“Are you sure this is a good idea?” the frown on Mom’s beautiful face deepened. I put my hands gently on both sides of her face; so she had no choice but to see the determination in my eyes.
“It’s going to be fine, Mom – I’ll take good care of Dad”
At this, we both turned to look at Dad sitting in the living room. His favourite episodes of “Faulty Towers” were on and knowing Dad knew every line but laughed anyway made me smile.
“Aren’t you sick of watching these?” I asked Mom, putting an arm around her as we walked to living room to collect bags of food for the road trip. (I’d bought heaps, but Mom wasn’t convinced and had made some extra rice and adobo “for on the road”. How we were supposed to eat this “on the road” was beyond me – but it put Mom at ease, so I gathered up the bags of food regardless).
“Your Dad loves it” Mom smiled across at Dad “So I don’t mind watching it over and over…it makes him happy”.
I’d loaded the bags we’d need for our 3-day trip down to Margaret River and back earlier that afternoon. I’d tried to pack lightly – but I’m a girl, so I brought several changes of outfits “just in case” along with basically any electrical device I “couldn’t live without” including my GHD straighteners, my laptop, chargers for everything and even a spare phone battery should mine run out. The back seat was filled with bags.
Dad rolled his eyes when he saw it “Women” he muttered “Why did you have to pack so much, Babygirl?”
“Mind your business, Dad” I opened the car and gently helped Dad into the front passenger seat.
“You’re just like your Mother” Dad laughed “Isn’t she, Mahal?” he called out happily to Mom. “I only need an extra pair of stubbies and a spare t-shirt” he boasted “Oh, and maybe a clean pair of undies as a backup. I can turn mine inside out and get another day’s wear out of them”
I groaned “Ew Dad! I don’t want to know about your underwear!”
“What are you complaining about, Janny?” Mom asked, worried.
“Nothing” I smiled brightly to reassure her. “All good”.
I focused instead on carefully strapping Dad in and making sure he was secure and comfortable; I walked over to the driver’s seat and opened the door.
Mom stood worried at my side.
“Mom…this is something I have to do. I’ve wanted to go on a road trip with Dad all my life – you know he’ll be in good hands, right?” I tried to assure Mom. I put my arm around her and held her close for a side-hug.
“It’s just…” Mom’s bottom lip wobbled, and it broke my heart. “Your Dad and I haven’t been apart for even a day in almost 5 years, now. We’re always together. We have morning coffee together. We sit together all day and play games on our phones. I don’t like to be away from him…but I know, my Janny…I know this is important to you to have time with your Dad so…I’ll be okay” at this, she wiped a tear away.
I bit my lip, suddenly uncertain. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea if it was going to cause Mom so much anxiety. On impulse, I turned Mom to face me.
“If this upsets you, Mom – I won’t go on the road trip and Dad can just come back inside with you”
“No, no. You’re right. You need this time together. Dad-and-daughter time” Mom nodded, resolute now. “Go, Janny. Go and have fun. Look after your Dad”
“I will, Mom” I promised.
As we pulled out of Mom’s apartment block car park, I could see her waving in the rear-view mirror. I took a deep breath and glanced across at Dad who was looking out the window with a smile playing on his lips. The windows were down, and I could see Dad enjoying the wind across his dear face.
“How about some music, old chap?” I asked.
I linked up to the Bluetooth AUX from my phone and hit play on the special “Roadtrip Tuuuuuuunes” I’d created the week earlier; a mixture of Dad’s favourite bands and artists (including The Beatles, Cat Stephens, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, James Taylor, Chicago, Air Supply, Mike and the Mechanics) and mine (mostly Ed Sheeran, Newton Faulkner, loads of 90’s R&B and some Hillsong music to sing along to) and smiled as Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman” started up.
“I love this song, Chook!” Dad smiled and started singing along.
“Remember you limited this song to just once per day on our Road trip around Australia because Jay and I were obsessed with it and you were sick of hearing it on repeat?” even as I asked, the memory of Dad almost losing his mind at our 8th play of it in a row during the first few days of that long road trip made me smile.
“Oh believe me, I know. You both drove me nuts with this bloody song” Dad agreed “Although…Jay was only a little boy at the time – I don’t know if he genuinely liked it or just wanted to be the same as you. You were his hero, you know”
At this, tears sprung to my eyes, reminding me that Jay hadn’t spoken to me in 5 years.
The words “you were his hero” echoed in the air around us and made my chest ache.
Dad went back to looking out the window, bopping his head to beat as he sang along. I knew every word but held back from singing along so I Dad could have his moment. I hadn’t realised earlier, but Dad’s voice is surprisingly tuneful. Dad has a deep, gruff voice and sings in a lower key, but softly. As Dad continued to sing and watch the landscape go by, I subtly turned the volume down so I could hear him more clearly.
Dad picked up the map book that was wedged between us in the driver’s console “Ah, an oldy but a goodie!” he exclaimed.
“You’ve always told me that these are important to learn to use” I reminded Dad.
Dad beamed at me “Proud of you, Chook. It took you over 25 years to do it, but you finally got your licence, eh? Look at you go!”
I rolled my eyes but was pleased and couldn’t wipe the grin from my face.
“We finally did it, Dad”
Dad laughed “But…do you know your left from your right, though?”
Instantly, a memory of my Dad giggling as he wrote a large “L” on my left hand and a large “R” on my right hand with thick (permanent) black marker flashed up in my mind. It hadn’t gone down well with my Driving instructor for my driving test that day. I came home telling Dad that I’d failed instantly because I was so nervous and the instructor had eyed my hands warily even before we’d begun. “This is your fault” the 19-year-old version of me had accused, exasperated. It didn’t stop tears running down Dad’s face from laughing.
We both laughed at the memory of that afternoon.
“I was just trying to help” Dad offered.
“You are a cheeky sod, is what” I countered.
We laughed again. This was fun.
I was beginning to really enjoy our road trip and we were only now just passing the city.
Miles went by in what seemed like the blink of an eye as Dad and I listened to my playlist and then just random tunes on the radio. Dad laughed when I sang along to radio jingles. I’d spent a week planning out our 3-day trip and had a carefully curated ‘Dad & Janet Inventory’ of all the things Dad and I would do – with a list of all the places we’d stop and check out.
Number 1: ‘The Crooked Carrot’ road-stop café.
“This place looks a bit…weird” Dad frowned but his eyes twinkled “Are you sure we should stop here?”
“It’s highly rated on TripAdvisor, Dad – give it a chance. We’ll grab something hot to eat and have a toilet break, then we can be back on the road and arrive in Bussleton just as the sun sets”
“That’s a very strict plan you have there, chook” Dad looked impressed.
“Of course! We’ll hopefully be able to see the sun going down over the main beach in Bussleton and then check into the glamping tent for 6:00pm on the dot” I winked and started walking towards the ‘Crooked Carrot’s’ entrance.
Minutes later, Dad and I walked back to the car, arms laden with snacks; a golden-brown sausage roll for Dad and 4 curry samosas for me.
“These are disgusting” Dad said, biting into his sausage roll with gusto. Dad complained loudly, but I noted he ate it all. I watched as Dad scrunched up the paper bag it had come with and carefully put it into the ‘bin’ I’d fastened to the dashboard. Even though Dad will never admit it, he actually really likes sausage rolls. We both do.
“Hmm…do we have any beer, love?” Dad looked so hopeful I couldn’t help but smile.
“In the back, Dad” I pointed behind me to the esky on the back seat.
“Can we pull over so your old man can have a nice beer and wash the taste of that junk away?” Dad asked, nudging me in the shoulder.
Sighing, I pulled over onto the side of the road and rummaged around in the back to get out a cold bottle of beer for Dad. While I was there, I grabbed a lemon ‘lift’ for myself and clicked the can open, taking huge gulps. This was actually a good idea. I’d forgotten to get these out earlier and it gave me a chance to stretch my back and my legs before getting back in.
“Ah…stretching” Dad observed and nodded “You’re getting old, chook”
“The cheek!” I feigned being insulted.
Dad laughed “I’m just joking. You’ll always be my little girl”
I felt a pang in my heart when I heard his words. It hadn’t meant anything to me when I was a little girl, or as an emotional teenager, or when I was a lost young woman in my 20’s and 30’s…but now? Now it meant absolutely everything.
“And you’ll always be my cheeky Dad” I tried to lighten the heaviness on my chest.
Dad laughed “You bet”.
32 songs, 2 stops for the loo, 1 additional (unexpected) stop when Dad insisted I check the water, oil and air pressure in the tires and almost 2 hours later, we arrived in Busselton. Dad marvelled at the famous Busselton Jetty as we drove by. “This is the longest jetty in Australia, you know” he reminded me.
“Is that a ‘Dad fact’ or is it actually true?” I asked, remembering how much Dad loved an opportunity to teach – as well as an opportunity to tell a tale. He would come up with some pretty convincing “Dad facts” for so many things in mine and Jay’s lives and before the Internet, we basically took his word as Gospel. Now, we could ‘fact check’ and more often than not, things I felt sure of in the past were things he’d made up with grains of truth woven in.
Truthfully, I think I like Dad’s version more.
“Dad facts are the spice of life” Dad nodded, pleased with himself.
I pulled the car into the parking space by the beach and Dad and I got out and found a comfortable spot on the sand right by the water’s edge to sit by together. Dad grimaced as he sat, his knees creaking.
“You’re going to have to pull me back up at some point” he noted “My poor knees!”
“Relax, Dad. I’ve got you”.
Together at the beach that evening, we talked about living in the Northern Territory, the time Jason fell asleep on the bus home from school and ended up at the bus depot an hour away. He was so small back then that because he had laid down on the bus seat, the driver hadn’t seen him until they were at the depot and the driver had done a ‘final inspection’ of the bus to find a tiny boy asleep on one of the seats. Dad laughed and reminded me of the phrases Mom used to get so wrong as she learnt English and we talked about the holidays we’d been on and the things we’d seen that left an impression on us. Dad had taken a ‘solo flight’ in the Grand Canyon (Mom, Jay and I opted for a sleep in and shopping at American Malls) and we’d all toured Disneyland with our mouths open at just how huge it was and how exciting the rides were.
The sun slowly sunk into the sea and night began to slowly close in around us, so I helped Dad up. When we were stood together under the darkening sky with the sea around us and the salty air on our lips and cheeks, Dad put his arm around me.
“I’m glad we did this, Chook”
Item 2: See the sun set on a beach with Dad could now be ticked off.
I swallowed past the lump in my throat “You’re right, this has been pretty cool”
We stood there together for a moment longer before turning towards the carpark and heading towards the Glamping site I had booked for the night. I signed everything at ‘check in’ and I lugged some heavy cases into the tent we were directed to by the Glamping staff. Inside the huge bell tent, it was so luxurious. There was a wrought iron bed, a comfy looking fold-out sofa, a dining table and chairs under a gorgeous chandelier, thick rugs and plush feather-stuffed pillow and bedding.
“Well” Dad remarked “This is a bit flash isn’t it, babygirl?”
“Only the best for us, Dad” I laughed.
“Two guesses who gets the bed” Dad nodded towards it.
“I paid, so I guess I get to stretch out tonight, huh?” I winked and we both laughed.
I lifted my suitcase onto the bed and started to unpack my things for the night.
“I’ll err…just pop out for a quick smoke, love” Dad said, closing the tent flap behind him as he went.
I sighed. Dad really needed to quit smoking. I guess it’s too late to try now.
I sat on the bed, clicked on the “Hubby” icon on my ‘Messenger’ app and called Alun on Facetime.
In seconds, Alun’s handsome face filled the screen.
“Gorg!” He smiled widely at me “I’m guessing you made it to Busselton, then! I’m so proud of you!”
“Yep, I did it, Gorg! Look at me go!” I smiled back.
“That’s your first ever long drive. I wish I was there with you” Alun’s face was suddenly sad “This has got to be especially hard…with…um…” he was struggling not to cry “With your Dad…and how he’s –“
I cut him off quickly.
I didn’t want to hear the rest of his sentence.
“Dad and I going to duck out and get fish and chips across the road for dinner” I found myself shouting “Then we’ll probably watch a movie or read books and have a pretty early night – maybe with popcorn and lollies”.
“Of course you are” Alun groaned “You and your Dad love junk food – even if he complains about it the whole time” Alun laughed as he remembered.
I laughed too, feeling so blessed that just the sight of Alun’s face brought me so much comfort. Especially today.
“Try to get some rest, Gorg. Go and enjoy dinner with your Dad” Alun blew a kiss into the camera.
“You too” I blew one back and winked “And try to sleep in our bed tonight and not on the sofa!” I warned, knowing Alun would definitely sleep on the sofa now that I’d said not to.
“Love you, Gorg. Stay safe, ok?” Alun frowned and waggled his finger at me.
“I’m totes fine – plus, Dad’s here with me” I reminded him.
“Right” Alun nodded.
I clicked to end the call and smiled because I could hear Dad outside coughing.
“You ok, Dad?” I called out, already knowing what his response would be: “Yes, Darl – stop worrying”.
Dad and I had fish and chips at the Jetty café, talking and laughing as we got greasy chins and salt flakes on our faces. I ordered a small fish and chips for one because I knew Dad wouldn’t eat much, so I figured we could just share.
“You know this…stuff…is no good for you, right?” Dad was happily munching on a chunky piece of fish and was trying his best to look disgusted with it, but it wasn’t working because his eyes were twinkling with delight.
“Smoking’s not good for you either and yet…” I pointed to the packet peering out of Dad’s pocket.
“Ok, ok” Dad conceded “Shut up”.
We put our rubbish and empty drink cans in a nearby bin, dusting off our hands and walked back to the Glamping site. The tent came with a flat-screen TV and Foxtel, so we both sat on the sofa and cheered when “Life of Brian” started on the screen.
“Hahhaha such a good one!” Dad was delighted.
“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” I quoted one of our favourite lines.
“He ate all my Juniper berries and stood on my foot!” Dad quoted another one.
We both laughed. We were crying laughing at the “stoning” scene. Dad had to go outside ‘for a break, Chook’ so that we wouldn’t wind each other up and could each catch our breath. I love watching anything by Monty Python with Dad. He gave me a love of wry, clever, British comedy and we loved the same movies. I like to think that when it comes to movies and books, I’m a lot like Dad. We have similar tastes and just quietly, I’m actually really proud of that.
Hours later, the credits were rolling, and Dad was snoring. I positioned him securely on the sofa and smiled down at him.
“1 day down…2 to go, Dad” I whispered.
Dad was pursing his lips and saying “boop” with every exhalation of breath. Bless him. Mom loves when he does this and has made me come and witness “Dad blowing bubbles” throughout much of my life.
I wish I could tape this for Mom.
Instead, I put my pyjamas on and tuck myself into the thick doona, marvelling at how big, soft and luxurious the bed is. This is how everyone should camp, seriously.
“Night Dad, love you” I call out.
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