Life Relationships Celebrating Father’s Day – even when your father has died

Celebrating Father’s Day – even when your father has died

Father's Day
Dad as Poppy with his eldest grandchild, on the train home after yet another Geelong victory. Photo: Author
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This will be my second fatherless Father’s Day.

He died the Monday before Father’s Day last year, so in a way it feels like the first; 2018’s version was just a haze of shock and pain and condolence casseroles.

My situation is not unique. This Sunday there will be millions of Australians quietly passing the day without their dads, wincing in varying degrees at the sight of others going about their traditions.

In the 12 months of living with what feels like an open wound on my side, I’ve met so many people bearing the same scars. Some losses were prolonged, drawn-out by illness. Others, like mine, were sudden.

Hardly anyone gets through life untouched by grief. The fact I got through 27 years unscathed can be seen as somewhat of a miracle.

Our worst nightmares are actually a sad, unavoidable normality.

It’s what we do with them that’s more important.

Riding his beloved BSA rocket at the Broadford race track, aged 68. Photo: Author

When he passed, my sister and I made a pact – something we shared at his funeral – to take a value or trait from our father and incorporate them into our daily lives.

He was patient. He was kind. He was beyond generous with his time and help.

He was also a little bit wild. At age 68, just as he finally retired, he started racing motorbikes again – something he’d done in his 20s. He still went to gigs, often by himself, and was always the last man standing but the first one up the next day.

He was a second father to so many of our friends, and a mate to everyone. My sister and I have both had incidences of ex-boyfriends asking if they could stay in touch with Dad, after we went our separate ways. They liked him more than they liked us.

He had just turned 70 when he died. A month before, we threw him a surprise birthday party, and mused that the shock might give him a heart attack and that would be what claimed his life, not the split-second road accident that got him in the end.

My sister, Dad and I at his 70th birthday party – the last photo of us together. Photo: Author

But, there was no heart attack – instead a less polite version of “you buggers”, swiftly followed by “get me a beer, then” – and he danced to the rockabilly band we hired all the way from Melbourne, in a town hall in the middle of Nowhere, country Victoria.

At his funeral, we strapped fireworks to the nondescript box that held his ashes, and chucked him in a bonfire. It was the only way to farewell a life so full.

Every day is still painful. There are still moments when I forget and then it all comes flooding back and it’s like fresh loss all over again. I don’t expect this to go away.

One of Dad’s best traits was his pragmatic approach to life. He never dwelled, he just got on with it. And while I’m self-indulgently airing my grief through this piece, that attitude is something I’m trying to practice daily.

Just a slight resemblance. Photo: Author

I inherited so much from him; a borderline too-far sense of humour, the way the corners of our eyes get crinklier as the night gets longer, a distrust for Tom Hawkins’ consistent form. But thankfully, not his serenity-destroying sneeze – that went to my sister.

So in that trite, cliched fashion I’ve discovered that the people we love never truly leave us – I now know firsthand they’re only as gone as you want them to be.

That’s why I’m not ignoring Father’s Day. I won’t be pretending it’s just another Sunday or Hallmark holiday. I’ll be celebrating that I was lucky enough to have the father I had, for the time that I had him.

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