Dad would be 72 today. Time to test my memory for more memories.
I’ve been thinking about why I do this, why I share personal stories of my twenty one years with Dad. It’s quite simple really, for me it keeps his memory alive. Twice a year, on his birthday and anniversary, I make time to consciously go on the hunt for moments I’ve forgotten.
With Dad working away from the time I was 10 memories aren’t so easy to come by 14 years after his death. Back then Dad was doing the equivalent to todays fly in, fly out - just by boat. Once he’d done a couple of trips to get into the swing of it all I went with him over school break to Brisbane.
I’d never been on the boat to Melbourne before so no one was sure how I’d go on the open seas - and Bass Strait would deliver a challenge. Travellers were barely able to retain their balance as we passed in the passageways, some stumbling into the bulkheads. I remember asking Dad what was wrong with them as we walked to our room with ease. Dad had sailed in the Melbourne to Devonport yacht race so he was never going to have a problem but I’m not sure sea legs are inherited. I sat on the window ledge in our cabin watching the waves crash against the side of the boat illuminated by the lights from the main deck. Turns out no one need have worried at all, I didn’t want to go to bed.
There was one roadhouse on that trip I can recall vividly, It was still daylight and HOT when we arrived. I went to have a shower while Dad went to buy laundry powder and do our washing. I was doing fine until it came time to get out. The shower door had jammed leaving a gap not wide enough to get even my small 10 year old body through. I don’t know why I had a big bathroom to myself - maybe Dad had directed me into the disabled one. In any case there was no one else about. Dad, unbeknown to me was busy informing the attendant that it was totally unacceptable that there was no washing powder. After trial and error I realised that I could gain more width if I pushed on the sliding shower door at different angles and so managed to squeeze half of me out at a time. I’d been gone a while by this stage but it wasn’t until I was free, dry and dressed that Dad banged on the door.
“Everything okay in there?”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
Occasionally Dad was home during the school holidays and I remember him taking me and a couple of friends to the museum in Hobart. I particularly recall the oversized marsupial exhibit, displaying what wombats and kangaroos once were in size some thousands of years ago. Dad had his camera and lined us up for a photo.
“A bit to the left.”
“Too far, back a bit.”
“Okay just come forward a little.”
“DAAAAAADDDD! Will you just take the photo!”
It wasn’t until weeks later when he was back on the Mainland that I went with Mum to collect the photos from the Kodak shop in town. It was here I realised he was lining me up so I was directly beneath the kangaroo’s "pouch." Okay let’s be honest. I had oversized kangaroo balls on my head.
Jump forward ten years and I was at University. To this day I thank Mum and Dad for sending me to University. Not for a degree, but for the opportunity to excel in social studies. I lived on campus you see. And you do see, you see all kinds of things.
As it happened I fell head over heels for a guy wearing flannelette PJ bottoms with blue elephants on them and a white bonds singlet.
Living on campus there was always something to do besides study. On this particular evening we were having a movie night and everyone had to wear pyjamas. I was sitting with some friends when I saw him come in, he sat directly behind me. I couldn’t tell you what movies played that night, but I can tell you I felt his presence the entire time. Jump forward a couple of days and we were, well, we were having our own pyjama parties.
We'd been together a while so one Friday night we drove North to Mum and Dad’s place. Dad was due home the following morning and they were going to meet. However, neither of us expected to see Mum and Dad standing in the doorway to our room the next morning. I’m not sure who was more surprised us - or Dad. Dad worked away so much he was likely shell-shocked to see a man in my bed. I can’t recall any ensuing dialog, it’s quite possible I’ve blocked it all out.
This was the same weekend Dad decided to clean the gutters on the front of our two story home. Given the sloping roof and sheer drop he determined it would be easiest to make his own harness. Using rope and truck strapping he fixed himself to the central pillar and walked along the balcony rail. Having grown up with his resourcefulness I thought behaviour like this was normal, particularly given it had never ended in catastrophe.
I can recall looking out the living room window one day to see he’d cut all the limbs from a huge tree in the front yard. He had left a length of branch just wide enough for him to place his feet and hands on to climb and had reached the top when I saw him. I watched as he made his way back down and cut through the trunk.
More often than not he never had experience in whatever area he was mastering, tree lopping in this case. These days - where that tree was there is a stump about two inches high.
He had one near miss. I’m certain he had many but this is one I remember. Being trained as a mechanic in the army reserves Dad used to service is own truck when he was home. To do this you need to tilt the cab of the truck forward so you can reach all the bits. The engine, the engine compartment is under the cab (thanks Google).
When the cab is tilted forward, a cab support is extended and engaged to hold the tilted cab in place. A locking pin is required and inserted into the cab support to prevent the cab support from being accidentally disengaged and falling back into place. Fortunately Dad had gotten out to retrieve something when the support disengaged and the cab fell back into position. There were seconds in this. He was lucky that day.
It’s dinner time as I write so I can't help but think about food. Dad had a sweet tooth. Chocolate coated peanuts and liquorice allsorts were his go-to, and a safe choice really. Mum and I weren’t huge fans of either so he had them all to himself. Chocolate coated liquorice - better known as bullets on the other hand, well then he had competition. Chocolate coated liquorice would be okay for dinner wouldn’t it? Liquorice is a root so it’s probably also used in herbal medicine and dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients. So yes, I think yes.
Thinking of you today Dad. Thank you for your passion for life, for the drive that's given me and for being the kind of Father I could rely on. I always felt loved and I know I made you proud.