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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Neil’s our best dad by following in his own father’s footsteps

One of the biggest compliments you could pay Neil Daniel is to say that he brings up his sons as his father raised him.

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Each other’s biggest fan: Dad in a Million Neil Daniel with son Jake, who nominated him

Most of the things Neil learned about being a good father came from the precious time spent with his own dad.

Raymond Daniel was a lecturer in bricklaying and building construction at Workington College.

He was also, says Neil, “everything to us. He was so humorous and witty, he always made us laugh. And he was a clever man. If we were in a quiz anywhere he’s the one who gave us the answers.”

Raymond had the answers in the wider world as well.

Love and laugh. Work hard and play hard – sometimes at the same time.

An example comes from Neil’s recollection of childhood summer holidays.

He and his dad, his mother Marjorie, his two brothers and their sister would travel from Distington to France in a camper van.

“Dad was a City & Guilds marker. He used to take all his marking with us. He drove us around various places then at nights he sat down to do his marking.”

It’s one of countless memories of the man Neil describes as “just inspirational.”

Neil, 42, has strived to have the same positive impact on his own sons.

Jake is 17 and a student at Workington Sixth Form Centre.

Stepsons Damon and Luke are in their 20s. Damon works at Cumbria Waste Management and Luke is an electrician.

“I don’t class them as stepsons,” says Neil. “They’re just my sons.”

The entire family was devastated when Raymond was diagnosed with prostate cancer. But they were confident that he would pull through.

This time two years ago Neil and Jake had been to see him at the Cumberland Infirmary on the Saturday afternoon. Jake, a talented cricketer, was playing for Workington at Carlisle.

“We saw my dad for a few hours then went back to see Jake play,” recalls Neil.

“Later on that evening, my dad passed away.

“The cancer was being controlled. He’d been in reasonable health.

“He died of pneumonia, as a consequence of the cancer. It was quite sudden. It was a big shock.”

Raymond died 11 days before his 80th birthday. The family had been in the midst of planning his party.

In another cruel twist, it was the day before Father’s Day.

Jake had a cricket match at Threlkeld next day.

Although he and his dad were distraught by Raymond’s death, for Neil there was no question of not taking his son to the match, as he always has.

He says: “I still had Jake to think about. He was only 15, I had to support him. We wanted him to carry on so I took him through there.

“It was difficult. With it being Father’s Day as well, all my thoughts were with my dad.

“My dad used to go and watch Jake play sometimes. He was very proud of him.

“After games Jake would phone him and tell him what the score was and how he’d got on.”

Memories of his grandad help to motivate Jake as he plays for Workington first team and Cumbria under-17s.

And his father is proving equally inspirational.

Neil has been driving Jake to matches around Cumbria for the past five years.

A few weeks ago he finished a night shift at Sellafield at six o’clock on Sunday morning.

He then drove Jake to a match at Millom and back, before going back into work that night.

Neil loves watching Jake play, and says he is only following in his own father’s footsteps.

“I used to play football, and athletics for Cockermouth. Dad used to run us all over the place.

“My wife Tanya is always saying how much what I do with my children is how me and my brothers and sister were with my dad.

“Just to be there for them, whatever they’ve gone through. Offer them support and advice. Whether they take it or not is up to them.

“That’s how my dad was with us. I’ve tried to continue with them.”

The family still lives in Distington, where Raymond is much missed.

Neil’s feelings come to the boil on Father’s Day. “You go into town and you see all the cards and gifts, it just brings that sad time back. It will always bring back those memories.”

The family used to spend Father’s Day at Raymond’s house and have a barbecue.

We should not be surprised to learn that tomorrow Neil hopes to be taking Jake to play cricket.

Neil didn’t realise his youngest son had entered him into the News & Star’s Dad In a Million competition.

He was also surprised, and moved, by the words Jake used to describe his father’s devotion.

And proud to be compared with Raymond.

Here is the winning entry from Jake Daniel, 17, from Distington, about his dad, Neil, 42:

My dad is one in a million because two years ago, the day before Father’s Day, he lost his dad (our grandad).

Grandad was the head of our family, someone who the family relied on for support, advice, or just one of his good old jokes to make you laugh.

Our dad is there for us in the same way. He gives us so much support, advice, a listening ear, and asks for nothing in return.

He’s my biggest supporter when watching me play cricket and transports me to all the games.

Two years ago he still came to watch me play cricket for the county on Father’s Day and gave me the support I needed, even though he was going through so much himself.

Father’s Day will always be a difficult day for him now. I just wanted to let him know how special he is to me and my brothers.

He’s not only our dad but our best friend.

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