Thursday, August 19, 2010

Daddy Anecdotes

I have never said much about my father. Before he gave up smoking, he smoked White Ox rollies, a tobacco so strong that it would blow your head away. Beer was his tipple and he drank too much of it. In his later life, his oldest son who might have just been me, introduced him to whiskey.

He was a young teenager when his mother bolted. His youngest brother was put in an orphanage and he cared for the other two younger ones. He had no respect for his own mother, but plenty for his father, who, after he finished school, took him on to work alongside him building houses.

It was his birthday this week past. I used to call Step Mother on the day of his birthday, but I don't think it is so necessary now that she has a new fellah, the fellah being mid seventies. I like my step mother, but she is not the needy or emotional type, very different to my mother. Tradie Brother sees her often. He likes the connection back to his dad and her new fellah never mind that I doubt our father was actually his father.

I am forever in debt to my step mother as from her he learnt what true love was and while they argued at times, they loved each other dearly.

My father was extremely clever and well read. I think he was educated at Camberwell High School. He invented the word cynicism. His knowledge of all sorts of thing amazed me. He could translate a Latin phrase, play a piano, remember how many calfs a cow had given birth to, the names of 100 or so cows, steer himself anywhere without a map, know about the finer points of a car engine tappets, identify any plant, know the exact mitre joint for timber without using a mitre box and was always up to speed with politics. When Step Mother showed an interest in dog breeding, he soon became an expert and was an activist against the blatant corruption and favouritism in dog showing circles. He was a superb ballroom dancer. Mother used to dress extremely well with fashions from the city, unlike most of the dowdy country women and together they could clear a dance floor as others stood around in awe at the style and skill. I used to be very proud when they were on the dance floor, but then he would go outside with mates and drink too much, while my mother would then dance with my handsome uncle, a recipe for disaster. But he was truly a master of all trades.

I am not sure how, but he knew some quite wealthy people. One was a Western District grazier who we stayed with once. It was my first experience of a very grand house, with a staircase no less to the second storey.

He was a builder when he was younger and then became a dairy farmer, service station proprietor (near the beach so he could go fishing), a caravan park proprietor and then due to ill health, retired early. He died from a cancer in his back at the age of 64, although he had a remission period of quite a few years. His retirement was brought about by damage caused by falling off roofs and football injuries.

He was not very emotional. I don't doubt he loved us children, but he was not demonstrative about it. He provided well for us, although we had to learn to share one large soft drink bottle and not have a small one each.

He cared little for appearances but Mother made sure he looked smart when he went out. Any house maintenance was only done after nagging from Mother. He washed his car only for weddings and funerals and that was only hosing the worst of the mud off it. I am not sure why he thought he had the right to leave shaven whiskers in the wash basin, but he did. I found it revolting.

He never acknowledged that I was gay, even though he knew R for twenty years and they got on well. I don't think he had inkling about my sister, well maybe we did not then either but we suspected. He liked his grandchildren, Tradie Brother's children, and they found him entertaining. He would take them swimming and fishing and picking vegetables.

He was not always right though. On his last visit to Melbourne, I picked him up from hospital and as we drove past early Docklands, he shook his head and asked who was going to live in all these places, and who would occupy all those offices.

I wish I could feel emotional about him but I don't. I am pleased he was in my life and grateful for my upbringing.

It is ten years since he died. He was a person who hated the idea of doctors, nurses and hospitals, yet once he was ill and dying of cancer, he gave himself over to the medical system and trusted them to do their best. They did and he was happy. Take a bow RMH.

He died at home with a district nurse attending daily and my step mother looking after him. Although she is extremely mentally strong, the last couple of weeks nearly killed her too, although I only found this out later. I will ask to die at home too, but with the proviso that, for goodness sake, if you are struggling to cope, stick me into hospital or a hospice. To insist that you die at home is very selfish, with your loved ones perhaps suffering greatly.

Tradie brother rang me and said it won't be too long now. Given it was three hours drive away, I declined to see him for that one last time, without regrets. He died the next day.

My father's favourite phrase was 'She'll be right', and it usually was.

Some photos of him back here. I should give this some heavy editing, but I have lost the will.


  1. Anonymous2:23 pm

    Dad's were from a different mould back in our day Andrew also served in Navy during Korean War. Mine just passed away in May this year at age 79. Glad I got to say my goodbyes before his passing.

  2. glad you didn't. edit.

  3. Yep, he sounds like like my old man, same era, same attitudes.
    Can see Little Jo in that baby pic of you and the Nasho pic of your dad.

  4. Ozfemme is spot on - not a single unnecessary word in that post, Andrew. A fabulous pen portrait. Your dad would have balanced his many contradictions on the plus side - that's how it inevitably is with assessing fathers. I hope my three sons see it that way.

  5. Anon, yes they were different and it one of the good changes in society that they are much more loving now. Sorry to hear about your father. A decent goodbye can be very comforting I think.

    Thanks Ozfemme. I think such posts are better if a bit raw.

    Jayne, there is one distinct family characteristic about all of us. I won't say what it is.

    Three sons Lad! I hope they haven't yet reached the age where they have discovered Dad is not 100% perfect. :)

  6. That was lovely Andrew. A nice insight in a man's life.
    What struck a chord with me most, was you acknowledged you were glad he had been in your life, but were unemotional about him.
    From this small snippet you have written, he seemed a decent man.

  7. Thanks Raelene. Yes, decent man, but flawed of course,as we all are. The only time I can recall seeing him with tears in his eyes is when he had to put down his favourite cattle dog Cindy.....with a gun of course. Cindy was one out of box though, I must say.