Dad and me

Duncan Croll, 1952—2016

People have always told me I remind them of my Dad.

From the age of seven, my turn of phrase or manner would cause people to exclaim I was “just like him”. Over the years this has continued as I inherited the nose, his inability with a cricket bat and even more unfortunately his hairline.

My brother has his fair share too, having also joined a public service primarily to legally drive fast vehicles at ludicrous speeds, before finding out he actually loved the work.

Dad told him a story about his early days in the police, that seemed to me a turning point in his career. I’ll recount as well as I can third hand.

Dad had arrested a man for an appalling attack on his other half. The offender was brought in to be booked by the desk sergeant. However it seemed the man on duty didn’t fully understand the imperative to lock him up, the need to protect the victim from a potentially violent reprisal.

Dad wasn’t generally quick to see red and tried to get the desk sergeant to see sense. Frustration prevailed and Dad soon found himself pinning the uncooperative sergeant to the wall to “explain” to him in impolite words of one syllable why he should agree with Dad’s suggestion.

At that moment a senior officer walked passed and grabbed PC Croll to upbraid him in an office.

“Look,” the officer said, “he may well be a prick, but if you want to call him a prick it must be in private and you have to be a sergeant too. If you want to call him a prick in public you need to outrank him.”

Two days later Dad submitted his papers for promotion. A short time after that he was the youngest sergeant in the Met.

Dad wasn’t driven by ambition but by a need to see things done right. And if that meant personally rolling his sleeves up, rolling his eyes and stoically leaning into a problem, so be it. Sometimes for years at a time.

This could occasionally manifest as stubbornness.

I inherited a genetic misunderstanding of how exactly to apply willow to leather. I found a bat and an onrushing bowler a troubling combination. It seemed a little strange that Dad’s ongoing solution for encouraging my cricketing prowess was bowling full speed at my feet in an enclosed space. For hours.

The result of all this terrorism? I occasionally got out of single figures.

His stubbornness extended to his DIY. There is not a home that I have lived in that hasn’t seen the tireless application of Dad’s paintbrush, drill and under-his-breath swearing.

You would not believe how hard it was to persuade him that a man in his sixties, particularly one undergoing his second bout of chemotherapy in a year, shouldn’t be up a ladder painting the hall, stairs and landing of a four story townhouse.

As you get older you realise those immovable qualities that Dad had are rare. His reliability, his stability, his absolute resolution to do the things that he had promised.

He seemed somehow permanent, which is why it’s so difficult to understand how he is gone.

Dad was reserved, his private nature and natural stance as an observer of people meant that he sometimes would seem standoffish. However once you were ‘in’ you were ‘in’ permanently. He forged strong bonds with people, once he knew his values were shared.

As his son I had the great luxury of being in the most tightly guarded circle. Dad was a safety net for me to try the things I wanted to, always questioned but then encouraged in the trust that I knew best for me. I knew that he would be there to help if needed and to cheer on from the sidelines.

The Queen’s Police Medal Dad received has the inscription “To Guard my People” on the reverse. I can think of no more apt description of how he lived. Slightly to the side, quietly taking care of everyone.

Dad primarily expressed love through pride.

Bellowing encouragement from the sidelines of our teenage rugby games. Visibly taller at our graduations. Full of love while playing with his grandchildren, acting goofy in a way he didn’t feel able to elsewhere.

He wasn’t a man of great emotional outpourings. It took a concerted team effort in our early twenties to make him a man comfortable enough to greet his adult sons with a hug.

One of the few positives of the last few months was a chance for us all to talk honestly. For him to know how much he was loved. For him to know how grateful we were. And for him to tell us how proud he was of the fathers we were becoming.

The finest compliment I could be paid.

Written for Dad’s funeral on 9th January 2016

Last updated on January 9th, 2017