Silence always means something, and round here it's meant that a week after I got myself officially with sidekick, my beautiful, boisterous, noisy, joyful father, one of my very best friends in the world, was diagnosed with mesothelioma. For two weeks after the diagnostic surgery, Dad was desperate to go home, longing for more time, exhausted by hospital and being prodded awake and reminded to breathe properly and catheters and thrush and nothing to eat but ice-cream and diabetic jelly and milk. He was saying every day how much he loved each of his kids, loved Mum, loved Mum more than anything, but after two weeks of that he stopped breathing.
We don't have proper rituals of mourning, not ones that I know of, so I've been bumbling around, giving lectures, keeping my office door closed, eating the sidekick's biscuits, crying every day for the last five weeks – mostly when someone asks me how I am, or I re-read Hamlet, or try to phone my oh-so-splendid mother and be brave for her. Brave for her. God knows, I knew it would be sad when it happened – but even when he had cancer ten years ago, and we joked about the stories we'd tell at his funeral – it never seemed possible that someone so stouthearted and loud and solid could die. My Dad, who spent the last sixty-five years of his life making up for WWII cream rationing, who in 2003 walked up to a riot squad cop outside Philip Ruddock's house and demanded, demanded in the name of Australia (go, Dad!), that the cop stop pulling a protester by her hair, who divided his toast equally with the dog. He said he and Mum had four children before they worked out what was causing us. He would cry in ghostly tones from the far end of the house, "Coffee for your poor father". He pronounced vegetables with four syllables for fun. He'd get cranky with the tv when ever anyone said "vunrable" instead of "vulnerable". He quoted bits of poems at apparently irrelevant moments – "Butting down the channel in the mad, March days", "Young Lochinvar has come out of the West", "Margaret, are you grieving?", "But if we fail, we fail", "Water, water everywhere", "Under the spreading chestnut tree". He only ever wore grey socks, except when he had on his fawn shorts and then he'd wear fawn socks, and as long as I can remember, he's worn white underpants and a white singlet. He'd eat pizza with abandon, saying, "Have you ever seen a dead Italian?" Sometimes he'd eat Chinese take-away with abandon, saying, "Have you ever seen a dead Chinaman?" He'd encourage me to take a piece of beef, saying, "The cow's completely vegetarian." Or "This is the poor man's lettuce." He called the radio the wireless, and spoke lovingly of crystal sets, and relief maps. He planted trees. He sexed potatoes. For about two years, he worked his way through each of the recipes in the Charmaine Solomon curry cookbook.
When I was a kid, I spent most Saturday afternoons at the beach with my father. There was always an ice-cream ("If your mother asks, you must tell her the truth, but no need to say anything about ice-cream if she doesn't"), and usually a trip to the nursery, and a great sprawling chat in the 45 minute drive home from the sea. When I was fourteen, writing a short story about apocalypse-by-laser-gun, Dad drove me to the Sydney University physics library so I could read up on electromagnetic radiation (I spent six hours working out the cataloguing system). He'd always offer to test me before Latin exams. "Hic haec hoc," he'd say, infuriatingly. "What does that mean?" He'd similarly test my sisters, who could do dizzying things with maths: "What are five sevens? Two plus two?" He'd drive me to music rehearsals, sit outside for two hours, drive me home again, and the talks we had were glorious: God, communism, eating animals. I didn't ever ask him if the lifts were a trouble, I don't think; it was understood that he'd enjoy ferrying me around.
I'm writing this because my mother told me last weekend that she wanted me to keep putting stuff here, but before I can put stuff here, darling Mum, I have to say something about the hole in our world. You know how much Dad loved you, and I hope with all my heart that he is somewhere now, surrounded by Devonshire teas and scruffy stout dogs, loving you still.