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Sunday just gone, September 4, was Father’s Day here in Australia. This time last year, I honestly thought it was a day we – my mother, my brother, and myself – would be locking the door on, and putting the key away to for a few years, until it was time to take it out again; a little rusty perhaps, but also less sharp around the edges. Softer. Ready to fit more gently and easily in the lock of our memories of my father.
This of course was before the stubborn old sod defied every prediction of nature, nurture, oncology, common sense and that beast from hell, cancer, which is literally everywhere in his whippet thin frame, to be here.
As Mark Twain may have said, were he a dry, red wine drinking, golf-mad engineer, fond of swearing at cricket umpires and rugby referees alike; reports of my [impending] death have been… somewhat exaggerated.
With a bloody hell added in, for good measure.
I thought long and hard about writing this. I couldn’t even bring myself to write it on Father’s Day itself, much as I wanted to – partly because I am away from my father, and just seeing him via a computer screen, in bed, looking so tired, and in pain, was enough to make the day a horror. But mostly because I hate any suggestion of telling others how they should live. It’s against every bone in my body. I hate being told what to do. Hate it. It’s something my parents worked out fairly quickly, presenting me with jeans paint-chalked ‘I’m The Boss’ on the knees at the age of 6. Smart thinking, parentals.
Mostly, these are just things a quiet, good man has taught me are true.
But this is not a “Do This Or You Won’t Succeed, Your House Will Burn Down and Everybody Else Will Sit In A Champagne Spa Whilst You Eat Cockroaches” fascisticle. Well, not really. There’s a few people I’d like to see eat cockroaches, namely whoever invented cancer, old age, and chemo after effects (I know that of which I speak).
But other than that … you don’t have to pay any attention if you don’t want to. Mostly, these are just things a quiet, good man has taught me are true.
Some of them, I even use.
The Wise and Mostly Infinitely Kind Ways of An Ordinary Man, Aged 74
- You can be anything you want to be. Full stop.
- Don’t expect people to treat you with respect if you are rude and obnoxious. A quiet voice is not a bad voice.
- All drivers are bad drivers, except for you.
- Red wine is to be treated with genuine affection, especially after a bottle or so, when it is possible to see it as a close friend.
- All umpires, referees, and people who stand on the sidelines and blow whistles are bloody idiots, unless they are in favor of [insert name of own team here], and it’s clear one team is doing everything wrong, in which case, they are possibly genuinely afflicted, and one should feel sorry for them. (This one I really struggle with, as it’s often a very fine line).
- Obviously number 5 has no relevance whatsoever to number 2, because umpires are not actually people. Possibly made of cardboard. As per number 3.
- Love your partner. More importantly, perhaps, cherish them. It’s easy to lose them; they just – slip away. If they come back, be fierce in your loyalty and care.
- Just because you don’t say ‘I love you’ very often, doesn’t mean you don’t. It might just be hard for you, and you show it through actions and support instead. That’s okay.
- Be proud of your children as your parents were not proud of you. If you struggle with telling them, fight through it, and say it anyway. At least once.
- Live with humility, grace, and quietly help others without expecting praise, gratitude, or thanks, because they’re not the point of helping. The doing is.
- Number 1, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are the important ones. And… number 4.
- That’s it.
My father is a good, good man. A man of honor, and that aforementioned humble grace.
He embodies someone who does things for other people, who assists without asking for any acknowledgement or praise.
Who is often not noticed. Until, that is, he isn’t there.
I am so proud of him, because he hates being in front of others, and he crossed the country to be with me.
Not once did he say to me, as a child, as a teenager, “Don’t do that, you can’t.” Never told me I couldn’t be, do, become something because I was a girl – which for someone growing up in the 70s, was beyond the usual. It was extraordinary. He encouraged me to try everything. To want to be a fighter pilot. To get under the bonnet of the car. To learn to shoot. To climb everything, anything, everywhere. To sail, swim, play any sport I could get my hands on. He has welcomed without commentary, and I truly believe without thinking about it, my best friend and her wife, and my godson, into our family. No raised eyebrows. It’s just – well, my sister.
He taught me to be me. Just that. Not a girl, not gender defined, and for the eldest of six boys brought up in a strict Catholic household in the 50s, that’s astonishing. He found, and finds, affection difficult, but he is a loving father. The day he stood beside me last year at my wedding, the wedding we scrambled to have so he could be there – I look at him, 46 years after his own, and I am so proud of him, because he hates being in front of others, and he crossed the country to be with me.
My father is a great man; not because he did anything spectacular with his life in terms of public achievements, but because of the way he just lived the majority of his life. With honor, and respect for others. Except, of course, referees.
If you take (most!) of that list, and think of them as very loose guidelines for being a decent human being, I don’t think it would be a horrible way to live, or philosophy to embrace. It is a hopeful and honest way. It gives joy to people, often without their active knowledge.
I just wish it brought a better reward than this ordinary, ordinary death, and the big, gaping hole soon to be taking the seat of this quiet, simple man.
In the very, very deepest center of my heart.
Kate Stone Matheson is a writer at the Huffington Post. Check out her website www.adifficultwoman.com.