“Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks. Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom.” William Shakespeare Sonnet 116
How do I begin to tell you about my Dad?
When I talk about the man I love and knew, I am only talking about just one part of this incredible man.
Most daughters have a special bond with their Dads. I’m no different.
My Dad is SO special to me.
I remember the silly little things. When I was little he would mow patterns in the grass to make me laugh. In 1956 when he bought his first new car the Standard Eight, sitting outside the car dealership in Elizabeth Street in Melbourne chewing gum to plug up holes in the old Willys before it was assessed as a trade-in. There are hundreds of other memories I will share, perhaps at another time.
He always encouraged me to go for it. Whatever it may have been he supported and believed in me even through the times when I made mistakes, (some of those things, cause me to blush when I think of them now). I must have driven him crazy at times but he never showed it.
That was part of his gift — he allowed me to make those mistakes. That way I would learn from them.
Looking back, I always thought Dad was invincible. I believed my Dad knew everything and could fix anything and usually, he did and he could.
He grew up in the time of the Great Depression. Money was short and jobs were hard to get and even harder to keep. He would reminisce about how he and Pa would go around Footscray selling Nana’s crochet goods door to door
He was the middle child, very close in age to his sister my Aunty Jean. They were close all their life. There was a big gap and my Uncle Neil arrived.
I remember my aunt telling me, that Nana would have them mind their younger brother. Their idea of looking after him was to take him in his push pram to the local tip/quarry in Van Ness Ave, in Footscray and lock him in the storage shed. They would come back and collect Neil when they were ready to go home.
My Dad was always a good student and worked hard. He wanted to be a carpenter, but his father wanted him to make something more of his life. It was decided he would go to Footscray Technical School to study engineering.
War intervened and the day after his 18th birthday he joined the RAAF. He wanted to be a pilot but according to his training officer, he lacked the fine motor skills required. He transferred to aircrew and then to RADAR and served in the Pacific. He was stationed at Cape Gloucester in New Britain at 3RAR.
Dad rarely spoke of his war service except to say, “I landed on an island a boy and within seconds, I was a man”.
The records show that they were under almost constant attack from the Japanese. He also contracted malaria during his time at Cape Gloucester.
He was a proud Australian but like many ex-service men, he was a pacifist having seen the reality of war first hand.
He was a member of the RSL and always supported serving members and ex-service personnel.
He met and courted a pretty young woman called Pat. They shared many things in common. They both loved music, they both loved to play tennis and bike. They also loved to dance. This posed a problem as Mum like to jitterbug. By all accounts, she could cut a mean rug. Dad preferred old time dancing, the waltz, the Pride of Erin the progressive barn dance.
They would go together to the Moonee Ponds Town Hall. Once there they would split up. Dad would go off to old time and Mum to jitterbug. Then they would meet for the last dance of the night.
They married and in 1947 and the day before his death was have been their 68th Wedding anniversary.
After demobbing, Dad started work at Department of Defence in the graduate programme. He completed his schooling and training with the help of the returned serviceman’s settlement training program. He retired in 1982 as the General Manager of Ordinance Factory, Maribyrnong.
He would always help me with school projects and was very good at drawing. Not just mechanical drawing, but figures as well. I vividly remember project on CSR Sugar refineries, where he drew a wonderful picture of the Islanders working in the cane fields.
One of the many times I drove him to absolute distraction was when he tried to tutor me in senior math algebra and trigonometry. I would flounder and fluster and he would shake his head in disbelief and say “I don’t understand maths is easy. It’s logical. Maths is the language of the universe.”
Sorry Dad but for me, it was and remains gibberish. He loved math and logic.
He loved to fish and he and his mate Jimmy Swan from the RAAF days would go to the surf beach at Cowes or Woolamai on Phillip Island. Sometimes I was lucky enough to go with them. They would cook what they caught over hot coals on the beach. Then we would sit on the sand eating the sweetest fish imaginable.
We spent a number of happy summers The Pines Caravan Park in Newhaven. Dad would go off surf and rock fishing. These holidays came to an abrupt end one summer when my mother was so badly sunburnt she nearly ended up in hospital. From then on we stayed home and that also coincided with Dad becoming ill.
His health suffered in the 60’s. With hindsight, it is obvious he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as the result of exposure to the ground radar machines. He also spent time at Maralinga. This resulted in a physical manifestation of thyroid cancer. Something that Veteran Affairs would never concede as fact, despite the supporting medical evidence.
Like everything else in his life that challenged him, Dad fought back and won.
He was a fantastic photographer and could capture the essence of an image. This flowed on to his love of Australian Art, and over the years he and Mum collected some great pieces, they even owned a Prohart, which hung on the back of the bathroom door, because Dad did not really like his work.
Dad walked everywhere. He played golf, bowled, fished and was physically active all his life. He was never overweight. In the 1960’s he gave up smoking when the first warnings, that smoking was bad for your health were issued. He even surrendered his beloved pipe.
He was good at anything he set his hand to. He was a natural athlete and a born scholar. He never did anything by halves. He was a life member of Medway Golf Course and it was there he achieved the golfer’s dream of a hole in one.
He used to play each to play each year in the Service Veterans’ Amputee handicap match. One year he met and played with Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader, CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar. He also played regularly with Billy Hutchinson, who was a great VFL footballer and coach.
He was a member of Northern Golf course in Glenroy and Horton Park in Maroochydore, and was active in fighting against the resumption and redevelopment of that site.
In his late 70’s he started the Maroochydore Computer Group with the RSL to help older people learn how to use computers.
He was a man who walked with business magnates and Ministers of Defence at home and abroad. He brokered international defence contracts and yet he would get down on his haunches in a dusty kampong and play marbles with the local kids.
He was kind, honest and a man of integrity
He fought for what he believed in and would never give up
He was my Mothers reason for living and my world.
He never said anything unkind or hurtful about anyone.
When my husband and Dad met for the first time to ease the way, he gave Dad a bottle of Vintage Para Port. When it was uncorked and ready to be savoured, Dad took a sip and turning to Bernie said, ” Well it would be good to soak cigars in.” It broke the ice, and funnily enough, he never used that bottle. I found it when we were cleaning out the drinks cabinet tucked away at the back.
A loving and devoted husband and incredible Dad and a staunch friend. He was proud and besotted when his first grandchild arrived and Amandajane had him wrapped around her little finger. I still have the letters he wrote me when she was born expressing his love and joy.
His delight when David was born knew no bounds especially when David was named after both his grandfathers. He adored his grandson and I have a lovely photo of Dad sitting reading to David when he was a toddler. Dad frequently was in Canberra for work and when we lived there he would stay with us and spend time with his grandchildren.
He was thrilled when his great-grandsons were born and devastated when he learned of little James’s death. His regret was that he was separated from them by the miles and spent so little time with them.
He loved my Nana’s cooking especially her Cornish pasties, lemon meringue pies and custard tarts. Dad loved his custard tarts.
I have the letters he wrote to my mother when they were courting. They show a kind caring young man deeply in love. So romantic and showing yet another side of my Dad. Those are also for another day.
HE LOVED LIFE
Then Lewy Body Dementia entered our world. From that time on our definition of what was normal changed how we saw the world. Nothing was normal from that time forward.
The thief called Lewy stole my father and eventually caused his death. He fought the disease as best he could. Eventually, he won because now he is free.
Dad would have been humbled by the close to a thousand emails and messages of support that were received from dementia support groups all over the world. But I do not want the disease to define my Dad because he was so much more than that.
His farewell was a celebration of who he was not what he had become.
Twelve months have passed and the pain of his loss has not eased. I would not want him back with the pain and suffering he experienced.
I would give anything to have him hold me close and tell me everything will be alright. To hear him say my name and tell me how much he loves me. I still turn to my husband and say I must tell Dad…. Or Dad would like that…
I was Christmas shopping and saw a beautiful Edwardian Meissen shaving mug. I bought it for Dad, for Christmas, but he was not here to give it to him. Now it sits on my dressing table and holds my rings and my mourning locket at night while I sleep.
May the Compassionate Ones guide him safely through this next great adventure.
May all sentient beings be free from pain and suffering.