Of Fathers and Sons (or… How I Missed my Father’s Wake).

Yesterday I drove almost one thousand kilometres.

But that wasn’t the difficult part.

I was taking my just-turned-fourteen year old son to live with a group of complete strangers for the next nine weeks in a place he’d never been before, as part of a government funded school leadership program. Understandably he was feeling very anxious.

We left at 4.30am, stopping only for petrol and toilet breaks, and arrived right on time, five and a half hours later.

At my son’s request, instead of entering the grounds immediately, we stopped a few kilometres away and walked down to the beach. There were some people surf-fishing and it reminded me of old photos of childhood holidays, and my dad fishing off the rocks at Phillip Island.

My son and I were both looking — each from our own perspective — to that strip of sand and the endless expanse of the ocean, for solace. For the composure to face our challenges with dignity and grace. All I could think about was how hard it was going to be to let him go. Especially now. Especially today.

The original plan I’d had in my mind was to be back on the road within the hour, but looking at my son as we walked into the tumult of staff, students and families, I realised I would be staying for as long as he needed me to, and time wasn’t the measure for that.

Three hours later, I left him chatting with others over the remains of their lunch, stealing him away for just long enough to give him a hug and some final advice — “everybody is nervous…and hygiene is important….”.

Once he was safely out of sight, I sat in the car and cried. Hard.

The drive back was challenging.

I was exhausted, of course. But that wasn’t an issue. I was easily able to pull into a nice town and take a fifteen minute nap.

But I was vulnerable.

Because nothing happens in isolation. There are always other events occurring; other agendas to be met; other places to be.

You see, as my son and I were standing on the beach that morning, my brother and my father’s wife were completing the final preparations for an event that day that was important to them. An event that I was now unable to attend.

My father’s wake.

At first I was devastated.

I pulled over and cried by the side of the road.

Howled with grief. My whole body shaking.

And the cars kept rushing by…

And my sobbing lessened…

And all the tension in my body left me; wrung out and wet, hunched over the steering wheel.

And I knew it was OK.

I could accept this. I could move forward.

My father — and my relationship with him — was (and still is) incredibly important to me. 
But today, one scant week after his untimely death, I know that my way to honour him is by living stronger. Living better. Raising my children to know at all times, no matter where they are, that they are loved.

My father didn’t want a funeral. He didn’t want a wake or any other fuss.

So I will continue to honour him, in mourning, the same way that I would honour him if he was still with us.

By loving my children as much as he loved his.

David Ballenger.

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