I love you, Dad. No matter the ups and downs of our relationship, there’s nothing but love, forgiveness, and respect in my heart for the fact that you did your best.
Yesterday was my father’s 80th birthday.
I couldn’t really wish him well on the day because being bed-bound and delirious, in a high care facility in the very late stages of Alzheimers, he’s not aware of much.
I drove eight hours each way to pay him a visit last week, but received no sign that he recognised me. So I just held his hand and sat with him for an hour or so, and then when I got back in the car I cried.
He was by no means an ideal father. He was a person who was often impulsive, drank too much, and sometimes said things he didn’t mean. But I know why: he was wounded. I know the beatings he took as a little boy (he’s pictured in the middle, between his parents in the photo above), and I know that in spite of those wounds that dogged him his whole life, he did his very best. He never really overcame them, but he did try.
Underneath it all, he was a lovable larrikin with a cheeky sense of humour. And so smart. He was one of the most skilled oral surgeons in his field, and also an anaesthesiologist (holding a rare double specialty). He pioneered new surgical and sedative techniques and progressed his field in a meaningful way.
I know he loved all his kids, and he wanted to leave us a legacy we might be proud of.
I promised him years ago that I would take him on a trip for his 80th birthday to Alaska. Strangely, when he was 77 a little inner voice told me “do that trip now”. I didn’t listen. I’m sorry Dad, I would have liked to share that experience with you. I made the same mistake that so many of us make: we think we have time.
I’ve been told that you don’t want many people to speak at your funeral, so I’ll say what I have to say here:
I love you Dad. No matter the ups and downs of our relationship, there’s nothing but love, forgiveness, and respect in my heart for the fact that you did your best. We all have our wounds that we carry, and at the end of the day, we all have to find a way to forgive and move on. It’s not always easy… but without forgiveness there is no peace. So, I hope you held the same love, forgiveness, and respect for yourself. I hope you got to a place of peace within yourself about your life and how you lived it. If not, I pray that you may yet find it in some mysterious way.
I offer this poem, written just a few years before you were born (note that the word ‘pelf’ in the poem is an old word that means wealth):
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The Guy in the Glass by Dale Wimbrow (1934)
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.
He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.