In Remembrance of my Father 2023
How can this day compare with any other in my life, when I’ve only ever attended such memorable, moving and meaningful events with Stanley Roy Archer, always proudly at his side? I ask that you stand in my shoes for a moment – imagine that you’re sharing his birthdays, attending events through Black History Month and on Windrush Day, listening to him telling stories to old and new friends alike, and sharing our thoughts and feelings on Remembrance Sunday. For 60 plus years, dad and I were an integral part of each other’s lives, so he never stopped reminding me that we were a team and asking me, ‘Who else do I have but you, to share all this with?’
This year, everything is completely different . . . .
The smell of bonfires in the air; the flowers and plants going to seed in his beloved front and back gardens; the darker, colder nights arriving earlier each day with the light of the fire no longer able to shine on his beautiful, smooth face; moments with my dad, spontaneously sharing his fondest memories of Christmas when I was a child; the infectious sound of his laughter at his own, ridiculously silly jokes.
All those fleeting memories loom on the horizon yet again – but my dad is missing. That giant of a man is gone forever and it is heart-breaking that there will never again be times to share with him old and new memories. Thinking of Remembrance Day, it is somehow helpful to realise it must have been the same for so many whose loved ones went off to war, never to return.
Usually, dad and I would be doing a book reading, with him being super-excited about the question and answer session, or appearing on a radio programme, or him giving an impromptu talk somewhere interesting to wide-eyed, fascinated people, either here or in Jamaica. My father, Stanley Roy Archer, passed away a year ago, and every single day, I wake up and realise all over again that we no longer share the same sphere. Intellectually, I know that things will never be the same again – obviously they won’t, but my heart doesn’t seem to understand this.
So, I must remind myself, for Remembrance Day, how so many family members lost their dear ones in wars and how I was fortunate that my beloved dad returned from active duty, blessing a little girl with life and more time than most other children could ever wish for with their father. I was able to benefit from my dad’s wisdom, which nudged me towards not only looking like him more and more, but being like him more and more. I’m so proud that he was the type of person who was always there to help others, achieved great things, and thus, conquered the world.
Stanley Roy Archer left behind an honourable legacy in Jamaica as well as in the UK. However, it’s caused many of us to embark on a journey and a half of discovery, to realise how significantly our emotions can impact on our physical self. Moving, talking, thinking, processing, reasoning, deciding, or acting on the multitude of tasks that lie ahead of me has been truly challenging. My emotions have impacted on my physical ability to do things at the usual pace whether simple or complex, heart-breaking or banal. I think back to how my father didn’t need to say much at all; often times, his presence alone was all that was required to motivate people, but I’m yet to master that skill.
I sometimes sit and vegetate, and without meaning to, I am contemplating my purpose. What relevance do I now have within my family and community? Why, on God’s earth would anyone want to listen to my views on anything, now that the great Maas Roy is no longer by my side? His achievements were so incredible that he was recognised by the Jamaican President himself, who presented him, in 2018, with the highest award for his work in the community. So in my eyes, dad had the equivalent of an MBE, OBE or even a Knighthood in the UK. Strangely enough, as a young boy, his elders called him ‘Sir Roy’; perhaps they sensed the great potential within him.
So, without my father, the question is: Who am I supposed to be now as a team of one? Did Dad leave me unprepared? Certainly not! He was worried about this and literally told me I should prepare myself for when he was no longer around. I should learn how continue with life without him, especially as he was both a mother and a father to me. My dad worried that the pain of loss might immobilise me and he did not want my grief to overshadow my mission to continue to honour his legacy. I’ve been told that the gifts he left in me were always a preparation for this new era in my life – that my Dad had given me all the tools that I would need to do this, and that his strength lives on in me. I sometimes need reminding of this now that he is gone.
Every single day, many times each day, I can hear Dad’s guiding words and feel his influence – even when doing the tiniest things, like tying up his flowers. My dad challenged me to be the best person I could be and to improve on that each and every day. “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing it well”, so yes, he would take the time to ‘measure twice and cut once’, to call a meeting and plan his projects out on paper, using a ruler. It could be putting in bamboo to support plants or even cutting carrots – which I would admire, causing him to smile widely.
That philosophy was applicable to every single aspect of his life, and I was often reminded that I was here to play my part in the community, and – “it’s always been a tradition in our family, so you can’t get away from that”. He despised self-aggrandisement, especially in those “educated fools”, who had the ability to do so much more for their community but instead, chased achievement for self-importance. Stanley Roy Archer was always about progress and people getting together to solve issues, because he was a man who united people, whatever their politics, religion or background, in a world that sadly, is becoming increasingly divided on every striking thing.
In 2023, I never imagined we would be witness to yet another atrocious war and that I would feel my Dad’s tears and hear his words of dismay as I hear or watch the news. Even as a little girl, he’d teach me that war was a terrible thing, which I later learned he knew from personal experience during his time in Cyprus. Perhaps there’s something in our DNA that causes humans to always be at war, somewhere in our world. Throughout history, life continues much the same from generation to generation, until uncertainty comes along, and suddenly – life itself is left hanging in the balance. It is only at that point that we really value this gift above all else.
In peace, we become complacent about having other people around us, whether they’re our loved ones, colleagues or neighbours – young or old. We become blasé to the point where we never stop to conceive of our existence without those people. The outcome is even more significant when we take on this indifferent attitude towards those who love, nurture, and inspire us. We may be conscious, intelligent bundles of cells that function, but all too often, we boil down to nothing other than an empty vessel, capable of ‘making plenty noise’, yet devoid of soul and essential substance – left with morals, principles and values unprotected.
These are the qualities that Our Village – our ancestors, esteemed friends, extended family members and respected community leaders – seek to ultimately fill us with by their examples and teachings. This is how they bequeath a part of themselves to us, which then becomes a part of us. What a gift to be provided with a reason for being here – to be shown our purpose. We need never again wonder what the point of life is, because as Dad always said, “we all have a role to play”. This is why good parents are so crucial for children and I give thanks that I was able to claim one a good parent as my own birthright.
All children need and deserve this birthright to enable them to become well-rounded individuals. However, war created and is still creating an entire generation of children who have lost their parents and have been unable to claim this basic birthright. In 2023, there are still wars and conflicts affecting every continent, creating an uphill battle for children who may never be filled with the examples and teachings they need to get back on track to grow and to feel empowered to fulfil their purpose in life.
During Remembrance Sunday at The Windrush Cenotaph in Brixton, I felt like I was projecting a reflection of my father. It was he who was feeding me the words I needed to speak. He was providing me with the emotional strength to stand with pride amongst so many others who’d gathered to pay their respects to those who sacrificed their lives so that we could be here with each other in peace.
There were those who had witnessed unimaginable war scenes and suffered PTSD as a result. People from every walk of life were to be found:
- Our beloved 99-year old RAF veteran, Neil Flannigan MBE, who travelled from Jamaica in 1943 to serve in WWII.
- The Rabbi from Hackney, the Bishop who is also a Military chaplain, and the Muslim Iman, who attended every year; they addressed us, prayed and shared the same space, drawing us into the emotions they so clearly felt when they hugged, causing us to raise a loud ‘awe’ and bringing many of us to tears.
- The men and women proudly wearing racks of medals from Ireland, The Gulf, Afghanistan, Bosnia and more, who were so touchingly humble that they helped to place and remove chairs for this auspicious occasion, and kept us safe. Everyone, bar no one, listened and talked respectfully with a depth of love that was palpable.
Without a doubt, Remembrance Sunday 2023 in Brixton was a gathering of bereaved souls, and the memories of loved and lost ones, remain tangible, enabling those people to live on in us.
When I was asked to talk about my father at the reception following the ceremony, I hadn’t understood that people’s need to hear more than just a few words. So . . . he came to London as a part of the Windrush generation in 1954, he did lots of jobs including driving the trolley buses, and was drafted to serve in the British Army on active duty in Cyprus; Maas Roy had no choice but to go to war. (PAUSE) I could hear people sharply drawing in breath, in shock; they’d never heard such stories about post World War II Britain, and a few statistics on British casualties caused a stir in the room.
It was then that I comprehended and appreciate that in Brixton Library on Remembrance Sunday 2023, people were respectfully asking me to share a piece of my Dad with them through my own precious memories. Dad and I were the main act and even Neil Flanagan MBE and Rabbi Gluck were sitting in the front row watching me intently. This was some experience, flying solo for the first time without my Dad, but with responses from everyone being so open to examples and teachings for their vessels, and new historical details, I had no choice but to be selfless and deliver what they, and my Dad, rightly deserved.
Back in 2009, my Dad being drafted, despite WWII having ended about 8 years before then, presented itself as the subject of a short booklet. We needed to document this gap in British history, however, Stanley Roy Archer, being the exquisite story teller that he was, also told about life before and after his time in Cyprus. He expected me to include it all – so ‘Life according to Maas Roy’ exploded into something much more expansive. For 4 months, he talked, I listened, we questioned, we discussed, he remembered, we edited, we laughed – and went through the spectrum of emotions. As a team, Dad and I managed to achieve what many thought was impossible: we wrote a book about him.
Without going into the details of dad’s biography, many of us who loved and appreciated him can say that up there in Sky Village, or anywhere else in the universe beyond:
- if people are without clean, running water
- if there is a distraught, single parent
- if there is a need for a medical centre
- if farmers need inspiration
- if neighbours are ready to kill each other
- if there are older people who are being neglected
. . . then, Maas Roy has already found the solution. He’s right there working on it, by unifying people, calling meetings and getting involved with “any little project” that needs a slight push, or even a hefty kick. I am enormously bolstered by this belief.
My dad often said, “I’m on overtime – well past 3 score and 10 as the Bible says”, but his spirit still had the strength of a young man, which I believe is probably how he managed to get to be 2 months short of his 91st birthday – despite having a rare heart condition. Dad gave thanks for his life everyday, by expressing his gratitude for the smallest things, by wanting to continue working in the community until his very last breath, saying, “there are still a lot of little projects I would like to accomplish” and “I have no regrets in life”.
I also believe that my father’s spirit lives on as strong as ever in me, as well as in anyone who ever needed and received a little encouragement from him. I aim to keep Maas Roy’s light, energy and warmth radiating from me to whoever needs that little push from him – and yes, I can do that because he is always in my heart. Wherever I go and whatever I must face, as long as my heart beats, my Dad’s energy cannot fade and will be there to help me through it all.
“Remember, no one holds your key pass, so once you shut your front door, don’t worry about them; they can say anything they please. You just keep on the straight and narrow. If I know I am doing the right thing, no one, I don’t care who it is, can make me deviate from that path. By hook or by crook, once I set my mind to something, I am going to do it!” – Maas Roy