If my father were still alive, he would have been 79 years old today. He passed away in 1985 from a cancer that probably would have been relatively easy to treat in 2012. In fact, it probably should have been treated back then. He was first diagnosed with a tumour in March 1985, which was ‘successfully’ removed and declared to have been a benign tumour anyway. By September, that benign spot had another tumour and just two months and five surgeries later, he was gone.
Right: my favourite photo of Dad with my grandmother, circa 1936.
That’s about as much as I remember of his illness. I’ve asked my mother about it a few times but we all seem to be a bit foggy about what happened, where the cancer was, etc. It all happened so quickly and being just 15 at the time, I was shielded from the reality of the situation to a large extent.
We got a call late at night, one that was expected but still unwelcome. I got a ride into the hospital with my brother-in-law, if I remember correctly. Mum was already there and had been for hours. The doctors wouldn’t have told Dad their prognosis, but we knew that this visit was one with equal shares of urgency and finality. I think Dad knew what was happening, too.
Dad was in intensive care at St Vincent’s Hospital, hooked up to all the machines that 1985 medicine had to offer. He drifted in and out of consciousness, a feat that seems amazing in itself given the amount of painkillers that were being pumped into him. In one of those moments of clarity, he looked at me and gave me his usual greeting – “How you going, mate?” I’m not sure if it’s the recollections of a kid who just wants it to be that way or if I missed something afterwards, but I was there until his final breath and I’m pretty sure those were his last words.
It’s always been hard for me to reconcile my father’s passing. There are certain things about him that I can remember vividly but many more, I’m sure, that have faded with time.
There were times after his death, when I was still quite young, when I expected him to walk through the door as if nothing had happened and give us a quick but perfectly reasonable explanation for his prolonged absence. Movies make an impressionable mind believe that things like that really can happen sometimes. I always knew, on an intellectual level, that they couldn’t but it didn’t stop me from wanting it to happen.
There’s been many a time as I’ve grown up where I would have loved the chance to sit down with him and have a chat. You don’t do that much when you’re a kid, or at least I didn’t. I can remember times spent in the car, just me and him, on the way to a band practice (we both played cornet in the Coburg City Band). The trips were largely spent in silence. It wasn’t for a lack of wanting a conversation, but time has shown me that perhaps it was due to a mutual lack of conversation skills. All I know now is that I wished we’d done more and done it better.
Dad was a butcher by trade and had a shop in partnership with another guy in an inner suburb of Melbourne, called Kew. Kew’s a nice area and Dad had some great customers. He loved them and the feeling was mutual. His customers used to send him postcards whenever they went on holiday and the back wall of the shop was a giant mosaic, full of beaches and other sights from around the world. Above the postcards were a series of WEG’s football premiership posters – Melbourne people would be familiar with them – and given that Dad supported Carlton, a team that won 6 premierships in 14 years to the early 1980’s, there were plenty of premiership posters on display.
I can still smell the shop as if I was there yesterday. I worked at the shop from around age 14 and it was an eye opener for a young boy, for sure. Walking into an industrial refrigerator on those cold, early mornings was not something I looked forward to and I don’t know how he managed all those years. I must have been a slow mover on some of those mornings as there were a couple of times – making sausages, cleaning the mincer or maybe some other task – where Dad needed something ASAP and he would get stuck into me for not getting it done quick enough (and if you knew my Dad, you’d know that him ‘doing his block’ was a very, very rare thing).
He was a pretty easy boss, though. I’d help him open the shop in the morning and then he’d send me off to the Greenacres Golf Club for a lesson with the resident pro. I’d return soon after lunch and help with the early Saturday cleanup and close. Meanwhile, my sister (who the customers also loved) would work the full Saturday with barely a break. Sorry, Sis 🙂
Dad loved his family, especially his Mum and the two young grandsons he never got to see become men. He loved the Carlton Football Club. He loved music by marching bands and would paint the house with his old marching records blaring. He loved anything British, especially the monarchy. He would have loved to travel, but the furthest he and Mum got was New Zealand in the late 1970s. Mum’s going to Europe for the first time later this year, at age 76.
I’ve never seen photos but I believe Dad had a little red Sunbeam convertible when he was young. He gave me my first motoring book, about Jaguar, when I was 13 and I used to sit in school and draw pictures of the XJ6 in my textbook. Dad liked the idea of cars but never got to a position where he could buy something he liked and drive just for the pleasure of driving. Instead, he took pleasure from his garden, and his greenhouse out in the back yard, in particular.
As I wrote earlier, I’ve never quite reconciled myself to my father’s passing. He was only 52. I was only 15 and my sister was in her late 20’s. Her boys were just 2 and 5 years old. Mum wasn’t even 50. Nan was in her eighties when she had to bury her son. There’s so much that Dad missed out on and so much we’ve all missed out on, too, without him around.
My sister and I have both been affected from having a parent die so young. The age of 52 has been like a looming shadow over both of us, though she’s passed it now and enjoying a grandchild of her own.
I’ve attached myself to a number of father-figures over the years and if I’m honest, I still do. It’s in my nature to take the advice of older, wiser men and I guess it’s natural for me to regard them with a degree of filial esteem. I’m sorry if you’re one of them and I’ve ever made you feel awkward. It certainly wasn’t intended. I consider myself fortunate that someone like you has been around.
But enough naval gazing!
Happy 79th birthday, Dad.
We all wish you were here to celebrate it. We miss you. Caaaarn the Blues!!!!