A force of life gone too soon


Dear Dad

I was tired and impatient when I first learned of your imminent departure, I had been in Newcastle for the past two days and arrived home about 9.00 pm. I saw Sas on the phone as I struggled with my bags and she signaled you wanted to speak with me.

We had long since buried any animosity. You had been the greatest supporter for our move to Sydney and we had maintained our long standing habit of talking on a Sunday evening.

This was a Thursday night; I was stuffed after a two-hour drive as well as bemused as to why you would be calling midweek.

I said, loud enough for you to hear.

“Tell the old Bastard I will call him tomorrow, I am tired”

The stricken look on Sas’s face told me I should take the call

Your first words to me “what is Richards home phone number?”

Richard had been our solicitor in Wagga as well as being, a close friend. He and Jane were god parents to Jassy and you knew him through various family and friend’s events.

I was short with you, certainly; a hell of a lot shorter than I would have been had I known the import of what was coming.

“Why are you ringing at 9.00 pm to ask me that?”

“I need to make a Will don’t I, I am in Calvary and they tell me I won’t be coming out”

You had been complaining of a very sore back for weeks. We had put it down to your stupidity and sheer doggedness.

You and Terry had been replacing the timber verandah around the house and we had spoken many times about whether a sixty-nine-year-old should have been doing this.

“Dad what is going on?”

“I have cancer of the liver and they tell me it is probably inoperable”

You had neglected to tell me on Sunday, you had an appointment with a specialist this week, we had no idea of anything like this.

My heart dropped through the floor as I fumbled for the book that was kept beside the phone.

Plans for the weekend were scrapped and I drove to Wagga to see you.

The brutal and distant father of my childhood, the passionate preserver of the land, the arch conservative, the acceptor of Steve’s homosexuality, the adulterer, the patriot ashamed of my treason over Vietnam, the wonderful father in law to Sas, the proud father who would walk into the Wagga office demanding a cup of tea and a chat, the loving grandfather, the pet hater who smiled at Charlie’s havoc in your prized garden and the man who I had grown to love over the past 15 years.

These conflicted thoughts bubbled through my mind on the long drive. We had come so far and now it was being ripped away.

Dad, why had we wasted so much time fighting each other?

Tears fogged my glasses as I drove the five hours to spend some time with you.

I was not to know that after this weekend, the Doctors would decide to fly you to Sydney in the hope, something could be done to buy some time.

You had a mild stroke on the plane and thoughts of operating were put on hold. This time in Sydney, though; remains one of my special memories.

I would call into St Vincents on my way to work and we would chat for half an hour.

I would drop in on my way home, you would be tired and grumpy, but I would sit beside the bed and we conversed in very short sentences.

I remember two special moments from that time.

One night, you were jack shit of hospital food and demanded I get you some prawn cutlets. It was after 8.00 pm and I walked to Oxford Street just as the greasy cafes were closing for the night. No one was interested in restarting the fryer, but one guy took pity on me as I pleaded your case.

I came back to your room, proud of the freshly cooked half dozen prawn cutlets, I had just begged for.

“It took you fucking long enough! I am not hungry anymore”

“Just fucking eat them!” you nibbled at one to appease me but your heart was not in it.

I took solace you even tried.

The second, was the night when out of the blue, you started talking about life after you were gone.

“You know, you get nothing from the Will”

Estate planning had never been your forte. Life insurance policies had been cashed in to support things, through droughts and bad seasons.

As per tradition, the farm and all its debt would be left to those who had worked it.

“Yep, so tell me something I don’t know”

“You know your two brothers hate each other”

“Yep, I do know that too”

“They are both executors but I think they will kill each other, so I have decided to have a third executor to keep the peace. You are it”

It took a few seconds for this to sink in, but finally I managed to say.

“You have just told me, I get nothing and in return for getting nothing, I am expected to referee those two” the thought of standing between Jerry and Terry in a standoff over money, horrified me.

“Yes, it is a shitty thing to do, isn’t it?’ this was said with a slight smile through the glaze of pain and drugs.

I used a word, I very rarely use.

“You old cunt”

“You can’t say that to me, I am dying”

“There have been many times I wish I had said it in the past, but this time you truly deserve it”

We sat in silence for a bit, while I absorbed things, we hugged and I left.

I was not sure whether I had just been sold the biggest pup of my life, or; handed the greatest compliment you had ever given me.

I chose to believe the latter.

As things were to turn out, there was something small for Chloe, Margo and I in your Will, and Jerry and Terry were to agree on only one thing.

The need to keep me removed from any discussion as they dissected the estate.

You were flown back to Wagga after it became clear you would not survive any planned operation, you died In Calvary Hospital 22 September 1985.

I was there as you took your last breath, surrounded by Steve, Mum, Chloe, Terry, Margo and I.

I am not sure why Jerry was not there.

Dad, it has been over thirty years and I still talk to you.




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