dear dad, your breath finally stopped this morning at about 6:30 my time, how extraordinary that the final moment should come just an hour after your other son, simon, held the phone to your ear while i spoke in your unconscious ear and said goodbye, apologised for not being at your side, wished you peace, an end to the pain and discomfort, and told you it was ok to let go now and stop fighting.
it was really against my rational and logical nature (wonder where i got that from, eh dad?), and I only did so because my workmates ruth & cath had talked with me during night shift that night, saying that often people in your situation need to hear from all those they love before they can let go, and that often the simple act of verbally giving ‘permission’ to let go is the catalyst for that final breath. they both gave examples of friends and family where a very similar thing had happened.
so when simon rang this morning to tell me that he had sat with you last night, comforting you and nursing you, I asked if he was still with you and if he could let me say a few words to you. i went home after that call and had only just got into bed when he rang again, i knew before i answered why he was ringing and i felt nothing but relief for you and happiness that in some small way i might have played a part in releasing you from the suffering.
dad, i have spent the last couple of days digging out all the photos i have of you and putting a slide show together of the images, its been a work of joy – i thought it might be an emotionally difficult task, but it was more a sense of reflection on a life filled with adventure and a reminder of how much i loved you.
it also made me start thinking about how i would articulate our relationship and your life, and this is some of my initial thoughts.
a man who not just loved racing cars, but as well as driving also built his own race cars,
a man who not just wanted a house for his family, but built one.
a man who not just loved boats and sailing, but came to build a number of yachts himself as well as sailing half of the world.
a man who not just started a business as a house painter, but became probably Australia’s first industrial painter, combining your background as a fitter with painting.
from the earliest age i can remember a man that tolerated no intellectual laziness, around the dinner table adult conversation on politics, society, beliefs etc was encouraged, but we were never let get away with an unchallenged point of view!
you suffered fools very little, but always showed compassion and tolerance.
in many ways you were a modern day Renaissance man, although you had no tertiary qualifications, you were incredibly widely read, all the classics, poetry, science, virtually any subject you had read the important texts, your reasoning and analytical skills were as finely honed as any academic.
your practical skills were without bound, i cant think of a task that ever was beyond your mastering, your background in the metal trades was no doubt the basis for that but it extended to working with wood, everything mechanical and electrical through to the design and engineering skills required to build a racing car and a 12m yacht.
you, with mum, were adventurers, never afraid to step outside the safety of conventional suburban life – in a time that our society was a lot more conservative, you and mum decided on the basis of one dinner with a crazy dutchman from FNQ, to sell up everything in our settled toorak suburban life, build a custom made campervan, take us out of school, drive from melbourne to cape tribulation, and live in the jungle by the beach for 6 months.
the move from our comfortable life in mitcham to the farm at digby in SW victoria was a similar uprooting and adventure based on the continuing dream to build a large cruising yacht and move onto the ocean.
even thinking of times like this brings back specific memories, we had bought that mad siamese cat from peter brock’s family just before moving to the farm, we stopped for a rest somewhere on the road between geelong and hamilton and when one of us opened the car door, the mad cat shot out like a bullet from the gun, across the fields never to be seen again!
you and mum gave us the greatest gift parents can give their children, a safe and happy home with unconditional love. i nearly 20 years of marriage i dont remember hearing you or mum once raise your voices with each other or fight.
you came from a generation where it was harder for men to show their love outwardly, but as a child I never doubted that love and i try every day to be at least as good a parent as you and mum have been to me.
my special bond with you came out of the ashes of your marriage to mum, as I joined you as a young man to help build genesta and then spent 6 years living on genesta with you and travelling the oceans with you. it was the adventure of a lifetime for a young man and made me the man I am today. we had an incredible time together, saw so many places , made so many friends, a couple of times stared death in the face – but your seamanship and my confidence in your ability got us through.
very few adults ever get to have a relationship like that with their fathers and i am forever grateful for the experience.
thats all i have for the moment, i will add more as it comes to mind.
for those interested, the backing music is by gurrumul yunupingu, a song called “Bapa” (father)
here are the words in yolngu matha and english,
the background music is by gurrumul yunupingu, his song “Bapa” (father)
Warwuyu ŋarranha mulkana
Yaa, bäpa marrkapmirri
Yaa, bäpa marrkapmirri
Ŋäthina Djotarra maṉḏa
Garray Dhuwandjika Daylulu
Ḻiya-wayna wäŋaŋura Gunyaŋarri
Grief have taken hold of me
for my father
when the sun sets
o. h. beloved father
Crying and crying
when the sun goes down
my mind there at Bekulngura
o.h, beloved father
m..m m..m m..m
Two Gumatj ladies crying
ancestor boss ladies Dhuwandika and Daylulu
when the sun sets
my mind there at the place Gunuangara (Bekulngura)
m..m m..m m..m