A lot has happened since you went away, you know. Mom and her family went through a TYPHOON in Cebu and lost electricity and power for well over a month. Jay had another child – your granddaughter. She looks just like Jason. Kate says she looks like Mom. You would have been enchanted with her. Alun is working as a Senior Team Member of the Hospital’s Emergency “Resus” group and is loving it. He faces some really traumatic things but brings his knowledge and kindness to every situation. I’m so proud of him. I know you would be, too.
I’m releasing a book this year, Dad. Yep. You heard right. I have a Publisher, Editors and even my own Production team. I can’t believe it. Right now? Now I’m adding this (new) painful chapter 6 months after you passed away – a tribute to you and the amazing man you were.
Here it is:
It’s 6 months after the day you went away, Dad – and even now, it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. It feels like I’ve suddenly been hit by a Mack Truck every time I go to send you a text and remember I can’t. It feels like the world is crashing down around me every time I remember that you’ve died. When I remember I can’t call you, Dad – it’s like you’ve died suddenly and unexpectedly all over again. That same shock. That same pain. That same destruction. It’s like an earthquake has hit and every now and then I still get tremors from it. My foundation has been rocked, broken, shattered.
Who am I without you, Dad?
I can’t bear to deal with the grief (In a lot of ways, I’m running from having to face it), so instead I want to write to you and remind myself of everything I loved about you.
Firstly, you loved beer. A lot. You drank like a fish, God bless you. Do you remember you even blew up the kitchen cupboards a few times trying to make your own brew? Mom was not impressed.
You were the middle child in the 3 Daniels’ boys of you family. You had an older brother Trevor who suffered (we suspect – you and I) from Schizophrenia. Uncle Trevor hung himself when he was a young man. Your younger brother Andrew was the family favourite. “Uncle” (BAH!) Andrew was spoiled. He is a very ugly human being on the inside and made you absolutely miserable. I have no time for him. I never met my Grandfather. He died in a terrible car crash. I met my Grandmother; a frail, quiet woman who wore fragile cardigans, had a dog called “George” and smelled like moth balls, roses and wet dog. She spoke quietly and was the first – and possibly only – person to call you “Gerald“. I remember being confused when I heard her call you “Gerald” because you’ve always referred to yourself as “Gerry” – and so do all your mates.
I know that you absolutely adored Mom. You were crazy about her. I would often find you just looking at Mom – humming away to herself as she cooked/ironed, just watching tv or watering the garden – with a look of complete love and wonder on your face. You found Mom utterly hilarious. English isn’t Mom’s first language so as she learnt, she’d question things – why were they called this, why did we say that – and often get song lyrics wrong – much to your great amusement. You would try to encourage ‘your fellow working man’ (your words) by yelling “Up the workers!” as you left building sites. Mom heard that, so the next time she was with you, she yelled at the top of her lungs “Up yours, workers!” and you cried laughing about it. You gleefully repeated that story about 1000 times to anyone who would listen and cry laughing every single time.
You would look at Jay (my younger brother) the way a person would if they found a huge diamond or a big chunk of gold. Jay was a treasure, and you cherished his every movement and breath as if the sun rose and fell in him. Whenever you were with my brother, you acted as if you were a fisherman who had just reeled in the catch of his life – overjoyed. You found my half-brother to be faultless, funny, clever, handsome…all things wonderful. You were Jay’s biggest fan, fierce protector and most passionate advocate.
I didn’t realise until I watched a few videos of you recently that you mumbled a lot and had a deep, gruff voice. Because you smoked like a chimney, you would often cough as you talked but it didn’t stop you talking for hours on end. Wherever you were, you made your presence known. You were always taking, humming, mumbling and muttering. You made happy sounds as you noisily made his way through the world, you were not one for being quiet. I remember, you often walked around singing bits from your favourite songs. Never a complete song, you’d get bored and move onto another ‘bit’ from another song. You sang all the time. You loved music and so many of your favourite bands wrote a lot of cheesy, romantic songs. You absolutely loved Chicago, Air Supply, TOTO, the Beatles, Phil Collins, Elton John, Bob Dylan…you also introduced me to a love of Tracey Chapman. Do you remember you played her first cd like a teenager? Over and over every day for months on end. It’s because of that, I know every word to every song on her first album.
I love that you delighted in making a friend and in helping a friend. Anyone in need would be project of yours and you loved to help where you could and then talk for ages about it to Mom, Jay and I. I mostly think you liked the social interaction and the connection between people that only seems to occur when you talk to each other over a long period of time. Over time, I’ve witnessed people of all ages and stages of life fall for your charms, Dad. I’ve seen it happen like it was the most natural thing in the world. You would meet someone, beam a big grin with your friendly, rubber-like face “G’day – I’m Gerry” and happily pump their hand in introduction. You’d lead them to somewhere comfortable to sit and start talking to them.
It was almost magical how you would get pretty much anyone to open up about their lives. You’d manage to latch onto something they said that you knew enough about to hold a conversation and off you’d go – friends for life. For instance, you would meet people who were Buddhist, and you’d talk to them as if you were practising right alongside them. If someone liked movies, you would talk to them about your favourites and have them laughing in minutes. If someone believed in Astronomy, you would give you examples of how you and Mom clash as Aries and Taurus but ultimately are crazy about each other. Whatever it is someone was passionate about, you can bet that you had something interesting to add. Something meaningful. I loved that you’d meet people where they were at and have them laughing in moments; feeling understood, enjoying the fact that they’d found someone who was genuinely interested in what they were interested in.
If someone needed a place to stay, our home was always offered. If someone was ‘down on their luck’, you would want to help them out. If someone needed money, you were the first to want to shout them a meal and a drink and to support them with money wherever you could. I grew up knowing that you loved to help people and were so pleased whenever you had the opportunity to make someone’s life a little easier. I’m so proud of you, Dad.
For some insane reason, you loved talking about bodily functions – especially poo, God bless you. No matter what the conversation was about, you would sneakily find a way to ask “Have you had a poo today?” in there or would loudly announce “Love, I need to go for a poo”…in later years, you would wink and wiggle your head (your patented sign for “I am so pleased”) as you would say with a grin “I need to go you-know-where to do a you-know-what, Chook”
You loved talking for hours about nothing and everything. You loved telling what I call “Dad facts” at every and any opportunity. You loved old war movies, British comedies (you knew every line on every episode of “Faulty Towers” and knew pretty much every line and song in any Monty Python skit/film), meat pies, a frosty glass of Guinness, time with Mom and Jay, having a ‘good yarn’ with your many friends, animals, art, history, signs and wonders (you were so open to magical things that you were truly convinced every time you saw something slightly unusual/out of the ordinary that it was ‘a sign’) and being around your friends – of which you had loads.
Speaking of ‘signs and wonders’, Dad – do you remember when we were in America? You and I went to a nearby “Sports bar” and to my disgust (I was easily embarrassed at 13) you chatted to the bartender for ages. You liked the cups (they were huge, cream-coloured plastic cups with the bar’s name emblazoned around the rim in bright red with a black and white picture of someone sporty and famous on it – a baseball player of some kind? I don’t know) their beer was served in, and the bartender wanted to give you a new one “to keep as a souvenir”. You were delighted. The bartender came back with a new, unopened box of cups. He unpacked them onto the bar in columns and gave you a random sample cup as he sorted through them.
I remember, you turned the cup in your hand to admire it and were surprised to see that along the bottom of the cup, hand-written in black marker…was the name “Jerry”.
“It was made for me, babygirl” you would exclaim proudly as you told the story of the mystical cup over the years to come. “It was spelt wrong” I would dryly correct. “It was a sign, Janet” you would insist “A cup with my name on it that the bartender plucked out of a brand-new box… made just for me”. I think you carried that cup with you throughout our travels and told anyone who would listen about it, you were so ‘chuffed’ (your word for ‘pleased’) about it.
You loved medical things. Did you secretly want to be a Doctor, Dad? You and Mom basically owned and carried about (if you could) a small chemist. Any time I had a headache or pain in my body, you would want to know all about it. As I was explaining my symptoms, you would be rifling through your huge collection of medication and would gleefully be telling me what to take. Usually multivitamins. Any ailment at all – you would say to 1) Have a shower 2) Have a poo 3) have a cup of tea (or in your case, a cold beer) and 4) take a multivitamin. Every. Single. Time.
I love that you laughed loudly and often. You found humour in everything around you. You especially liked singing Monty Python’s “always look on the bright side of life” and whistling along to it. I can’t hear that song now without bursting into tears. You always pulled funny faces in photographs, you would laugh every single day and encourage everyone around you to do the same.
Oh my word, you loved to dance. At parties/weddings – if there was some 60’s, 70’s and 80’s music playing – then you would be out there, murdering the dancefloor with your Mick Jagger moves. I hadn’t realised it until now, but you moved gracefully and somehow took up the entire dancefloor with your favourite dance moves.
Anywhere with a pool and you can bet you’d be in it, paddling around and talking to everyone around you with a smile. Anywhere with a bar and the same – you would gravitate that way – often subconsciously – and make a friend or two to while away the afternoon with.
It made me laugh that you would always injure yourself on holiday – always beer-related. Injuries would usually involve your knee, arm (sore or grazed elbow) or your head. Mostly your head, now that I think about it – from not realising how tall you were and walking into many a doorframe or from swimming along the bottom of the pool with your eyes shut (Oh Dad) and bumping your head on one of the sides.
Your hands were calloused and rough from all your work with painting houses and I loved whenever you held my hand. It gave me so much comfort having your big bear paw around mine. Because you were a painter, your wallet and mobile phone would always be covered in splatters of paint. That always made me smile. I love the smell of fresh paint because it reminds me of you, Dad.
You loved dogs and found them hilarious. You loved all animals, actually. You liked quietly watching animals and you’ve always treated animals with care and appreciation. Growing up, I can remember you bringing home baby birds that had been abandoned, armfuls of kittens that you’d found, stray dogs…they all ended up cared for in our home. I think in another life, you would have loved being a Vet.
In social events, you would love being surrounded by friends but now that I think of it, you would hang back and observe for most of the time with a big smile on your face. You quietly observed a lot of life, actually. I know how much you loved talking, but you’d quietly notice things others wouldn’t even think to consider and comment on them later. For instance, did you know you’re the only person in the world who knows I blush? Yep. I’m dark-brown so I didn’t think I did…I obviously get embarrassed – but I thought blushing was more prevalent in lighter-skinned people. You told me that I blush in a light pink line across my forehead. It touches my heart that you noticed that, you know. I didn’t think you ever really noticed me for so much of my life, so now that you’re gone I cling tightly to memories like that.
You taught me to love Art Galleries, Libraries, little old-fashioned corner bookstores and the origins of a well-told story. You loved well-written books and you favourite Authors were Wilbur Smith, Bryce Courtenay and Jeffrey Archer. Because of you, I read their books now, too. I have for years. You also really enjoyed a great spy novel and fictional books about war and overcoming challenges, bless you.
You loved miniature things for some weird reason. I made a tiny vase of tiny flowers – each complete with teeny-tiny flower petals – painstakingly made by my little hands when I was younger – and I was surprised at how you marvelled over them (the flowers were smaller than a half grain of rice) for months. I’ve done some pretty awesome things in my life, but you seemed most proud when I did something Art-like. Maybe it reminded you of your older brother Trevor – who was an amazing artist and made beautiful, small, detailed statues from clay.
I know that you added Tobasco sauce to almost every savoury meal. You weren’t really one for sweets, but you loved spicy food, pizza and meat pies a lot. You also loved seafood and once at a “Gold Club” in the movies, you ordered a plate of cheeses. I rolled my eyes at the time – why do you need CHEESE during a movie, Dad? But out of the corner of my eye, I watched you gently cutting up bits of cheese and munching happily on them. So cute.
You were a big fan of Art and were really artistic in the every-day work that you did. Even though you painted houses for a living (I wonder where you learnt it? Did you go to a tech college to learn, Dad?), you made all these amazing effects/finishes and if there was a home project you could get involved with, you loved to add colour. I remember once I had to attend a school ball. My ball dress was a mix of purples and different blues and I couldn’t find shoes to match. I had a pair of white flats, so you painted them in the exact same shades of purples and blues. With house paint, mind you. I didn’t know whether to be appalled or impressed…now that I can look back on it as an adult, I’m impressed. It shows that you actually had a lot of talent. I think you would have loved being an artist – a painter of canvasses as well as house walls. I think of you whenever I stroll through an Art Gallery, thinking to myself “Dad would have loved this”.
I remember how you loved any opportunity to teach. You always took lost young men under your wing and taught them the painting trade. Your face lit up with joy whenever Mom, Jay or I would ask you a question and would delight in long “lectures” (your word) about anything we went to you with. You would talk for hours and end with “Okay Chook, end of long and boring lecture”. Those exact words every single time. You were a patient teacher and rejoiced if we learnt something from you. Even now I can hear your deep gruff voice explaining something to me “Darl, this tap/seat/car/bridge was made long ago in history, by a man/woman named…” and on you would go – taking me on some historical adventure. I loved your stories and your wealth of knowledge, Dad. Even though I suspect most of the things you told me were “Dad facts”.
On the day you went away, you took a piece of me with you.
I don’t think I will ever recover from the loss, Dad. Not ever.
I hadn’t realised it before, but there is so much of you in everything I do. I will crack a book open, lift the pages to my nose and breathe in the scent of an adventure in every bookstore – because I learnt that from you. I will always put out my hand with a big grin on my face and introduce myself like that – because that’s how you do it. I will always be the first to offer to help a mate out because you always did that, your generosity knew no bounds. I don’t remember if you taught me to tie my laces or how to swim…but I remember you taught me to root for the underdog, to look out for the lonely, to help the lost and how to truly be a friend. Those are the lessons that matter, and you taught them with so much love that they are part of my very DNA, Dad. Even though I’m not your natural daughter, you are part of my heart and you always will be.
In closing, (haha why am I being so formal in my letter to you?) I will always hear the echo of your gravelly, deep laugh whenever I watch a British comedy or quote a Monty Python line (“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”). I will always remember your friendly voice “G’day mate, I’m Gerry!” whenever I pass a beer garden on a sunny day. I will close my eyes and feel your calloused hand around mine whenever I feel scared to speak up “Babygirl, get your feelings from your heart, to your head…and out of your mouth (you’d point to your heart, your head and your mouth as you were telling me this – probably for the 100th time because this was a favourite ‘lecture’ to give) because then it doesn’t weigh you down…and never, ever give up” …and I will forever hate the sun for rising on the day you went away.
I look exactly like Mom, but on the inside, I’m exactly like you, Dad. Isn’t that weird? I love the same music and books as you, I learnt calligraphy because you seemed so enchanted by it and I’m popular because you taught me how to be a good friend.
One of your favourite songs is “In the Living years” by Mike and the Mechanics. It’s about a son reflecting back on his strained relationship with his Father when his Dad dies – and wishing it was different. I think you liked it so much because you related to it. I’m guessing you and your Dad weren’t close. Well…know this, Dad. You and I were very close. You were – and always will be – my hero. I love you so very, very much.
I look back on that Facetime – the very last time I saw you alive and I remember with great pride the last things we said to each other:
I said “I love you, Dad – be a good boy”
You replied “Haha of course, Chook. Love you to the moon and back”
And I’m thankful, Dad. I’m thankful those were the last words we said to each other. We couldn’t have left it any better. Your chapter ended suddenly, but everything in your book of life was so beautiful.
How ironic that I spent my whole life looking for my “real” (biological) Dad and it was only when you died that I realised the Dad I’d always wanted was always right in front of my eyes.
I love you, Dad. I always will.
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