There are three things I remember about my father, his smile, the way he smelt and his temper. You see my dad was dead by the time I was ten years old and I grew up the only kid on my street without a dad. Sometimes it was hard, as other kids would tease me for being the only one they knew who didn’t have an old man. The only kid in the world or so it seemed to me, without a dad.
I remember of a Sunday, dad would come and pick me up from my nan’s house around 7pm. It was an old terrace in inner city Sydney. I’d often stay with her on the weekend. My mum would be in the front seat of our car, dad at the wheel and me in the back. Dad would smoke, mum would talk. I use to watch his eyes glancing back at me in the car mirror, making sure I was seated as there was no seatbelts in those days. We’d get home, I’d have a bath and mum would tuck me into bed. Dad would pop his head into my bedroom and say goodnight. Then, one day he was gone. I never saw him again. I cried when mum told he was dead.
In my teens I started to have this reoccurring dream of him. Dad coming home from work, me on the front steps to our house playing, and him gently patting me on the head. “Hello little man,” he said. The same dream would play over in my mind as I slept during puberty, sometimes in black and white, but more often than not in full living colour.
My dad looked like a movie star with his bright eyes, wicked smile and dazzling teeth. He could be playful but his mood could also quickly change and when it did, all hell broke loose.
Years later I started to think he must have been unhappy with his lot in life. But as a little boy he often scared me. I never got his anger as a child, but as an adult I started to understand the cracks in his amour, and strangely I reconnected with him.
As a child, when I got into bed at night and said my prayers, it was hard sometimes to say God bless daddy…but I’d force myself to say it. And while I was at it, I’d bless my neighbours for good measure. As a child I was never hit or beaten, at least I don’t remember it. Even when dad went on a rampage through the house, often drunk, I was never in the line of fire.
He was a mystery in many ways to me. He was funny, he could be charming, and he could get angry. That was my dad! Full stop! We never spoke much when he was alive that I can recall, but once he’d passed away, I couldn’t shut him up. Dad’s reappearance in our house was a year to the day after he’d died.
On a bleak winter’s night, dad decided to pay us a visit. You see he had this habit once he was dead of pushing open my bedroom door, popping his head around the corner, and smiling at me. It would give me a fright. Sometimes I’d find him smiling back at me as I went to draw the blinds before bedtime. Once, my mum was so distressed when dad popped his head around the corner of her room, I had to jump in bed with her just to calm her down. We slept with the lights on that night. I think mum thought he was coming back to kill her, eventually I started to believe he’d come to protect me. This thought of protection, and of my father’s love has stayed with me since the day he died.
Over time dad’s ghostly visits grew less frequent, life moved on for everyone in my family including me… but his essence, the way he smelt, I’d know anywhere.
I’ve been lucky to have him popping in and out of my life during tough times. Whispering in my ear, telling me that I should do this, or I shouldn’t do that. Sometimes he gives me a bear hug sort of…a hug of energy so strong it makes me cry. It can be overwhelming to be loved that much, but there is no denying it’s my dad’s hug. I can smell him. It happened recently in the kitchen and he took my breath away. Then his energy sort of disappeared out of the open window, in a cloud of dust. It was a hot Melbourne Summer night. I wondered if the elderly man in the flats opposite saw him leave. Probably not, I guess.
As a kid, I felt unloved by my father. But as a grown man I feel him all around me, around every corner, lovingly constant.
It would have been good to have him on earth a little longer than I did, I suppose. But life has taught me to be grateful for my lot, count your blessings, and just get on with things. You can’t choose your family so they say. My father is family, dead or alive. I’m lucky. I’m loved.
I switch off the kitchen light, get into bed and I say, “God bless daddy.” Oh, mustn’t forget, “God bless the next door neighbour too.”
Republished in 2014 in the online zine ManBorn as “Hey There Little Man”