LETTERS | Lifeboats - A Letter For My Dad
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
8:45pm, the day after Father’s Day, watching Korean drama with the heated blanket on. The same one you have. The soundtrack is a beat up black cassette mix tape, playing Verdelle Smith's 'Tar and Cement'.
I’m thinking book cases. Of building them in either side of the TV, all the way up to the ceiling and putting down lights in at the top. I’m thinking of painting the room blue. Or some kind of forest green that makes me feel like I’m on a mountain somewhere. In a jungle. I’m thinking pictures on walls and back yard barbecues to have. Jobs to do that I don’t do. Not because I’m lazy, but because I think I just want to do them next to you. Because you’re my Dad and fixing things has always been part of how you love us.
That crack on the outside wall in the driveway? Truly, you need to stop stressing over it. I like the idea that at some point, it won’t just be some patched split between bricks. It’ll be a job done that I’ll probably look at one day and remember not that it was there, but that there was a Bunnings trip with my Dad involved, where you’ll teach me what I need to render it after it’s finished. Because consistency is key, we'll buy Bunnings snags on the way out and I'll probably also buy a plant that I'll kill in a matter of months. Hilariously even that rosemary bush you took the saw to at the start of the year and said it would grow back (it’s not growing back, Dad, I checked) I almost want to leave there, just as it is. Everyone else will see a stump, but to me it’ll always be a funny story that I remember every time I step out of the drive way. I like that, coming or going, I will never pass my own letterbox without laughing. Not everybody gets to do that.
Opposite me is the desk I brought home from my last holiday to Sydney. The one that belonged to Aunty Rita before she passed away and has now become my favourite place in the whole house to write. Unlike my work desk, which is realistically actually just a dining table covered in monitors and absolute unfettered chaos, Rita’s unassuming old Queen Anne is where I write about what I love, now. It’s…I don’t know…peaceful. Whenever I sit down at it, it feels like its been waiting for me all day. Like a perfect cup of tea that magically never gets cold. Only a few things sit on it. There’s some books I can’t wait to read. A lamp. A piece of driftwood with a glass bowl melded to it like a tear drop, full of white quartz, beach glass and shells from the last time I was near the water. Because I am like you and there will never be a day where I don’t feel like I was always born to return into a tide someday, no matter how far away from the water’s edge I am. I’m always near the water, even in my head.
Beside these treasures sits the jewellery box you made me for my birthday. Right now it holds all the cards people gave me that day. But soon - when the moments to sit, breathe and just be still are less few and far between than they are now, between work and uni - I’ll fill it with other precious things I have stowed around the place. It’s so beautiful, Dad. Especially under the lamp. I love the grain of it and how the whole box looks like gold sand at sunset when the wave that broke on it is retreating back from the shore in the sun. It’s warm, and real, and authentic. It’s you and the good, kind, lasting work of your hands. I love that when I met one of the biggest year milestones of my life, your thought was to make me something I can keep and fill up with things that make my heart grateful, until one day it passes to someone else to do the same.
That’s what I love about you, though. I love how scattered everywhere throughout my world are these constant meaningful reminders of how you’re not just my dad, but one of my absolute truest, best friends. I love that we can go out like we did today, sit in a coffee house and just hang out talking shop; that you use the wisdom of your experience to teach me something new, but never do it in a way that disrespects the depth of my own life experience. You value what I bring to the table the same way I value what you bring, and I want you to know that it never goes unnoticed.
I want you to know how much I appreciate the way you challenge my perspective, even when we really disagree on things. I want you to know how happy it makes me when I get to laugh with you (Do I ever want to explain my time on dating apps to you ever again, or how they work? No. Does it always make me snort laugh when I think of that time I found myself with no choice but to explain to you how swiping and Tinder worked? Or that time you told me maybe it was all less about finding Mr Right and maybe I should consider Mr Right Now with a view to banging him into shape? Yes. I snort laugh on occasion to the point that I think I’m going to cough up a kidney. Especially after I’ve had too many cocktails.) (Also, please never use the word 'banging' in that context again. Like, ever. I see where you were coming from, I appreciate the effort and that you were talking in metaphorical carpentry terms, but just...look, just trust me on this one.)
But what I treasure most between us is that there’s always a space - always - where, even if sometimes we get really frustrated, or we argue and the words come out wrong, I never live with a single second of doubt that you love me, that you’re proud of me, or that there’s a safe place to land beside you, in the home you and Mum have worked so tirelessly and lovingly over the course of your lives, to build. I love that the net you cast has never failed me once, even if I happen to fall from the highest height there is. Something which has happened more than you realise, I think.
Do you remember that day we gave the keys back when I sold the other house? We sat in the truck in the driveway, surveying that truly wild amount of renovating we did with not much more than the returned airfare amount I got back when COVID cancelled my plans for Paris that year. I remember thinking how great you were at being a dad to me, at every age, and how amazing that was given you’d lost yours at such a formative age.
How you did it - bury him on the Thursday and marry Mum on the Saturday - without coming apart at the seams of who you are…I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much I think, even now, about what that must have been like for you. Not just because he was your Dad and you’re mine, but because you and I are so alike as human beings and I can’t imagine what it would be like to meet that moment, in front of all the people I loved, and not have you next to me.
That was the first time you ever told me fully about the day he’d passed. To be honest, I’d wanted to ask for a long time. I think because the man behind glass, up there on the wall in the black and white war photo, on the back of that old Triumph Bonneville…sometimes I wonder how much of him stares back at me in the mirror. Sometimes, getting ready in the morning I’ll have a moment where I stare into my own eyes for a few seconds, touch my cheek and think about how the only way I have to know him is through your memories and the handful of expressions on my own face that always feel like maybe they belonged to someone else before they were mine.
But asking about him that day, was hard. It was hard because I love you and because I’d always been conscious of what a brutal thing it must be to lose a parent like that. To have them torn out of the fabric of your life, sudden, hard and raw as a stab. I didn’t want to bring up that pain for you. You’d spoken a lot since we were kids about what you think he would have felt towards me and Laura, but til that moment I don’t think you’d never spoken to me about what it was for you to lose him. That day we were covered in gunk from cleaning. You had one hand on the steering wheel even though we weren’t driving anywhere, and told me about putting him in the ambulance, no chance to have any kind of meaningful goodbye and wondering if you’d see him alive again. Which you didn’t. There were no clear last words. No passing grace of a final ‘I love you’ and 'this is what you mean to me'. I’ve thought so much over the course of my life, about how that happened to you, and the kind of man and father you chose to be everyday as a result. I think of Mavis, and her old saying about how you can either let life make you bitter or better, and how in the end, even when the day’s been long and mean, you’ve always ultimately chosen to be better.
Above all I think about how grateful I am that whenever the time comes for either of us, we never have to fear the important word that went unsaid. I think of all that loss that’s passed over and through the world, especially these last few years, and all the conversations that never happened because people always seem to be waiting for the right time to say the things that matter.
Thank you for being someone who doesn’t wait to say those things. For teaching your daughters - in a world that would so often tell them so differently - that our being girls had nothing to do with how capable we were to be smart and strong and enough in this life. Thank you for reminding us that there is pride in the work of your hands and power in the integrity of your heart. Thank you for the lessons of grace, faith, forgiveness and for teaching us that we really could do hard things. For all the fixed taps, repaired roofs, assembled flat packs, mix tapes full of music that you thought it would be a crime not to expose us to (I still know all the words to Hurricane. AND Snoopy and The Red Baron) and the car conversations about life. Thank you for being someone who wears your heart on your sleeve. For being abundantly, wildly kind and encouraging, and for teaching me the formidable, absolute truth in C.S. Lewis’s words, by example, that to love at all really is to be vulnerable. Thank you for being a man who reminds me daily that being a good man - a good human being - isn’t something you’re born with, but a choice you are responsible for making every day. Thank you for making that choice, and being the warmth of the grace of God in my universe, always.
I am so proud to be your daughter, humbled to have been your student at times, but grateful above all, with the fullest heart, to call you my friend. I'm so glad you're my dad.
Love you always,
(Also yes, I will eventually get my stuff out of the basement.)