About a month ago I saw my father’s smile again. Not in a photograph or a home video but on the face of my eight-week-old baby girl. It felt like a gift, a blessed inheritance from a grandfather she never met but who knew she was on the way.
It is now a year since our last conversation, when I told my father that he would be a grandfather once again. He died a few days later. A year on, it is hard to believe he is not in his study, or fixing something in the house, and that he will not appear at any moment.
Asoka Abayaratna was never loud or overbearing, but he could fill a room with his quiet humour, a whole house with his warm presence, and the hearts of his whole family with his kindness.
Dad adored spending time with his loved ones and friends, talking and laughing and exchanging views, sympathy and advice. He spoke proudly of his happy childhood, his hometown Kandy, and his school, Trinity College. He talked affectionately of growing up with his brothers and sisters in Lewella, the family home he often wished he could preserve for future generations.
His first visit to England in 1963 was the source of some of his best stories. At the time, England was not the liberal, cosmopolitan country it is now, and my father’s search for lodgings involved landlords who were disinclined to take in young men from South Asia, with their exotic “cooking smells and strange foreign ways”.
My father did, however, find lodgings in the home of a Norwegian lady and her small son. Happily settled in for many months, my father was surprised at Christmas to receive a pair of pajamas from the landlady, who then dropped to one knee and proposed marriage. Anyone who knew my father can imagine his embarrassment. On that occasion my father lost both a wife and a flat.
His return to Sri Lanka for a holiday in 1969 was a turning point in his life. He was interviewed for a job at IBM, where he would spend the next three decades of his life.
Dad would never have said it, but he was in fact one of the pioneers of the technology age. His first encounter with a computer was when he was working at a research station in England. The computer was regarded with deep suspicion by his colleagues. Deeply curious, he volunteered to work on it, and thus began the other enduring love of his life.
After joining IBM, he was offered work in England and then in California, where he was part of the founding generation of Silicon Valley.
More important, IBM led him to my mother, Michelle. She was working at the reception desk, and no one, my father included, could have failed to notice her.
I never knew my Dad to move fast. Patience, precision and thorough investigation were the trademarks of his style, whenever he had to make a big decision. Over the next 37 years of marriage, this slow, precise style would drive my mother crazy. He was the perfect foil for a lady who moved like a hurricane. Their partnership was the best template for a supportive and loving marriage. It was the bedrock of my brother Lalith’s and my happiness and the foundation of Dad’s confidence to take us to live in different parts of the world, knowing that wherever we were, he would always be home.
Our house was always full of fun, activity, friends and family. Dad made a point of showing us and our guests as much of a country or continent as he could. His road trips were legendary.
Dad looked after people, always. It seemed to be his mission in life. His kindness and generosity were immense, and he expected neither recognition nor reciprocation.
He was loved by his friends and his extended family.
The family expanded when I married John. His first grandchild was just hours old when I placed her in Dad’s arms.
We are all happy that in the last difficult year of his life, my father found an entirely new joy in his first grandchild. He threw himself, cameras and all, into the role of grandfather. He called her the light of his life. It will be some years before my daughter will be able to appreciate the great compliment her grandfather paid her.