It was my birthday yesterday. But then I suppose you remember that without needing any reminder from me… y’know, that whole thing about you being my Dad and all, I guess it makes it hard to forget my birthday 🙂
My birthday always gets me thinking about you.
Did you see me the Friday before last, floating around in that beautiful warm bath they call the ocean up in Cambodia? Did you see me immersing my whole body in sea water for the first time in 23 years? I was having a good old chat with you while I was out there – couldn’t tell if you heard a single word I was saying, but I just had to talk to you while I floated on that gorgeous bed of warm liquid salt, watching a gigantic burnt orange sun dipping below the horizon right before my eyes. I felt so calm, it was so peaceful. It was March 22nd that day, Dad; it was the fourth consecutive March 22nd that it’s happened to me like that. I always think about you more on March 22nd. I wish I could say I thought about you most on Father’s Day or on your birthday – and you do come to mind more than usual on those days, too – but March 22nd’s always the one that really jumps out of the calendar and smacks me in the face.
I’ve been all over the place these past few years, Dad. About six months after I last saw you, I took Mum up to Townsville. It was amazing how much of the place I remembered and just as amazing how much more of the place it felt like I’d never seen before. ‘The Crabbys’ were there, they were the same as always. Our school was there, your cruddy-looking old bank building was still there and our old house was still there too. Looked almost exactly the same as it did thirty years ago! I couldn’t help but think back to that night we’d been out and came home to find that giant cane toad on the driveway. I was so concerned about you running over the fat, ugly thing but too scared to go anywhere near it. Remember how I poked and prodded it with that stick for what seemed like tens of minutes? Then when I’d finally convinced it to jump off the side of the driveway and gave you the thumbs up to move the car, it jumped straight back on to the driveway and went right under the front tyre – SPLAT! What a disgusting mess that was.
The year after that I went off to America for nearly five weeks – can you believe what you’re hearing, Dad? Me! In the United States of America! The one developed nation I’d always said I had absolutely no interest in ever visiting – must’ve been the diet of 60s American sitcoms I spent my childhood consuming endless repeats of. Clearly, if the entire country wasn’t just populated with families exactly like The Brady Bunch, I didn’t want a bar of the place! And yet in September 2010, there I was – and you’ll never guess what? I loved every single moment of it! Nearly two years ago, I took Mum over to Estonia so she could be with her baby boy on her 70th birthday. She was older than you for the first time in her life, Dad! That was kinda weird. She had the most wonderful time over there, we travelled all over Estonia for four weeks, went down to Latvia, then back to Tallinn in time to leave. The only thing that could’ve made it better is if you’d been there with us.
I had a bit of a meltdown last year, Dad. I wish you’d been around to talk to about it. Maybe I would’ve been able to make more sense of what was going on… although according to most people, if you’d still been around it probably wouldn’t have happened at all! Seriously Dad, so many people tried to blame you! I’d honestly never thought about it that way, but everyone kept asking me if it had started after you went. But don’t worry – I jumped to your defence every single time. No blame game, no finger-pointing… I think I was just a bit fucked in the head all along, Dad. But then, I probably don’t have to tell you that 😉
Once I dragged myself out of that hole, I made it down to the South Australia wine region for the first time. I know you and Mum loved the times you spent down there and I loved it just as much. Had a fantastic four days with three of my best friends, drank loads of wine – you taught me how to do that! – and loved myself sick! I even managed to get fit and lose more than 20kg in just under six months last year, Dad. You wouldn’t have known me by the end of it – I hadn’t been that thin for more than a decade!
Just before Christmas last year, GMD came home and we all went over to WA for a couple of weeks. Spent more time revisiting old haunts – our schools, our suburb, our old house is literally exactly the same! It’s a rental now and I don’t think they’ve actually done anything to it since we moved out! We saw a whole bunch of other places too, places we’d never seen while we were living over there. Mum still loves Fremantle. If it wasn’t so far away from the rest of the country I’m almost convinced she’d still love to live there!
I’ve been looking after Mum for you as best I can, Dad. “Looking after” is probably a slightly weird, patronising term to use but then I’ve felt this slightly weird paternal thing where Mum’s concerned ever since you’ve been gone. She took a long time to adjust to you not being around. She didn’t like it at all to begin with; to be fair, she still doesn’t speak to highly of the whole arrangement. You were supposed to go after her, remember? Not sure how you missed the constant reminders of that – she’d been telling you, in no uncertain terms, for as long as I can remember! At any rate, you’d be so proud of her for everything she’s achieved. She bought a new car. She eventually worked out how to use the email and the internet – well… sort of! She manages the household finances now too – your mantle has indeed been taken! And she’s now more than confident about going in to bat and standing up for the her rights and the rights of everyone in the complex with that tedious battle over the building cracks, the dodgy driveway and the rusting underground pipes. Yeah I know, I can hear you now… I can’t believe all that shit is still going on either! Se even got through Uncle B dying suddenly of a massive stroke 18 months ago – you know how much she relied on her brother being around. After you went, he was the main man in her life. I thought she was going to fall apart when that happened, but she didn’t, not really. She kept herself going. She’s doing so well – you’d be so proud of her, Dad, just like I am. I probably don’t get up to see her as much as I should, but I go as regularly as I can and I make sure she gets a ‘To Do’ list ready for me every time, just so I can get some of the things she can’t manage any more done for her. I know she loves it when I’m up there and I try to spend as much quality time with her as possible while I’m there. Even if it’s just taking her to the club or having dinner and a few drinks at home, she loves it – and you’re never long out of the conversation, either! If your ears have been burning, that’s possibly why. Actually a lot of people still regularly talk about you. You made quite the lasting impact, it seems 🙂
GMD’s still overseas, of course. I think Mum’s finally reconciled to the fact that he’s never moving back to Australia, which I’m pretty sure she’s known for years. I’m convinced you accepted it a long time ago. He does his best to support Mum in whatever small ways he can but, let’s face it, there’s only so much you can do from 17,000km away and it’s always going to be fairly limited when a few texts and a weekly video chat on Skype is about the sum of it. His is more of an emotional support for Mum, I suppose. She gets as much from her Skype chats with him as she does from me being in the house with her, so that’s what counts.
Oh yeah, something I just remembered I have to tell you – you’d be so proud of Lee Sales! Remember how you always sat up late (generally just to fall asleep in your chair anyway) to watch the wonderful Lee Sales hosting “Lateline”? Well you’ll be pleased to know she’s moved up the food chain now – she’s the host of “The 7:30 Report” now! Of course the ABC, being concerned with taxpayer funding, went on an efficiency drive with the name of Lee Sales’ new vehicle of choice, so it’s just called “7:30” now… but you’d be so proud of her, Dad. I know you’d be glued to ABC1 every night at 7:30 if you could, just like you used to do with “Lateline”.
So, my birthday…. I’m getting old, Dad! 40 next birthday – can you believe that?! How did I get to be this old? I’m going back to Las Vegas for my 40th – “Matt’s ‘BIG 4-0’ Month Of Me Celebration”, that’s what I’m calling it. Sounds totally self-indulgent, I know, but you know me Dad – it’s all tongue-in-cheek. I wish you were gonna be there with us. You’d think it was all a frivolous waste of money, but I know deep down inside that you’d love it over there!
I’m looking at your picture now, Dad – you know that photo of you in the cheesy red Christmas t-shirt and the green Santa cap, sitting at the kitchen table? I look at it practically every day and right now I can feel you looking right back at me. I can smell you. I can hear your big, booming voice calling out to me, that over-enthusiastic greeting you always offered every time you saw me – “hullo dare, me’boy!” – before planting a big squelchy Dad-kiss on my cheek with your funny old squishy lips. Always used to be my forehead, remember? I think I was all of about 14 by the time I got too tall for you to reach my forehead any more, so the squelchy Dad-kisses were relocated to the cheek!
You remember that day we were sitting in the courtyard, just you and me, at the back table? What was it, two weeks before you died? Maybe only one? I asked you if your affairs were all in order. It was the hardest question I’d ever had to ask anyone in my life. I never wanted to have that conversation with you, but there it was. There was so much more I wanted to say that day. And when we were sitting out on the chairs near the front door the next day. I wanted to tell you how much I loved you and how much I valued every single thing you’d ever sacrificed for me and every single thing you’d ever done for me… but every time I went to say the words, the lump in my throat came back and the tears welled up and I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to fall apart in front of you, I wanted to stay strong – for you, not for me or for anyone else, but for you. Coz, let’s face it, you had the shit end of the deal, well and truly. It wasn’t my place to make you acknowledge my pain when you were sitting there with less than a week to live and knowing there wasn’t a damn thing you could do about it. So we just sat there and looked at the sky, soaked up the sun and said virtually nothing. The situation notwithstanding, those were among the most wonderful moments of my entire life.
So I guess the upshot of this letter is that I miss you Dad, so much more than you can know. Despite my love of the English language, mere words couldn’t possibly do justice to how very much I miss you. Other than during the earliest years of my life when I actually was one, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like a helpless child than I did when I woke up the morning after you died. It was scary. Really scary. I had no real idea what to do, no clue what was meant to happen. I didn’t know what to look for, what I needed to find, where to go, what to do first. You’d always been there for me. For nearly 35 years you were the one I came to for advice, for help, to tell me stuff I didn’t know about coz you always seemed to know about everything in the whole world, or to rightly admonish me when I knew I’d done wrong. You copped that >$600 phone bill I racked up by calling all those American car companies and the Doctor Who office in London back in ’89. You graciously held both your tongue and your temper when you realised, at my 21st birthday party, that some of my friends had opened the bottle of port you’d been given the night I was born, only to push it aside without enjoying a single drop because they thought it was “horrible”. I lost count of the number of times you let me in the front door when I was too drunk to get the key in the lock. You helped me move out of home, then back into it, at least three times. You rescued me from a car accident at 2 o’clock one Sunday morning. You bailed me out as I lurched from one self-created financial mess to the another on more occasions that I care to recall. You always knew the answers to my questions and always knew what I should do… so what the hell was I supposed to do without you?
But guess what, Dad? Somehow it happened. There’s a school of thought that says every first-born, regardless of age, feels orphaned when they first experience the death of a parent; every child, however grown up, reverts to a child-like psychological state. However ‘adult’ you might feel, you never actually grow up until you lose a parent. It might’ve taken you nearly 35 years to get me across the line, Dad, but I finally got there. I finally did it. I doubt I’ll ever truly grow up and I daresay you never expected me to either, but for what it’s worth I’m pretty sure I kinda have… sort of. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t mostly thanks to you, Dad.
Five days after you went away, there was a whole bunch of people in that church you used to go to every week – hundreds of people, all there to farewell you, old boy. And you know what I told them? Exactly what I just said back there. I said to them “As I grew older, progressed in my career and moved into people management roles of my own, I strived to become like my Dad. He’d always been so loved by his staff and I wanted to be like him. To some extent, I think I succeeded. Even though he could never teach me how to effectively manage my finances, at least he knew that his influence when it came to effectively managing people had rubbed off and would never leave me. At the end of the day, if my only claim to fame is that I’m the man I am today because of my Dad, then I couldn’t be happier or more proud.”
I love you, old man. I miss you.