Tuesday, 1 January 2013

My Father


 I wrote this little piece in honour of my father earlier this year.  Now on this day 6 July 2013, it is exactly 100 years since his birth and so I'll take a moment to re-visit these few words and remember the lovely man that he was. I am certain that I am not the only son or daughter who remembers his parents and thinks on things left undone so as Mike Rutherford once said let's leave nothing unsaid in these Living Years. 
Happy birthday, Dad - and God bless.
As I write this, I am remembering that it was on this day, and at this time, just twenty five years ago my father died.
I was at work at my office in Brookvale in the Sydney Northern Beaches area when I received a call from Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. The call was from the doctor who was looking after my father. My dad had a week or two earlier travelled to Brisbane from his home in Cairns for radiation therapy and he had been staying at the home of my mother during this time. The doctor wanted me to know that my father, who had been admitted for observation a couple of days ago complaining of stomach cramps, was actually quite poorly and she thought that it would be good if I could travel up to Brisbane from my home in Sydney to see him. My brother and sister were both living in Cairns at that time, and it was a much quicker and easier trip for me to travel north than for either one of them to travel south. 
I left work immediately and after a quick detour home to collect some overnight things was soon on a plane for the one hour flight north. I took a cab from Brisbane Airport to the hospital on the other side of the city and arrived there some time around four o'clock in the afternoon. Given the one hour time difference resulting from daylight saving in NSW, it had been about three hours from my receiving the call from the doctor until I arrived at the hospital. 
But I was about an hour too late. I was taken to his bedside, where he lay peacefully, looking for all the world like he had just dozed off for a few minutes. I think this was the first time that I had ever seen a deceased person. I didn't feel anger or any other emotions one associates with such an event. I do remember feeling that perhaps I should feel something, but it didn't happen - at least not then anyway. I sat with Dad for perhaps twenty minutes during which time I told him that I was sorry I hadn't said a proper goodbye and that we all were going to miss him very much - but that was about it.  
I spent the night in Brisbane at my mother's house in Wynnum and flew back to Sydney the next day, in time for the New Years' Eve party which we had arranged a few weeks earlier, and which despite my wife's suggestions to the contrary, went ahead and was enjoyed by all. A week later, I travelled north again, this time to Cairns where we all gave him the send off that he deserved as we laid him to rest in the lovely Forest View Park Lawn Cemetery beneath the White Rock peak to the south of the city.


So this little story is about my Dad - a wonderful man who for as long as I can remember wanted nothing more than the best that life could bring for his family. 
As a child, I remember him as a strict disciplinarian. Like many of his generation, he was the product of an interbellum upbringing by a single parent mother who had lost her husband in the Great War. His father had enlisted as a sapper in the Royal Engineers and was accidentally killed at Aldershot Rifle Range in 1915 after having survived the worst that the Hun could throw at him in Flanders thoughout the previous year. His mother worked as a parlour maid in houses in London and Margate, while Dad and his elder sister were raised by an aunt and uncle in Norfolk. Dad was eventually apprenticed as a motor mechanic in Margate and later as a young man he moved to Nottingham in the Midlands where he met my mother. They were married in 1938.  When they first met, my mother was a telephone receptionist at a firm of motor parts suppliers and the story goes that young Arthur used to come to the counter for spare parts and invite her to come for a spin on his motor bike.  As Mum used to tell the story, he would pull up out the front and pat the pillion seat on his motorbike, indicating with a toss of his head that she should join him. 
Dad volunteered for active service during the Second World War but was turned down because his occupation was considered an essential service. Instead he served as a member of the Home Guard and the Volunteer Fire Service.
For a little while after the war he had his own garage business, but it clearly wasn't a great success and he later worked as the workshop foreman at the Brough Superior Motor Cycle Works, manufacturers of the machine which was at the time considered the Rolls Royce of  motor cycles.  By all accounts he was highly regarded by George Brough and I don't think I ever remembered Dad describe him as anything but "Mr Brough" and in the most reverential of terms. He was there until 1955, when in search of a better life for us all he brought us to North Queensland, Ten Pound Poms on the SS Strathaird. My parents separated just over ten years later, after about 27 years of marriage, but they remained good friends until the day he died. 
Sometime in 1970 following a car accident Dad suffered a stroke which resulted in many months of mental agony whilst he worked to regain his powers of speech. His persistence and that of my lovely sister, Jean and her husband Gordon paid off and he was eventually able to return to work.

I left home in 1965 to spend a few years in the Merchant Navy but in 1973 Dad and I went for a holiday together to England - for him it was the first time back there since he left 28 years earlier. It was there that at the home of one of his nephews I met the girl who is now my dear wife and as a result spent the next nine years living in the UK where two of Dad's grandchildren were consequently born.
Dad died of cancer. He'd had it for ten years, but thanks to his fitness and his spirit, his quality of life was excellent and I don't think I ever remember him complaining - not about his health anyway. In fact the only things he ever seemed to complain about were the worksmanship involved in the manufacture of modern motor cars, Australian drivers generally (and North Queensland ones specifically), and the poor performance of the English cricket team - oh yes, and Elton John.
So what can I say about a man like my father and his 72 years of life, half of which had passed before I was four years old. He survived a war and the Blitz; he raced motor cycles and stock cars; he re-built an old sail boat, even though he knew nothing about sailing; he built a caravan from a drawing he took from a 1950s edition of Popular Mechanics and, to the best of my knowledge never spent a night in it, although he pottered inside it building shelves and cabinets for at least three years. He was a demon on the maracas and he could play a set of spoons like George Gully. He loved cricket and was there whenever the Council Workshops challenged the Brewery or the Harbour Board, or anyone else for a social match, and in fact it was because of this, that my sister met her her lovely man Gordon when he was an Able Seaman on the HMS Crane - in town for a visit - and up for a cricket match. 
Since arriving in Australia, Dad's contribution (and that of my mother of course) has included seven grandchildren and a dozen great grandchildren - all of whom have become fine individuals and I believe have inherited their respect for others and the community.
We still miss you, Dad - thanks for all those wonderful memories.