Saying goodbye to my father………
Reading the words of countless others that have gone before me, it has been said that facing the loss of a parent becomes that pivotal moment when you finally grow up. Well ready or not, I guess it’s now time for ME.
I grew up believing that you, as my father, would always have the answers. I clung to the vague belief that you would always know. You, with your words of caustic logic, would always be there. I measured myself by you, looked up to you, feared and admired you and loved you fiercely.
If I had to write an obituary for you, where would I begin? I honestly have no idea about the true nature of your life other than a few random stories pieced together. I never got to hear your words, Dad. My greatest wish is for the pieces of your puzzle to somehow find their way into our story of you as our father, grandfather, great grandfather, brother, uncle and husband.
The strands of tiny detail for me begin with a rare genetic anomaly, handed down via your father’s DNA, that saw you born with a hare lip, one nostril and a third set of teeth. Hospitals in North Queensland in the late 1930’s were ill equipped and so you were sent down to Brisbane at the very young age of four weeks for corrective surgery. A first time mama fretting about her baby boy, and a new little bubba taken away from his mummy — I cant imagine how hard that must have been. A childhood moving from town to town would have further challenging. But I’d rather think of you as a curious young boy, creating fun adventures, relentlessly teasing your brother, tickling your baby sister, stealing cookies, walking mud into the house, playing in creeks and billabongs and doing plenty of little boy naughty things. You often boasted to me that you began smoking at the age of eight so I’m guessing you were quite an adventurous larrikin.
A burst appendix at nine years of age, while living in Warwick, put you in hospital for two weeks. In rare moments of sharing your memories with me, this was the one time in your childhood that you remember living as a complete family with your father and mother in the one place. Huge responsibility hung about your shoulders from an early age and this was testimony to the man you would become. You were a wonderful support for your mother when she needed it most and you developed a wealth of super strengths as a result.
Living in Gympie when you were about 12–14 years old, you loved going to St Patrick’s college. You told me that your time living in Hall Street was forever treasured as you were surrounded by family on both sides. You had racing pigeons and loved to play football during this time. On one momentous occasion you scored a goal but couldn’t stop running so smashed into the adjacent stone wall beside the football field and cut the entire left hand side of your face open from your eye down to your chin. That scar only seemed to add character to your already beautiful face and you wore it proudly.
You didn’t have the chance to be with your dad when he died. He died at the relatively young age of 50 while you were holidaying with friends. How does a teenager recover from that?
But recover you did. You began to work, first in a Movie House, then at the local Court House, then the Commonwealth Bank while working with the CMF for many years.
My aunt met you as a teenager while playing a Saturday afternoon tennis match in Gympie. A few years later, she would meet you again as the boyfriend of her sister and was horrified at first. “What on earth are you doing with him?” she questioned. My mother had a long series of suitors and couldn’t quite make up her mind about any of them. Within six weeks of dating you however, you boldly declared that she would in fact marry you. A short engagement followed, and three short years after your father tragically died, she did just that. And my aunt grew to love you like everyone else in Mum’s family did. And over the years, through deaths and funerals, you were the one who managed it all for Mum’s family because you couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else having to go through that. Where strength and courage was needed in times of crisis, you were there for everyone.
Years later I asked my mother about your relationship. You two met on a bus trip during which you drank yourself into a stupor. I asked her if she was not concerned about your excessive drinking then and why she still chose to marry you. Like countless girls before her and countless after, she believed that if she loved you enough that she could save you. You were the love of her life. And so she dedicated herself to growing your family and trying to find her way through the maze of your life together.
My own memories of you start in Salisbury when my brother was born, my uncle died tragically with my mother struck down in grief having to face the reality of your affair and consequent illegitimate daughter. I was three – the same age as Archie is now yet those feelings of terror and fear imprinted on me, are as fresh as if they happened yesterday.
Childhood in Mount Isa and Townsville saw you build your strength as a corporate project manager. You worked for Iezzi Constructions as the Chief Project Manager single handedly being responsible for the building of Mount Isa as a town in the 1960s. You were to fly back to Brisbane on 22 September 1966 and something happened that made you delay your flight until the next day. That Ansett AN.A Viscount aircraft took off from Mt Isa and crashed near Winton leaving no survivors. So clearly life had other plans for you, Dad.
A pervading fog of doom hung over our lives tip toeing around you for fear of being struck verbally or physically. Raspberry lemonade and BBQ chips were my constant companions in the beer gardens that collected the wives and children of the men at the pub each night. One night, I woke to the screams of my mother and found you standing over her in a drunken rage. Somehow I was able to push you off her, grab my brother and take them both outside into the night to escape you. You followed us ever threatening with your enraged screams through the neighborhood. But you never found us. I watched you, steely silent, from our safe spot, as you searched for us. Somehow, as a six year old, I was able to hide my mother and brother until sunrise and then take them to the neighbors to call for help. I remember watching you being taken away from the house handcuffed and confused. The mental anguish that you must have been enduring even then as a young man in his 20s would have been overwhelming. I don’t believe that you were actually conscious of your violence, Dad. However, for us as your family, with no clue of what was really going on, every day we lived in fear for our lives.
It took great courage and a lot of external assistance for our mother to pack up the debris of our lives and escape from you in the middle of one night. The violence that we witnessed in our childhood was unthinkable and has haunted and twisted our sense of reality ever since. As a seven year old, safely living with our Grandparents in Gympie, I remember watching the local news and seeing headlines of a murder of two little girls in Townsville and asking Grandma “Did Daddy do that? You would be horrified to know that. But we were all suffering from a PTSD that in some ways is still just as vivid now as it was then.
It would take a great deal of blind faith for our mother to move us all back in together with you on my tenth birthday believing that it was more important for children to be with their father than anything else. The father, we were reintroduced to at that time, crafted a dignified public appearance in a respectable job. As President of the School and Church P and C for many years, our lives were filled with fetes, bus trips and endless events. Slowly, we grew to replace our horror filled memories with a so called normal suburban life dedicated to your boundless energy as you juggled work, community contributions and your very healthy social life.
I played the organ and sang in the choir at our local church every weekend, set records in track and field at school as we enjoyed being part of a lively community and began to relax enough to be normal kids doing normal kid stuff. Sports, Music, Dances, Skating, Concerts –it was so much fun! Those five years gifted us a cherished childhood. Thank you for that. By the time we moved to Ferny Hills however, the drinking and the violence and abuse that came with it, returned. Terror and fear bled into despair and hopelessness and after another decade of trying to hold it all together, Mum finally left for good.
I have held onto the fantasy of that brief moment in time when our childhood was deemed normal. It became my life boat in many ways. And it showed me that it is impossible to label a person one thing. Looking back I feel such sadness for you. Yet I also feel incredible pride that you turned your life around to achieve so much despite so many challenges.
Dad, you are embedded into the person that I am.
In the orange wallpaper that hangs in my memory I open my mouth and I hear your words. I close my eyes and hear your Stoic headstrong no-nonsense voice in my head. You are there when one of my children haggles for injustice in a restaurant. You are there in another’s stubborn refusal to accept less than perfection in herself. You are there when yet another child unravels a conflict in code determinedly resolute in his intention to fix it. You are there in one child’s determination to solve the problems of the world. You are there in Charlie’s new born grumpy old man yet still unbelievably cute face and you are there in Archie’s smile, big heart and willingness to hug an old man that he doesn’t really know yet somehow loves and trusts.
I have a large black and white photo of you hanging in my hall of fame downstairs. You and my mother standing side by side freshly engaged. Early twenties, not a hair out of place, impeccably dressed, movie star smiles — you both had the world at your feet. You married, found a great job and bought your very first home. I was born and then my brother. Picture perfect life including the Mad Men — esque 60s affair with your secretary and the birth of a daughter secreted away in adoption.
In retrospect, I can now see that you probably struggled with your emotions greatly for most of your life most definitely as a result of your very challenging and tragic experiences. With no mental health help available, you survived the best way that you could. In 1990, you were preyed upon by a very devious gold digger. Wanting so desperately to be loved, it was clear to us but impossible for you to see. Boring in her predictability, she did everything that we feared she would, tying up your life legally, to prevent your family from being there with you when you needed it the most in your final chapters.
I’m so sad that this happened, Dad. I’m so angry that this happened, Dad. And I pray that Karma will look after her the way she looked after you.
I will miss your face, Dad. I cannot imagine my life without it. To compensate, your clever clear blue eyes peer out from your sister’s face. One brother has your expressive hands and the other your thinking brow. I may not look like you but oh boy you are the voice in my head. Nieces and nephews, due to the tyranny of distance and circumstance, may simply see you as either a cautionary tale or just another name on their family tree. And somewhere out there, is a daughter you never met. No doubt, she will be experiencing inexplicable Bede moments throughout her life. Perhaps in another place and in another time, meeting you would have clarified so very much for her? We are the family that she will never know.
But to me, Dad, you are NOT a cautionary tale. You are a sensitive intuitive intelligent man with a huge heart who endured some truly challenging times in his life and who simply was not able to pull himself back from the cliff hanging madness of his mind.
I became a community leader thanks to your example with our school P + C associations. You loved animals. They were your spirit guides and gave you so much love and companionship. No childhood memory would be complete without your legendary runny orange cheesecakes or your dangerous attachment to long sleeved white shirts and bryl cream. :-) I love that you took ME clothes shopping from when I was 10 because you was the only parent who understood how I loathed wasting time looking in a mirror. I revere your commitment to whatever job you were doing. I treasure your generosity and willingness to ALWAYS help me out with computer problems. You gave up countless Saturdays and Sundays working in my office to locate the source of my latest PC frustration. I covet your brain. I admire your argumentative spirit. I have been a willing spectator for your tenacity and energy and strength.
In my childhood innocence, you were a shadowy scary figure lurking in the dark threatening the worst of nightmares. In my twenties, you were my benchmark, my anchor, my guiding light and the Jiminy Cricket voice in my head keeping me on track. In my thirties I puzzled over the life choices you made by marrying someone who clearly did not have your best interests at heart. And now in my fifties, your precious little great grandson Archie has given me the best example to follow. He just loves you Dad. Pure love. No filter. No judgement. He just loves you. He has shown me how to let go of all the stories in the past, all my anger, all my judgement because ultimately none of it actually matters. You are my Dad. I love you. And I”m so glad I got to be with you on your last day on this earth. Seated between you and Mum, you struggling to breathe your final breaths and Mum holding your hand and telling you it’s ok to let go.
My final moment with both my parents together.
The little boy who never really had a father has had a massive impact on many lives around him. As a reluctant leader, you have a great ability to organise people and projects. You are a problem solver. Your brain’s ability to organise information into a system is exceptional. Each of my kids have inherited these traits of yours and I take the time to remind them that these exceptional wonderful traits originate with you.
We are your legacy, Dad. Me and Danny. Alex, Tim, Sam, Niko, Hamish, Miranda, Archie and Charlie. We are here because of you. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Wherever you are now, I wish you peace. I hope that the little four week old baby who was sent away to Brisbane to be operated on by Dr Bede, finally feels the love that his mother and father have for him and can surrender into the light.