My Old Man: the acquaintance

Story Time is a collection of short stories depicting and detailing true events and personal experiences in my life, with a few tweaks for the privacy of all involved.

It’s crazy the way life pans out, sometimes. All the variables, the grey areas, the changes of direction… they make for one hell of a ride. Is it all chance? A coincidence? Or do the stars align just right where they are supposed to be? We won’t ever know the answer to that question but we will all experience this odd and sometimes amazing thing life throws at us – something called timing.

Timing can be on point, timing can be less than great, timing can be coincidental and it can also be perfected. But do you ever feel like there is a secret magnetic force at work, controlling all of this timing?

I never had a lot to do with my dad growing up, he was never in one place too long and was busy having kids with other woman across Australia. He was a gambler, he was a self centred narcissist and he was, unfortunately, a deadbeat dad. He’d show up every now and then throughout my childhood but I never spent a lot of time with him – not enough to form a comfortable relationship with him anyway. When I turned 14, my dad decided it was time for some father-daughter bonding time – so he collected me in his B-double and off we went up the coast to Queensland. It was a 7-day round trip, with the threat of a 2 week detour through the Nullaboar before we headed home. I shut that one down pretty quickly.

We drove through Benalla, Wodonga, Dubbo, Goondiwindi, Sarina, Mackay, Townsville… we went all the way to a place called Innisfail, in Queensland. I remember my favourite part was when we drove through Queensland where all the sugar canes are. It was beautiful around there. Tropical. Now, this all took place a good 15 years ago and although mobile phones were fitted with cameras back then, I have no photos of the week I spent with my dad. I have some blurry memories but over the years, they have faded to cloudy Polaroids in the far depths of my mind. I’ll always be saddened by the people and the moments I never got on camera. You know, those parts of your life that fade over time……

A month or two after our road trip, my dad was found in a coma in his truck just outside of Shepparton. He was airlifted back to Melbourne and spent 3 months in ICU at the Monash. He had pancreatitis and was a type 1 diabetic. His kidneys, pancreas and liver were shutting down. The doctors managed to pull him back from the brink of death, though. I’m not sure what good it did, to be honest. I only knew of my dad as the man with the big belly, in the truck, with the sick sense of humour and an opinion on everything and everyone… you either loved him or you hated him. He was never the same after he got out of hospital, though…

The following year, it was time for me to do work experience at school. I hadn’t organised anything and time was up so my mum spoke to my dad and he set me up to do a week of work at his old depot. He didn’t work there anymore as he wasn’t physically well enough. I had to go and stay with him, his wife and my three year old half brother which I was looking forward to but it wasn’t the way I pictured it to be.

It wasn’t a bonding experience like the road trip – it was uncomfortable, lonely and I felt isolated. The atmosphere in the house was very tense and I knew I was unwelcome. The entire week, I walked on eggshells. There was no cheery conversation, no family dinners around the table or watching movies together. There wasn’t much of anything, really. On the second last day of my work experience, I received a call from a lady who said she was friends with my dad and she was picking me up that afternoon. She told me that evening that I wasn’t staying at dads and I had to stay with her for the last night I was down there. Something about my grandma showing up and causing trouble… I’m not sure why I didn’t question it more. She was a lovely lady, who fed me and gave me a bed to sleep in. It was a lot more inviting than my dads house, anyway.

A few months later, my dad blocked my phone number. I’ll never understand why. We didn’t speak for 5 or 6 years after that. I was only 15… and by the time we were talking again, he’d changed even more. He was stick and bones, far from the memory I had of the fat man in the truck. He looked so sick, his skin was a yellow colour. He was so engulfed in convincing me that his wife, who he had broken up with, was the bad guy the whole time. Yet, not once did he try to mend with me what he had broken. I was hoping for an explanation, some answers… he just told me the coma had caused him to have a bad memory.

By the time my half brother was 15, he had been through courts and the magistrate granted a restraining order our dad. He moved in with his girlfriend. I’m still not totally sure on why. My dad still had full custody of my 11 year old sister, though. We also had two more half brothers that we had never met. Their mum took off with them when they were babies, dad was never able to find them. Knowing what my dad could be like, I’m sure she had good reasons. When I was about 25, my dad found one of my brothers on Facebook. He called to tell me, I didn’t want him to ruin my chances of knowing my brother though so I messaged him on dads behalf – adding in that we were not close and I was a seperate story to him.

My dad lost custody of my half sister over the next 12 months, due to her mum spending years in and out of court and my dads failing health. She was finally able to live with her mum who she was taken from when she was young. Myself, two of my half brothers and my half sister had lunch together and we got to know each other, finally. You could tell we were related… We shared our stories, talked about things we missed out on in each other’s lives. It was one of the best days of my life. And ironically, my dad never got to see it. He had pushed everyone away by the time we all met each other. He never got to be in the same place as all of his children. My dad died in June 2020 after a 15 year battle with his health. He was 48 and left behind 6 kids. (In order from oldest to youngest: Rebecca, Stuart(estranged.), Michael, Shane(dec.), Nicholas & Cassie.)

His funeral was confronting and small, being held during one of Melbournes tough restrictions and with only a handful of attendees. Although I felt something, I didn’t cry – not once. And I still haven’t. I think I felt sorry for myself, for my siblings, that we never had the chance to know what a real dad should have been like. That bond, that connection – it just wasn’t there. And we missed out. He lived his life exactly how he wanted but as for us, we missed out on something that every kid should have. I did feel a great amount of hurt when it came to the photo montage, though, which supposedly detailed his life. I saw only one picture of myself in there. Not a baby photo or a daddy/daughter portrait but a picture taken when I was about 10 years old. My dad is front and centre in the photo, I am in the background looking lost and alone. It is fitting, in a way. That’s exactly how I felt when it came to my father: lost and alone. But as I sat on the pew, hoping to see a glimmer of my existence on the screen in front of me, I looked to my left and saw the three best things that man ever gave to me: my siblings. We all have different stories, with many similarities. We all came from the same place but we had to search to find each other… and we all have one thing in common. We have each other.

The only thing he ever gave us was each other……

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