Earlier this week I decided that I wanted to write a blog post about my Dad, after my husband found a picture of him taken not long before he died.
Dad died in August 2012 from bladder cancer, which had spread to many other locations in his body. One of my last memories was sitting with him on his hospital bed, wrapping my legs and arms around him to hold up his wasted, exhausted frame, and spoon feeding him. I often had to stop and wake him up again mid-mouthful. He left behind my Step Mum (Jacqui, whom I love and cherish) and their son Josh (now 20 years old), as well as my brother and I.
His cancer diagnosis was simultaneously a shock, and not. Here was a man who had smoked like a chimney since he was 12 (or so I’m told). This was also however, a man who was an unstoppable force of intelligence, creativity, absolute testosterone fuelled manliness and sheer bloody-mindedness. He was Indiana Jones and MacGyver all rolled in to one – with a little bit of Patrick Swayze and Kurt Russell for good measure.
Dad could literally build anything. Anything. He’d fix the dishwasher, then jump into the shed to build a ride-on-lawn-mower-cum-monster-go-kart (seriously dangerous, seriously cool, complete with booster-pedal for my then 3-foot-tall brother). He once built a truck (that’s right – a whole truck, engine up) and sold it to Swartz. Just a genius.
My Mum and Dad separated when I was only five. There are several theories, and as they say – there are three sides to every story; his, hers and the truth. This isn’t the time or place for that explanation – but I will tell you that there’s a tall tale going around that Dad may or may not have decked a priest who tried to stop him from seeing my brother and I. Anyone else might be horrified by this, but as a card-carrying atheist, I think it’s brilliant! (Sorry priests out there, I’m sure many of you are lovely!)
Dad and I have always been equally stubborn, and most of all when arguing with each other. For that reason and others, we weren’t close once I reached that know-absolutely-everything age of about 13. Then one day many years later, when I’d suffered a horrible break-up, I went to stay with Dad begrudgingly. From the moment I walked in the door, Jacqui was telling me how I was too good for this guy, and that I didn’t need him. This unfortunately was not what I needed to hear. Dad promptly ushered me to the patio, where he sat with me for hours and, get this – – simply let me cry. And cry. And cry. And cry. The poor man must have been so uncomfortable, sitting there with a sobbing 20 year old girl. Every time Jacqui tried to come outside and put her two-bob in, he’d swiftly raise a hand and shoo-shoo her back inside (poor Jacqui!) From that moment on, he was my hero again. We still argued, and he still occasionally told me how fat I looked in a certain pair of jeans (he really was a boof head), but I treasured him every day.
Dad was still a tough cookie. Not an ‘I love you’ kind of guy. And then he got cancer. Dad’s whole outlook on life changed. Suddenly, work was not the most important thing in the world. Dad had always, in one way or another, worked for himself. He had finally left his job only a few years earlier to chase his dream full-time. Dad’s idea of providing for your family meant that if he was away for 3 months of the year, or didn’t come home until 2am after working goodness knows how many hours, then that’s just what you did. Mum, needless to say, had other ideas and this contributed to their breakup. Jacqui, with a father who was much the same as Dad, understood and appreciated this.
Dad had always worked so hard. Knarled knuckles and oozing wounds were all part of a day’s work when he’d finally walk through the back door and Jac would already have a coffee ready in his favourite (enormous) mug. But when he was diagnosed, I think he really knew that he was now on borrowed time. He took a step back and spent more time with his family and friends. Jacqui bought him a Mustang.
Dad also spent time with my now-husband Joel. They got along fantastically, and I remember the first thing Dad ever said to me when he finally met Joel, “you’re not going to scare this one off too, are you?”. Thanks Dad. It was love at first snide remark.
When he was in hospital, my one and only not-completely-bat-shit-crazy relative, Aunty Vicki went to visit him. Vicki is my Mum’s sister and hadn’t seen Dad in over 20 years. Yet she quietly and without fanfare (unlike other ‘supporters’ who come out of the woodwork and act like martyrs for going to visit the poor dying man) slipped into his hospital room and sat to talk with him. Vicki and Dad had always got along. Too bad they hadn’t met under different circumstances, or they might have been close friends. I didn’t find out about that visit until later, when Vicki sent me a message to let me know that Dad and her had talked about Joel. By this time we were engaged, and Dad couldn’t have been happier. Dad told Vicki that day that he loved Joel like a son. This is a man who before his illness rarely used the ‘L’ word – and NEVER when speaking about a man! I don’t think I could have been given a greater gift than to have heard that my Dad felt that way about Joel.
At his funeral, less than a month before our wedding, Dad’s many friends (old and surprisingly, new) gathered to hear and tell stories about this wonderful man’s life. There were a lot of stories about his somewhat misspent youth – riding motorcycles, running from the police….riding motorcycles while running from the police. There were an incredible amount of stories of Dad’s generosity and fierce, unwavering friendships. Jacqui gave a speech about Dad’s favourite saying “isn’t life good”.
After spending hours building what we fondly refer to as the ‘Tent Mahal’ (mother of all campsites) without letting anyone else do more than hold an occasional rope, it would inevitably start to pour with rain and he would sit there in his fold out chair, smile and say “isn’t life good”.
Whether he’d spent all afternoon mowing their giant lawn, or whiled the day away on his fishing boat under torrential downpours only to catch a toad fish or two – – he would always sit back and utter “isn’t life good”.
He didn’t lose that outlook, the sicker he got. He simply enjoyed what he could, with his family….and loved. Loved us, loved Joel, loved life.
I wear a ring beneath my wedding ring with the words ‘isn’t life good’ inscribed inside. I try never to forget it.