Happy Birthday, Dad

If my father were still alive, he would have been 79 years old today. He passed away in 1985 from a cancer that probably would have been relatively easy to treat in 2012. In fact, it probably should have been treated back then. He was first diagnosed with a tumour in March 1985, which was ‘successfully’ removed and declared to have been a benign tumour anyway. By September, that benign spot had another tumour and just two months and five surgeries later, he was gone.

Right: my favourite photo of Dad with my grandmother, circa 1936.

That’s about as much as I remember of his illness. I’ve asked my mother about it a few times but we all seem to be a bit foggy about what happened, where the cancer was, etc. It all happened so quickly and being just 15 at the time, I was shielded from the reality of the situation to a large extent.

We got a call late at night, one that was expected but still unwelcome. I got a ride into the hospital with my brother-in-law, if I remember correctly. Mum was already there and had been for hours. The doctors wouldn’t have told Dad their prognosis, but we knew that this visit was one with equal shares of urgency and finality. I think Dad knew what was happening, too.

Dad was in intensive care at St Vincent’s Hospital, hooked up to all the machines that 1985 medicine had to offer. He drifted in and out of consciousness, a feat that seems amazing in itself given the amount of painkillers that were being pumped into him. In one of those moments of clarity, he looked at me and gave me his usual greeting – “How you going, mate?” I’m not sure if it’s the recollections of a kid who just wants it to be that way or if I missed something afterwards, but I was there until his final breath and I’m pretty sure those were his last words.

It’s always been hard for me to reconcile my father’s passing. There are certain things about him that I can remember vividly but many more, I’m sure, that have faded with time.

There were times after his death, when I was still quite young, when I expected him to walk through the door as if nothing had happened and give us a quick but perfectly reasonable explanation for his prolonged absence. Movies make an impressionable mind believe that things like that really can happen sometimes. I always knew, on an intellectual level, that they couldn’t but it didn’t stop me from wanting it to happen.

There’s been many a time as I’ve grown up where I would have loved the chance to sit down with him and have a chat. You don’t do that much when you’re a kid, or at least I didn’t. I can remember times spent in the car, just me and him, on the way to a band practice (we both played cornet in the Coburg City Band). The trips were largely spent in silence. It wasn’t for a lack of wanting a conversation, but time has shown me that perhaps it was due to a mutual lack of conversation skills. All I know now is that I wished we’d done more and done it better.

Dad was a butcher by trade and had a shop in partnership with another guy in an inner suburb of Melbourne, called Kew. Kew’s a nice area and Dad had some great customers. He loved them and the feeling was mutual. His customers used to send him postcards whenever they went on holiday and the back wall of the shop was a giant mosaic, full of beaches and other sights from around the world. Above the postcards were a series of WEG’s football premiership posters – Melbourne people would be familiar with them – and given that Dad supported Carlton, a team that won 6 premierships in 14 years to the early 1980’s, there were plenty of premiership posters on display.

I can still smell the shop as if I was there yesterday. I worked at the shop from around age 14 and it was an eye opener for a young boy, for sure. Walking into an industrial refrigerator on those cold, early mornings was not something I looked forward to and I don’t know how he managed all those years. I must have been a slow mover on some of those mornings as there were a couple of times – making sausages, cleaning the mincer or maybe some other task – where Dad needed something ASAP and he would get stuck into me for not getting it done quick enough (and if you knew my Dad, you’d know that him ‘doing his block’ was a very, very rare thing).

He was a pretty easy boss, though. I’d help him open the shop in the morning and then he’d send me off to the Greenacres Golf Club for a lesson with the resident pro. I’d return soon after lunch and help with the early Saturday cleanup and close. Meanwhile, my sister (who the customers also loved) would work the full Saturday with barely a break. Sorry, Sis 🙂

Dad loved his family, especially his Mum and the two young grandsons he never got to see become men. He loved the Carlton Football Club. He loved music by marching bands and would paint the house with his old marching records blaring. He loved anything British, especially the monarchy. He would have loved to travel, but the furthest he and Mum got was New Zealand in the late 1970s. Mum’s going to Europe for the first time later this year, at age 76.

I’ve never seen photos but I believe Dad had a little red Sunbeam convertible when he was young. He gave me my first motoring book, about Jaguar, when I was 13 and I used to sit in school and draw pictures of the XJ6 in my textbook. Dad liked the idea of cars but never got to a position where he could buy something he liked and drive just for the pleasure of driving. Instead, he took pleasure from his garden, and his greenhouse out in the back yard, in particular.

As I wrote earlier, I’ve never quite reconciled myself to my father’s passing. He was only 52. I was only 15 and my sister was in her late 20’s. Her boys were just 2 and 5 years old. Mum wasn’t even 50. Nan was in her eighties when she had to bury her son. There’s so much that Dad missed out on and so much we’ve all missed out on, too, without him around.

My sister and I have both been affected from having a parent die so young. The age of 52 has been like a looming shadow over both of us, though she’s passed it now and enjoying a grandchild of her own.

I’ve attached myself to a number of father-figures over the years and if I’m honest, I still do. It’s in my nature to take the advice of older, wiser men and I guess it’s natural for me to regard them with a degree of filial esteem. I’m sorry if you’re one of them and I’ve ever made you feel awkward. It certainly wasn’t intended. I consider myself fortunate that someone like you has been around.

But enough naval gazing!

Happy 79th birthday, Dad.

We all wish you were here to celebrate it. We miss you. Caaaarn the Blues!!!!

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  1. Very nice tribute Steve.

    Lost my dad almost three years ago to complications from prostate cancer. Was glad he was around to guide me along my way for 39 years of my life…. I still think about him every day.

  2. Touching. I’ve just come from the funeral visitation for a friend’s father. A much different scenario given that he was in his 70’s and his children are both in their 40’s. Still, many things left unsaid, for sure.

    About the driving and conversing thing: I didn’t talk much to my father as we drove along, and my son and I don’t talk much, either. Odd, given that I easily talk to my daughter or wife in the same situation. Something about the two of us makes it different.

    I knew that you father had passed, but I didn’t know that he was that young. Listen to ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd and rejoice that you’ve taken it better than Roger Waters did. 😉

  3. Steve, Great tribute to your Father. Sorry to hear he died when you were only 15.
    My father would have been 90 on the 12/02/12 . He died aged 30 in 1953. My mother remarried three year later but I still miss my father 59 years later.

    1. Sorry for your loss, Simon. You must have been just a young’un and probably don’t remember much on a personal level, but if you’re like me, then it’s the loss of connection that you miss the most.

  4. Happy Birthday to my amazing father who tried so much to still be with us.
    You were an amazing man who I loved so much and always will. Today is his 79th Birthday and a day never goes by that I always think of you.
    So to all those people who have a father treasure them and tell them how much you love them as things can change so quick.


  5. hello swade,

    my tribute to your father.

    i´m 55 yeras old and my father died of cancer when i was 5 yeras old. my mother died three years ago.
    i still miss my father every day but i don´t have many “rememberings” of him – only his “walking” and his standing in front of the couch in the living room.
    all people who knew hin say, that i´m like him – having the same voice and the same humor…
    every human being that has to go will go with a lot of feelings for and with him.
    so i love my father very much – and a little bit i will make him “holy”, also knowing, that he wasn´t.
    my mother always said, that he has not to show his love to me every day like she has to.
    she was right and i have often to think about that.

    i wish you the best


  6. I didn’t know about your loss until reading this. And while I’m sad for you, your words make me want to have known him. He seems to have had many good qualities about him that have rubbed off on his son. That’s something to be thankful for.

    Death is a tough thing. It’s not the same, but I lost an aunt to cancer when I was in my early 20’s. The amazing thing to me at the time was her faith in Jesus and the peace she had with what was happening. It was a tough thing for all of us back then. And it makes me look forward to the day when…

    “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

  7. I’m positive your father would be thrilled to see what you’ve achieved, Steve. You are a credit to him. And that must be the best tribute of all.

    Regards from Ireland,
    J Fan

  8. That was thoughtfully written and moving. My mother passed away in 1987 at 48yrs, after an 8 year battle with Leukaemia. I was 21 and already training to become a nurse. My brother and I had had 8years to get used to the idea and really she had prepared us quite well. My sister on the other hand was one week after her 14th birthday when Mum died and had also been sheltered from the whole situation. It was decided on her behalf that she wouldn’t be present when the end came. She has had a lot of problems through her adult life dealing with the trauma of losing her mother at such a young age and the subsequent re-marriage of my father to a woman with whom she never got on. But I think you have reached a well balanced point by 1. being able to write reflectively and truthfully about how all these things affected you and your family and 2. By ending on a positive note and articulating things in a way that doesnt leave you or the reader in a melancholy mood, you may well be helping yourself in the process to find a new perspective and unwittingly helping another reader in their own journey. My very best wishes. Ian.

  9. Happy Birthday to your Dad Swade. A very nice tribute to another person taken far too early by cancer. I also lost my father far too early and know how it hurts. To those Swadeology readers who have migrated over from Saabs United you may remember one of Swade’s last posts while at the helm of that blog. It was to help me find sponsors for a cancer research fund raising 200 mile bike ride I did last summer. On top of his own generous contribution he helped me raise over $1,500 towards my $10,000 final tally from SU readers. As a group we raised over $35 million dollars in one weekend to fight this disease. I am a three time cancer sufferer (yes it’s three now) who is currently disease free and a living testament that research works. Perhaps Swade and his Dad would be sitting across the table celebratying today if we were more able to fund the fight against cancer. That’s why I and 5,000+ other cyclists will be doing the Pan Mass Challenge again this August. I’ll be there every year that I’m able.

  10. Hi, Swade. Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful tribute of your father. Cancer is a terrible disease, and has taken far too many long before their time. Yesterday (2.19.12), my great uncle passed from a long battle with colon cancer, and it’s been a very sad 24 hours. Your post helped me feel a bit better myself, and for that, I thank you.

    In the meantime, your dad would be very proud, I’m sure.

  11. It’s a tribute to your father that you and your sister write so well of your father. I think I understand your feelings. My mother died from cancer shortly after turning 47. Time softens the blow but one never forgets. Actually, the memories and feelings grow stronger as I grow older, and I regret all of the special things that she missed such as spending time with grandchildren, etc.
    Thanks for sharing your memories. Great photo by the way. I love old family photos and spend many hours poring through ours. I’m sure you do also.

  12. Happy birthday to your father.
    Seems like we have more than our Saabs in common. My dad was 63 when cancer got him in 1997…

    All the best, Swade.

  13. Moving birthday wishes there Swade. Also good to hear from Sis.

    Thanks for sharing that with all of us.

  14. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful responses. This one wasn’t an easy one to write but it was a pleasure, nonetheless. I’ve talked with a few people personally since writing it and it seems to have been a good thing, something for which I’m glad.

  15. Thanks, Steven for a very personal and touching tribute to your father.
    I recognize some of your thoughts from my own history, even if I was 20 when my father died.
    And when I say my age at that time, it is only in the last 5 years that I have calculated my age at that time.
    For some reason that was so unimportant compared to the fact that he was gone. That is the only logical reason I can think of.
    But as I think I have told you, a wise person told me this just after he had died: “It isn’t always so easy for people when their parents grow old. A lot of people have a lot of problems with their elderly parents. That is something you will not have.” I did not see it then, but now I know that it is a fact. Of course we would not have minded the trouble, but never the less, for that parent, it is forever behind us.
    And reading through the comments here we are far from alone to have this life experience.
    Thanks and Best Regards,

  16. Great post Mr Swade. I too lost my Dad way too early. Even though I was 36, it was very unexpected and it was too early. I too regret many things, mostly not spending enough time with him. We too would be silent on drives, but it was ok-we were just content to be going somewhere together in each other’s company and felt no compulsion to make conversation. I imagine your dad was just glad to have you along too.
    Even though the time makes it a little less painful/pressing, the loss never really goes away. Celebrating your father, as done here, is, I believe, the best thing you can do. Enjoy his memory, celebrate his life and grow and live as he would want you to. Thats how to honour your dad imho.
    Bless you.

  17. Lost my Dad in November of 2011…. We had/have a great relationship. I feel your pain Swade… I make it a point to do everything i can with my family because that is what I experienced…. I think of my Dad every day and feel that he is still with me…. I hope he is… He was not a car guy but appreciated that I was and loved that I kept his cars very clean. We do our best here to keep calm and carry on…. I will keep talking to my Son about Saabs and Volvo’s and appreciate every hockey game I have to drive my son to…

  18. That’s a very touching and heartfelt tribute, Steven. Thank you for sharing something so personal in such an open way.

    It is a good reminder to all of us to remember what’s important in life (aside from the gift of life itself), how precious they are, and how we should not take things for granted. My dad is turning 80 this year. He and my mother are both healthy in body and mind, I thank God for that everyday. They have a close and daily relationship with their only grandchild (my son) and I thank God for that. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I hope everyone here feel that way everyday regardless of their circumstances and situations.

    Take care.

  19. I wish I had words to match my fellow commenters, but I don’t. Still, I want to thank you for sharing something so obviously personal, Swade–and with such eloquent prose. You are such a fantastic writer. Very endearing. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading what you’ve decided to publish, personal or otherwise over the years. If you wrote a book, I’d buy it in an instant–regardless of subject.

    I don’t have any adequate words of comfort either, though I know that’s not what you’re after. Your dad sounds like a wonderful person, and what a wonderful gift to him than to let others see him through your memories. All I mean to say is that I was deeply moved and I wish you and your family the best. Thanks again, Swade.

    Happy birthday, Mr. Wade.

    1. My father passed away in 2006 and could have turned 80 last month, and thanks to modern medicine he did got an extra 8 years, in relative good quality. Our mutual relations didn’t go always that smoothly and it is indeed far too late to change that now. But still plenty of good things to remember.
      A bridge to motoring from this more intimate family-life is maybe not that a propriate thing to do, but anyway, here’ s a kind of ‘superbowl-ad’ as a tribute to all fathers, I rate it the same level as the more sensual fiat-500-ad:
      All the best and keep on cherishing the good and the bad memories, they all add meanig to life.