Keith Adams was born in 1937, raised and schooled in the West Midlands. There’s little in the area now to bring hope and joy to the soul and I can’t imagine that it was a landscape to make the heart sing back then. Times were tough and as soon as he could, he left school and, fifteen years old, went to work with his father, Stan, as a refrigeration engineer.
He was good at it. Even in the lean years in the 1970s and 80s when unemployment was rife, he was never long between jobs. Firms came and went but there was always work to be found for a man who was good at fixing things.
It’s from that era that my defining memories of him come.
He was strong. As a kid his bags and boxes of tools were as immobile to me as Excalibur. A stocky man with thick forearms and a beer belly, he never wore his shirt collar fastened, they wouldn’t go round his neck.
He would return from work, hands blackened and still carrying the smell of oil from the day’s labour, then emerge from the bathroom clean, wet hair swept across his head in a side parting looking a little like Norman Fletcher from ‘Porridge’.
He was a clever man; although he wasn’t academic he would always complete the crossword; he knew lots of answers on shows like ‘Mastermind’. He always encouraged me to find things out, especially to read. On Saturday mornings, if I wanted to spend pocket money on a book, he would buy a book for me too. He was thrilled at my academic achievements and always told me how proud he was.
Around friends or family he was always at the centre of things: a natural leader. He was always first with a joke, always debating and carrying the conversation. He had natural authority.
Looking back at those years, it occurs to me that he would have made a tremendous teacher. He was hugely charismatic, intelligent and hard-working. It’s a shame that his life never allowed him that chance.
I’m not going to present him as faultless. He could be obstinate, sometimes quick to anger and in terms of his opinions and beliefs was a product of his time. He drank too much and I think that’s partly why, even though he had such high hopes for my brother and me, he seemed to settle for less than he might have for himself. I wonder at times whether he sensed that he might have been different.
He and I were too similar in some ways; as a teenager I found it harder and harder to spend time with him and we never really reconnected. It was my fault and I know that I should have tried harder earlier. I left it too late and by the time I was grown up enough to realise it, drink and disillusion had detracted from him.
In the end, it was drinking that made him weak, his body not able to fight off the damage. He passed peacefully after a couple of years of declining health. I missed them. I regret that I didn’t get to say goodbye but a part of me is glad that I get to remember him as I do.
Keith Adams was a good man. He was a kind and loving father. He worked hard his entire life and was true to himself. He encouraged me to learn, he taught me about strength. Reading, writing, finding out how things work, fixing things – these are all things that I owe him. I’ve inherited some of his mannerisms, some of his ways of getting on with people. I’m proud of my Dad and I’m grateful for all the good things that he gave me. In any good that I’ve done in the world, the people that I’ve helped, the students that I’ve taught: my Dad lives on. He stays with me even as he passes and he leaves the world in a better state than he found it.