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  • In the British war in Aden in the late 60’s stands my mother’s oldest brother, my Uncle Paddy Joe in a tent, in the desert, wearing a dashing silk dressing gown. It sort of sums him up. He liked the good things in life.

    Today was his funeral.

    Paddy Joe, my mothers oldest brother was in the parachute regiment where he became firm friends with my Uncle Bob, my dad’s eldest brother. Bob married my Paddy Joe’s (and my mum’s) sister, my Aunty Eileen and my parents met and fell in love at their wedding. So Paddy Joe was one of the reasons I exist. He had been in poor health for some years that had gotten worse of late and his heart gave out on 29th January. I was very fond of him, unsurprised by his death and glad that he had found so many good things in his life before he died. Lord knows he had fought hard for them.

    Paddy Joe was a recovered alcoholic. In his youth during and after his time in the parachute regiment his addiction ruled him and he was a sometimes violent and very unpredictable man. He had inner demons and though a fearless man, the brutal conflict in Aden had left an indelible mark upon him. A mostly exemplary paratrooper, a trained killer, he carried his alcoholism out of the regiment and into his family life and his first wife, Norma and his only son, my cousin Nicholas became estranged from him when Norma finally left taking her child and herself out of his reach.

    He did however battle his way to sobriety, met and fell in love with a wonderful woman in his second partner, Pamela and led a largely good life as a civil engineer where he continued to enjoy the luxurious things in life. Not frivolously, he valued things very much, and liked many simple things as well as life's luxuries, but if he was going to have something he wanted it to be the best and to be able to enjoy it and allow others to enjoy it with him. He had fought for a valuable life and it was richer than just things he possessed. He became happy. Content. A good example and mentor to others who he helped to get their lives straightened out.

    When I was about twelve Nicholas had reconnected with his dad and I got to meet him. I liked my cousin lots, he was a quiet boy with my Uncle’s looks but I didn’t get much opportunity to get close to him like I am to my other cousins, as he once again became estranged from his dad and walked away from the relationship. Ultimately Paddy Joe’s alcoholism was too deep a wound to heal. He had a dark side to his nature, even in sobriety. Norma had re-married, Nicholas had taken his step father’s surname and considered that man his true parent. But he walked away wearing his birth father’s face.

    I attempted to find my cousin this week, feeling that whether he wanted to be Paddy Joe’s son or not he would still appreciate being informed of his death. But my search was fruitless. Nobody I could find online after days of looking and double checking random men of my age and his name matched the little I knew or remembered of my cousin. Short of contacting every person of that name on the internet (and there are many) I had run out of options. And perhaps this is something that Nicholas does not need to hear now after so many years.

    But today, on a freezing day at the seaside I stood in my cousin’s stead and read a poem at my Uncle’s funeral, that reflected the bits he loved of his time as a paratrooper, soaring through the skies that he said were the closest thing he had ever found to heaven. If Nicholas ever gets in touch or wants to know I can at least share that with him, and tell him of the things I wish he had learned about his father, and if he doesn't then I cannot blame him and hope he has no regrets. I know my Uncle accepted his decision and would not want that for his son. He would want him to have all the good things in life, like silk dressing gowns and happiness and peace.
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