Sunday is Father’s Day. My dad was a regular 24/7 father and the words I’ve written about him don’t go very far to show the man he was, probably because that’s the only way I see him – as just dad. Fathering comes in lots of different packages. Father’s Day is a day to honour the men who may not have fathered us but are there as our mentors and guides, men whose children are adopted, men who stay part of their children’s lives in spite of divorce, step-fathers and men whose own experience of being fathered has made it difficult for them to father well.
You might also like to read In Praise of Young Dads. (Find in From Where I Sit)
Happy Father’s Day!
It happens sometimes – a man getting out of a car and as he turns around I think for a moment it is my dad. It isn’t of course. My father has been dead for some years, but that fleeting glance picked up something familiar, something that I recognised as ‘dad-like’.
I don’t remember having any expectations about how fathers should be or could be when I was growing up. He was just dad; he went to work, he drove the car, he barracked for Fitzroy, he paid for my Catholic education and put money in the plate at Sunday Mass and spent a lot of time protecting Australia from a supposed communist threat. I am forever grateful that he encouraged me to read and to use words well. Any regrets hover around the fact that while he treated me with respect it was not the kind of hands-on love that lingers in the memory.
So when my grandson takes off like a little Japanese bullet train accompanied by a “daddy, daddy” sound track as he hears garage door sounds signaling that his dad is back from cricket training, I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if my father and I had shared a similar bond all those years ago. Unlike me, my father’s great grandson, is growing up in an environment where the father is absolutely central to his experience of the world.
My father was born in the first decade of the twentieth century, the eldest child of a father who was already in his fifties – a hard, somewhat unfeeling kind of man. The family were comfortable but didn’t value education and so dad left school at Grade 8 instead of going on to further education. He worked right through the Depression years and spent WW2 in a Melbourne munitions factory, (though if you look up Army records he is listed as serving in New Guinea- his identity stolen by a younger brother. Why? Who knows? A family mystery!) He married a country girl who liked the city, had four children, retired early so that he could indulge a passion for overseas travel, and was headed for 100 when he died. He relished history, loved a bargain, told all and sundry what spendthrifts his four children were and periodically wrote biting letters to the newspapers about political matters.
It wasn’t until I was widowed and a grandmother that I began to appreciate my father. He invited me to share his house. My brothers were skeptical but I had never let that stop me. Now when you live by yourself it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your ways of keeping house are best. Dad and I both had to make adjustments, to check out occasional misunderstandings and make allowances for different ways of doing things. Those two years living with dad were hard sometimes – he really was very opinionated – but he was also interesting and alive, ready to take on new challenges as long as they didn’t involve eating vegetables or salad. He never did come to accept the smell of onions, garlic or curry in ‘his’ kitchen.
We discovered we liked the same TV programs so the evenings were companionable. We talked about lots of things- earth-shattering and banal – and even if I had occasionally to hold my tongue, it was adult talk and we had both been starved of everyday adult company. He never actually stopped being the father, but it was a more comfortable, adult relationship and I discovered that he could give me a hug and even tell me he loved me. Now that wasn’t the dad I remembered from childhood.
When I was clearing out his wardrobe after he died, I held his favorite shoes in my hands for a long time. The scuffmarks, the impressions of toes, the polish or lack of, the worn heels and soles, all showed traces of who he had been, what his life had been like in the years since my mother’s death. Shoes were his one extravagance and be wore them for years. They were the shoes of an active man, someone whose feet were firmly on the ground, whose journey had begun ninety seven years earlier in a little cottage in Yarra St Abbotsford. Those shoes had travelled the world and walked him to daily Mass – always sitting away from others so he didn’t have to share a sign of peace. But that was how my dad was!
As I placed the shoes in a bag for disposal I knew that while I could never walk in my father’s shoes, either literally or figuratively, my life journey and my faith journey are linked to his, and for that I give thanks.