My Father, My Grief...
The last part, typical of my father, wasn’t quite the truth. Two members of his family were never going to be by his side before the end, my brother and me. But, as my father was always a fantasist, a little fact like that was never going to stop him. He loved to bend the truth to suit himself; not in a good way, ala Big Fish, but in a twisted way. It suited him to tell me how he always sent birthday cards with cash as gifts in them only to have them sent back by my mother, sans money. How he had a suitcase full of letters and cards that had been returned over the years in his attic. How my mother had thrown him, bodily, out of the house after beginning an affair with another man. How my uncle was a criminal bum. How my mother refused to allow him to speak to us while we were growing up, and vice versa. In fact, if you had a truth, my father had his own version of it. The only problem was, very little of what he said was true.
My father left us just before Christmas in 1977. His parting gift to us was to walk down the driveway, after my mother refused to entertain the thought of him bringing his newborn baby daughter home, along with his mistress, so we could all live as one happy family. I can clearly remember the day that he walked down the driveway and out of our lives. My brother, Hugh, his first born son, called his name, he didn’t even flinch, never looked back, just walked off. My brother never spoke to him again after that. As far as he was concerned he died in his eyes. I always clung to the thought that perhaps, one day, if I was really good, he’d return.
My uncle, Geoff, took it upon himself to raise my three bothers and I, to mould us into an image that he hoped would see us better ourselves and escape our environment. To his credit, he succeeded. I loved him dearly, still do, and his passing in 1983 left a gaping wound that has never fully healed. I named my first born after him and I like to think that Geoff would have had a lot of fun with him, but sadly Geoff, much like my father, never met Geoffrey. Perhaps, one day, Geoffrey will meet his namesake – in an odd way I know he’s looking over him. Throughout those years my father would call every so often and speak to us, including me. Each time he’d ask me to leave home and come live with him and would paint a picture of a large house, full of love, fun and happiness. Instead of making me want to run it had the opposite effect – I loathed his new family for having all the things we didn’t. He didn’t endear himself to me in the slightest. My mother never stood in my way and encouraged me to write to both my father and my grandmother, who we’d not heard from since my father had left. I never got a reply.
Flash forward a few years and I was a mess. I took it upon myself to find my father as I wanted answers. Young and stupidity runs hand in hand. My older brother, Barry, told me to beware, my mother gave me the single best piece of advice she ever has. “He’ll start talking,” she said, “and when he does, remember the dates and do the math.” That’s all she said. Brilliant.
I drove all night, cliché as it sounds, and found his house from directions that my step-sister had given me. I waited out the front until he walked out to get his newspaper and approached him. He wasn’t the same man I remember; he walked slumped over and was a shadow of what he once was. Even worse, he didn’t recognise me at all, although he’d later claim that he did. I introduced myself and after embracing we went inside to catch up on nearly 10 lost years. That’s when the lies began. I won’t go into much detail, suffice to say that nothing he said added up to me. My mother was right, the sums were askew. The legendary suitcase was mentioned, I asked to see it. I expressed my desire to read the letters and cards, so that I could better understand those days and perhaps release some of my anger. “Later,” I was told. Always later. Over twenty three years later I’m still waiting. I knew it didn’t exist though so it’s not been a vain wait. He mentioned my mother throwing him out. I mentioned that he left nine years previously and had a ten year old daughter. I told him I wasn’t a mathematician, but I could add and I did understand that in order to have as child you need a good year to lead up, that made his infidelities nearly twelve years old at a good estimate, to this he did what he did very well – he ignored what was in front of him and just kept to his story. There were other, numerous lies, and eventually I fled to Melbourne where I lived for the next few years.
I saw him, off and on, after that. I attempted to reach out to him, with varied results, over the years. Each time he’d do, or say, something that’d just anger me. Like the time I invited him to my first wedding. He turned up and mentioned that he was staying with cousins of mine who lived, and had always lived, no more than 20 minutes away from where I grew up. They knew who we were, they just never bothered to visit. Now my father wanted to bring them to the wedding and couldn’t understand my (strong) denial. Like the time I drove all night to see him, only to be shunned as he spent all his time fawning over my older brother, Barry – who wasn’t his biological son (my brother, Hugh, and myself are the first two he had). He couldn’t understand why I was angry, nor could he understand my refusal to drink with him at 6:00am in the morning. And so on and on until I finally had enough and just stopped calling. He didn’t call me either, to be fair. I don’t think he ever forgave me for naming my son after my uncle and not him, nor do I think he ever understood why, even though I told him.
Each time I’d speak to my step sister she’d mention to me how he was. I’d take interest and then I got a call, on Christmas Day, of all days, two years back, telling me that he had terminal cancer. Merry Christmas, I thought. “Brilliant,” I said, “thanks for that.” I phoned him and we spoke for the first time in over a decade, and, as it’d turn out, for the last time. He was full of his usual fibs; how he’d beaten cancer, it was a joke and how he was going to come and visit and spent time with us all. I blanched at the last claim and with the viewpoint of an adult chastised him. I told him to stop being so bloody stupid and face up to what was happening. He wasn’t going to visit, he had to get well. He didn’t do any of that.
He got worse. We had a chance to see him, I just couldn’t do it. I had the chance to call him, to say goodbye perhaps, I didn’t do that either. Then the dreaded phone call came, last night. He passed away at 3pm, at peace, the pain had left him, momentarily, and he slipped off. If the end was quiet and pain free I could gift him that. I calmed my step-sister down, she was very distraught, and then began to make calls. My mother was upset, my bother and my daughter and myself all feel the same emotion – blankness. I’m not happy, I’m not sad. I’m not angry, nor am I glad. I’m just numb. I expect that an emotion will hit me at some stage, it’s been a bastard of a month, but until it does I’ll operate on auto-pilot and wait.
I have a week to decide if I want to attend his funeral. Again, I have no idea if I will or if I won’t. That choice will come to me and I’ll go from there, but, like everything else associated with my father, whatever I decide will be in my best interests, as everything he did was in his best interests. Part of me wants to go, part of me doesn’t want to deal with seeing his family, his extended family, all united in their grief and wondering why I, his son, rejected him and isn’t standing there in the same screaming heap as they are. Perhaps the best thing I can do for him, and his family, is show respect and stay away.
Who knows? It’d be no use turning to my father for advice; he’d simply ignore the question and move on to the next drink. I hope he has found the peace that evaded him in life, which was filled with pain and turmoil, much of which was his own doing. If it helps him, and other members of his family, I bear him no malice. As I told my step-sister, what problems we had I’ve dealt with and will be buried with him. He can go easy as far as I’m concerned. I have enough respect to afford him that.
I know I never said goodbye, but then neither did he over thirty years ago. I think I’ll leave that open ended, as he did. Such is life.