For my Dad, who passed away 14 years ago this Wednesday.
This week I officially started my Graduate Certificate in Industrial Relations through CSU, Charles Sturt University. I'm sorely missing my English Teacher Mum who proofread everything for me when I did my Bachelor Degree and generally kicked me in the arse when I whinged about how hard it all was. That was more than a decade ago. Mum had pestered me for years to go back to uni and I had planned to start this course in November of 2013. When we found out mum was sick I delayed the course 12 months. In that martyring, self-sacrificing way that all mothers have Mum really didn't want me to put it off, she wanted everything to go on as normal. But of course it couldn't, and it didn't, and I'm glad I waited.
When I enrolled in my original Bachelor degree in 2000 my father was still alive. He had the pleasure of knowing I was enrolled to study but sadly didn't live to see me commence, or graduate. I took a small photo of Dad on stage with me at my graduation ceremony in 2004, tucked deep inside my robes. You can be sure my Mum will come with me also to the next ceremony in 2016.
When we were going through my mother's personal effects after her death we found many, many items she had kept after Dad's passing, everything from the bill for his funeral to his driver's license. Among these items was a copy of a short story I wrote for a university assignment about the day of Dad's death and the first Father's Day afterwards. I'd like to share this story with you, illustrated by photos of icons from Dad's life.
Life Is Not A Rehearsal
I touch my father lying dead in our kitchen, but he will not wake. Not that I expect him to but his death is a conundrum I did and did not prepare for. So here is my Dad, in his tan pajamas, seeming so fast asleep but as cold as the lino embracing him.
A few days ago we spent simple time together in his shed, and he changed the oil in my car. I tried to pay attention to patient instructions as he passed me bits of oily metal but the rhetoric was mostly wasted which I think he knew. My father showed me it is always in the now that our performance matters; life is a one-act, no intermission play for one show only. I am the star player and the whole world is my audience and my critic; how I interpret the script is up to me, I am writing it. I have to give the show of my life - there won't be another performance.
Always with me he acts as if to leave his signature on my life and seal me forever against this critical world. It is unspoken, as is much between us, taking form more in the ping of spanners on sump plugs and hammers on gates. Intensely private, this way he loves me; to speak it in crass syllables would be diminishing, the mere words in no way signifying true meaning. This love is my father preparing me for the moment in which he will leave me, the moment when he no longer has rule over his very dignified and controlled existence.
This moment is now, as I sit with him in our kitchen. I must exercise his dignity and control when I really want to scratch out the eyes of these strangers in our house, his house, these vanilla strangers waiting impatiently to take him from us. It is not their fault. Theirs will be death's first simple ritual. They retreat and leave me alone with my father. Alone with what he once was anyway.
Should I talk to you Dad? There is rarely the need for the spell of words between us. I cannot speak, words flip from thought to mouth then flap there like landed goldfish, gasping for air. I hear the drip drip brr of the fridge and the dirge of the storm birds offering up the day and stroke the gentle prickle of morning stubble on your chin. I comb your hair with my fingers and smell the oil that clings to them: Californian Poppy.
I get up off my knees and one stranger returns, offering me a cliche that I brush unwanted to the floor where it lingers embarrassed at having been uttered. Now my mother comes, a snick of sandals on the polished hardwood floor and a bouquet of tears. She is small and fragile, her grief tangible and isolating. When I turn again what was once my father is gone, our kitchen is just a kitchen again and I will soon be forced to explore the platitudes of death.
Now it is Father's Day, this was once your day. My mother opens the polished rosewood box and, breathless, lifts out what once was you, your final iconic remnants. It is just dust! We let you drift on the breeze and cling to us, you travel up our arms and through our hair and sting our eyes and blacken the tear-tracks on our faces. We return you dust to dust under the wisteria vine that blossomed, finally, on the morning of your death. And we remember how you lived: honestly, humbly and with certainty, a solid in our predictable sea.
My Dad used to say, 'life is not a rehearsal!'. His show is over.