Thursday, 11 March 2010


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.


Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

What a sad loss, and what a wonderful eulogy you have written for him here. He sounds like a lovely man.

These times are what sidekicks and biscuits are for. xx

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Thanks, K. Such a lovely man, and a right proper dad. He would have loved to meet you, I suspect. xx

KD said...

A truly beautiful eulogy, A. Thanks for letting us read it.

Cistern Harlot said...

Sob. Thanks, dear Lexicon, for writing this. love, k

Ampersand Duck said...

oh my goodness.

That was such a lovely treatment of what must have been a shocking... shock. Sorry, words not working.

All I can say is that the pittance of a time spent with your father (and hearing his splendid speech) is something I will treasure even more within the memories of your nuptuals.

big virtual hug with lashings of chocolate (free trade).

Mitzi G Burger said...

Sometimes there isn't enough poetry in the world for what we need to say and trumpet what we wish to from the turrets of our hearts, and bravely said, your post here, for sharing your sorrowful joy with us. A fellow of grandness and gladness, your Dad. We'll help you miss him.

Tim said...

I am very sorry to hear this, Alexis. This is a lovely post.

Kate said...

So sorry to hear the bad news. This is a really lovely post in honor of your dad - I feel like I got to know him a little by reading it. Hugs.

Jayne said...

I'm so sorry.
Thinking of you and your family.

boynton said...

Such a moving eulogy.

I am so sorry for your loss.

Wool Spaniel said...

"Nobly, nobly Cape Saint Vincent to the north-west died away. Sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cadiz Bay."

Tears streaming down my cheeks. Thanks for your beautiful thoughts.

Love you.

genevieve said...

LH, he sounds too good to lose.
Very sad for you and your family.
Hugs xx

BwcaBrownie said...

How lucky you were to have a father who could inspire your eulogy, and who could create a daughter like you.
He deserved to live a hundred years and I send you sympathy and love.

Dale Slamma said...

This must be strange from someone who is essentially a stranger but I am most sincerely sorry for your loss.

Anonymous Bosch said...

Your dad sounds like quite a character. You obviously have happy memories and, in the long run, none of us can hope for more than that.

Condolences . . .

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Dear youse, thank you all so much for sharing this with me, and for your warmth and kindness.

One of the things Dad taught me was how to outwit a wave that's too big to surf. He told me to take a big breath and dive under it. I had to dive so deep I could grab a handful of sand and carry it up to the far side of the wave. I wasn't a good surfer, but I used to spend hours diving under and under and under, feeling like a magic porpoise (which reminds me, he always substituted "porpoises" for "purposes"). Anyway, the analogy I want to make will only go so far, but there's something to be said for not struggling with a thing like this - but taking a breath and disappearing for a goodly while and surfacing when the time's right. Not quite sure what I mean by that, but the big breath bit is right.

Special love to you, Cistern and Wool Spaniel.

ThirdCat said...

I want to write something wise and useful, but there isn't anything.
Dads are precious.
Thanks for sharing him with us. I mean that most sincerely.

You are in my thoughts

Anonymous said...

One ritual of mourning that I have heard of is, I think, from Norway. Those who are grieving wear a black armband and it is understoond by the community that they are suffering, and deserving of special consideration including, for example, a quiet seat on the train or the right just to look sad without offering any further explanation. What is especially helpful is that there is no timelimit for wearing the token of one's grief.

Twas a beautiful eulogy, and much love to you in the sadness surf.

Caz said...

My father died 26 years ago today.

What a loving piece for me to stumble across on this day.

I think your father was a better parent and a better man than mine, and it's quite precious to read your memories of him.

I still miss the father I might have had. I'm glad you have such cherished memories of the father you did have.

Anon - I really like that armband idea, especially that it has no time limit. On that basis one could bring it out every now and again, when grief and sadness resurface, without having to feel apologetic or pathetic. Yes, I like that idea a great deal.

My sympathies to you and your family Lexicon.

And on off topic - you and Tim, hey? - whoo hoo! Damned wonderful!

Zoe said...

Such a lucky girlhood, with a father like that.


Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

It's true, Zoe; so lucky. And so lucky that I can feel this uncomplicated simple sadness, rather than all the aches so many people feel, of a relationship with too many holes and hurts.

Caz, I'm so sorry you were left with that longing. What a hard thing. (In happier news: me and Tim, I know! He's the best thing everrrrr, just in case anyone was in any doubt.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

And thanks, Anon, and Thirdcat, and everyone again.

plus2 said...

oh lexi - so sorry to read of the hole in your world.

shel just sent me the link and we're thinking of you all/

"...who divided his toast equally with the dog..." is surely the sign of a most generous and warm fellow.