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 eye’s glancing back at me in the reflection of 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… him coming home from work, me on the front step to our house playing, and him gently patting me on the head. “Hello little man,” he said. The same dream would play over and 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, a wicked smile and dazzling teeth. He could be playful but his mood could also quickly change and when it did all hell broke loose. He was not an easy man.
Years later as an adult 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 started to reconnect 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 always force myself to say it. And while I was at it, I’d bless my neighbours for good measure. One thing I clearly remember as a child is 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 warm at times, he was funny, he could be charming, and he could get angry. That was my dad to me 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. The first time dad made his 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. He had this funny habit once he was dead of popping his head around the corner of my bedroom door and just smiling at me. It would always 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 bedroom door, I had to jump in bed with her just to calm her down. We slept with the lights on that night together. 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 visits got less and less frequent, life took over I guess for everyone in my family including me… but his love, the way it smelt, the essence of him, I’d know anywhere.
I’ve been grateful to have him popping in and out of my life at stressful times. Sometimes 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 kind of…a hug 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 clean away. Then his energy sort of disappeared out of the kitchen via the open window, in a cloud. It was a hot Melbourne night. I wondered if the old man in the flats opposite saw him leave. Probably not, I decided…
I mentioned dad was still visiting me to my family a few months back, they fell silent. I didn’t care, it’s important to believe what you know is true, right? As a kid, I felt unloved I guess by my father. But, as a grown man I feel his love all around me, around every corner, firm, steady, and constant.
It would have been good to have him on earth a little longer than I did, I suppose, but the poetry of my 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 but you can choose your friends so they say. My father is family and friend, dead or alive, I’m lucky…I’m grateful. I’m loved.
Now, I switch off the kitchen light, get into bed and I say to my dad…God bless daddy…and God bless the next door neighbour too.