Were your parents happy?

QUICK BIT OF BACKGROUND: On my 60th birthday last year, my wife bought me a subscription to Storyworth. The basic idea is that I receive an email every week, asking me a question about my life and I write an answer. The questions come from my son Simon, my daughter Mel and my wife Anjanette – and they get the answers as well. This article was my answer to the question “Were your parents happy?”.

I think my parents were quietly devoted to each other but my views and memories of this are inevitably tied up with the childhood that I think I had and the atmosphere that I think I was brought up in.

Mum and dad met at Aberystwyth University in about 1949 when mum was doing her degree and Dad was working as a Botany demonstrator. They were introduced to each other by a mutual acquaintance Sylvia Richards. Sylvia had been a year or two ahead of mum in Newtown Grammar School and she met Dad when she went to Manchester University.

The photographs of mum and dad while in Aber are really nice. A happy young couple out in the countryside. Dad already smoking big cigars I noticed!

One thing they had in common was that they wanted to escape from their respective families! I don’t know how the idea of going to work in Africa came up – perhaps something they cooked up between them – but I do know that they were both really keen to go (unlike Dad’s mother!).

The kids “popped” out at regular intervals from 1953 to 1963 so I can only assume they were happy in one respect. Having a common interest in botany and in teaching must have bonded them as well. Certainly it’s clear that Dad got both intellectual stimulation at work and genuine interested support at home. Mum has sometimes talked about how Dad hated the bureaucracy and the university politics and I think she helped him think those challenges through.

We have a tape recording that Dad made in February 1971 on arrival in Freetown, Sierra Leone, for a new job. He sent the tape to mum in the UK and the more personal comments on that tape also demonstrate that they were happy and that they had very similar views on most topics.

I think it’s fair to say that Mum put her own career (or, at least, her interest in working) aside while the kids were growing up. She did some part time teaching, presented some radio and TV educational programmes and did her PhD (or Masters?) thesis eventually. They also wrote a book called Tropical Plant Science together. Mum contributed the hundreds of drawings in the book. So clearly they collaborated well too.

The other factor with mum and dad was that they were very much reliant on each other. Travelling as they did to so many new places, they had to cope with the practicalities and sometimes the hardships of life without any family to support them. Just for the record, the places in Africa where they lived and worked were Ibadan, Nigeria; Lagos, Nigeria; Blantyre, Malawi; Zomba, Malawi and Roma, Lesotho. They also spent 4 years in Sydney, Australia, and a few years here and there in the UK.

When I observed them as a couple in later years, mum seemed to allow dad to take a lead (some might say dominant) role. While that was easy to observe as an outsider, I don’t know how real it really was. I suspect that they were both very happy with their lot. After all, they were married for over 45 years (from March 1952 to December 1997) and, I think overall, they were happy.

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