unravel. There's beer, there's wine, there's an opportunity for people to talk to one another spontaneously. So, I tuned to my father and I said well I think you better be getting away now and he looked at me and said,
hang on a moment I'm feeling a bit peckish. Come on.
He invited himself to the reception. The reception, it's completely weird. Even though it wasn't obvious to other people, we had all the welders, all the people who I remember from 12, 13 years ago and then on the right, a few members of Manchester's gay community. One or two drag queens are soberly and respectfully attired. This was the schizophrenia of like of Bob's life. By day he was a macho welder, but by not he was Bacardi Bob. People who I don't recognize, who I've never met someone from my life are suddenly coming up to me and saying,
Oh, it's such a tragedy. He was very proud, he brought the photos around to our house one day. Told us all about your trip to Vienna.
Well you just smile and you move on. And out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly see two (Unintelligible) suddenly coming towards me. They stepped forward, one of them puts their arm on mine and says,
You know love, we were only saying to one another in the church. What?
You do have your dad's eyes.
And out of nowhere, the voice of my father.
Oh, thank you very much.
And they stared at him, as thinking, who's that. They looked back to me for reinsurance, and I shrugged my shoulders. Suddenly my father is pulled out of my grasp by my brother, who's then lurching him across to the other side of the room. Somehow we get through this reception and my brother and father go off in one car, I make my own way home. And in that journey back I've got Bob's face and his voice right there with me, recollections of the time we had together in the factory. The fun we had, the rows we had those, weird trips we made in his Mark III, rusty blue Cortina. And how weird to think that this man, even though he's six feet under, is still exercising a huge influence - holding presence on my life. Many, many years later I decided to write a screenplay, a film based on the story and I changed the name of some of the characters. But the outline of the story was fairly clear, maybe it was time to tell my father honestly who Bob really was. A few days after I had sent in the script in the post, I nervously ring home. I'm expecting my father to have understood the whole thing.
I've read your script. I was just saying to your mother, I don't really get this story.
Suddenly the phone was seized by my mother.
Oh, your dad. I've read it, I know all about this. It's pure black comedy isn't it? But he'll never get it, he just doesn't want to see it.
And that I think was his choice. He was staying inside a closet and I guess that also includes me too. I never completely came out about this whole thing with my father, I just let sleeping dogs lie.
WASHINGTON: Big thanks to Mark Dowd for sharing your story with the SNAP. We'll have a link to his article in the Guardian about this very story on our website, snapjudgment.org. When SNAP JUDGMENT returns, we're going to destroy Skynet before the Terminator can be sent back. When SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Picking Up the Pieces" episode continues. Stay tuned.
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