It’s a hot day, sweaty, it’s somebody’s birthday, I don’t know who’s. I can’t remember, but given it’s so hot, I reckon it’s my little sister’s. Yes, it’s only September but this is Queensland. I sit on the front steps of our house. My nose is bleeding, hot days bring blood noses, and the blood has soaked my ice-cream down to the cone. My dad sits next to me on the stairs. He takes my ice-cream from me, licks the blood off, and hands it back. What a good bloke.
This is my earliest memory of my dad. I don’t trawl through my childhood much. Open too many doors in my memory and my grandfather is behind them. I’ve been deliberately not remembering for years. The thing is when you try not to remember the bad stuff (I remember) you can forget the good stuff (I don’t remember). You tend to think the while thing, from birth to escape, was horrendous.
In 1985 my favourite band was coming to town. Back in those days you had to go to the venue, or one of the few ticketing places, and line up. There was no internet, and phone bookings if they existed, were new and nobody did that. My dad took the trip into town and lined up for hours with the teeny, shreiky, teenyboppers and came home with Spandau Ballet tickets. What a good bloke.
We haven’t always got along. I was mouthy and Dad liked silence. I was Labour he was Liberal, if you’re American, he was the Republican to my Democrat. We battled across the diner table where we looked at each other with exactly the same expression on our faces, ‘who is this idiot?’
Years ago I asked Dad if he was proud of me.
‘Because you’re tall.’
That’s like saying, because you have toes or because your eyes are where they should be. Plus, I’m not tall. I’m 5’4” the same height as Madonna, not short but inches from tall.
Dad probably doesn’t remember that exchange but I not have managed to forget it. I see irony in it and I’m closer to thinking it’s funny than I ever have been, but I still need a few minutes.
And truth be told – and I always tell the truth – I wasn’t that proud of my dad either. I was proud of him in a general way; he’s provides, he loves my mum, and he’s not racist, but on a personal level, indifferent was the table where I sat.
For most of my life I have not understood my dad. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve learned that not understanding is okay and it’s acceptance that’s the thing. Curiously, in that, I understand him more.
My dad called about a month ago. I could tell by his now-listen-to-this-for-i-have-news-tone that he had something on his mind.
He has colon cancer. I’m last to know, apparently.
‘And I don’t want you getting upset about being last to be told.’
As if. By the time he got to me he sounded positively cheerful. He laid it all out, this happened, this happened, this happened. This is going to happen then this and this. The cancer doctors feel good about his prognosis and so does Dad. He’ll do what they say, take his various medicines and operations, and get on with the rest of life.
‘Dad,’ I joked, ‘all you’re practicing on the others worked. You sound so great and I can hardly bring myself to give a shit.’
That’s our family. When the chips are down crack out the jokes. Amuse, disarm, cry but laugh at the same time.
Today Dad is having an operation. After it he’ll have a ‘bag’ and rehab and maybe more operations and medications. He’s optimistic, looking forward to be better. I’m looking forward to him waking up.
I spoke to him yesterday, told him I loved him but he’s a little deaf and I think it got lost in background noise. I emailed last night, told him I loved him, said write back when you’re done.
Dad’s proud of me, I know it. I’m proud of him, he has integrity and he’s tall.
My dad’s an enigma, we all are.
You don’t have to understand to love.
I love you, Dad.