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Roger Bowdler 1934-1987

Below is a short article I wrote for my church’s magazine. Of course, it feels somewhat incongruous in the context of this blogsite, but, as an act of pure self-indulgence, I felt I couldn’t let an important anniversary go unmentioned…

This part of the magazine is reserved for a bit of levity, where a bit of light-hearted humour is required. So, here goes.

On April 1 1987 my dad died. I was 21 years old and, as the 30th anniversary of his passing approaches, it still remains the saddest day of my life.

The irony of that date is not lost on me. April Fools’ Day combined with my surpassing of the supposed Age of Maturity, tells me there’s a joke in there somewhere. I have yet to find it.

My dad was awful at telling jokes. I remember joining him with his friends on a golf day and he attempted to tell a standard set-up-then-punchline gag. Even at the age of 13, with my sense of humour still developing, I realised he was fundamentally pants as a comedian.

He did, however, have a glint in his eye and cheeky outlook. Whenever a seemingly daily malaprop popped from mother’s lips, a glance in my direction was enough to put us both in fits of laughter. He was, and is, the most disarming human being I have ever met.

Preposterously handsome, preposterously charming and preposterously unaware that he possessed both, he pottered through life as a gifted mathematician, artist and sportsman. He excelled in all.

A socialist, he positively couldn’t understand racism. His mantra was ‘all men are equal’, as it should be. When my Welsh grandmother told me ‘The Indians’ had moved in next door to her home, I had no frame of reference. As yet unexposed to multiculturalism as a 70s child, I expected to see a tepee and a smokestack in the neighbour’s garden.

So where’s God in all this? This is a church magazine after all, and so in a ridiculously clunky segue, I can tell you that my dad happened to be the conduit for my first real exposure to Christianity.

I had joined the Boys Brigade at Bushey Baptist Church. With this membership I was given the opportunity to blow a bugle, march in time, play games, go on camps, wear a paramilitary uniform (what the hell is a haversack for?) and attend Church Parade.

Church Parade I reasoned quite rightly, was too boring for the likes of me to attend, but my father, the devout atheist, said that if I were to enjoy the undoubted benefits of this organisation, I must also embrace the bits that I did not like. This was the deal. No church parade, no Boys Brigade. Grin and bear it.

So I grinned and bore it, and boring it was. Every fourth Sunday I was forced to sit in a back-breaking, buttock-hardening pew for an hour while a bloke in a funny black shirt told me about a man called Jesus. This was a man, I was told, who loved us, cared for us and, more importantly, died for us.

I can’t tell you whether any of this sank in, but I did get chosen to represent my ‘Battalion’ for a Bible-reading competition that resulted in disastrous, embarrassing consequences that still makes me cringe to this very day.

Ultimately, as a teenager I was desperate to carve my own way and when I became a Christian at 18 years old, my family was appalled: not really surprising since I spent most of my time battering them into submission with my lofty, self-righteous piety.

It got better though. I soon softened and shortly before my dad died, I remember him observing my Christianity with a wonderfully parental fascination. One summer’s evening, as I prepared to go out, he just said to me: ‘Tim, I really like the way you lead your life.’ It was a heartening acknowledgement that he approved of a faith that maybe he was just starting to understand himself.