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As a four-year-old I spent many hours sitting in the hot sun on the curb outside my house, a garbage bag of my clothes by my side, waiting for my dad. I remember my mum trying to get me to wait inside the house instead and how angry I was at her lack of faith in my dad. I was sure he would come.[restrict]
Nothing in his past behaviour should have given me such faith but every week I sat outside, waiting and waiting. Other people tell different stories about my childhood, there are various versions, some I consider to be heavily sanitised. The other stories have been told so many times that they have become truth in certain quarters, but no one can take my memories away from me, though sometimes I wish they could.
Some of the memories of my childhood rattle around in my stomach, tight, hard nuts. Waiting for my dad to come is one. I waited like nobody had ever waited before. When I got too tired, too sunburnt or too hungry I gave up. I didn’t wearily give up, I angrily gave up.
For some reason the anger was rarely directed at my dad. It wasn’t very safe in my house to direct anger elsewhere so I ate it. It sits in me still. When I was seven I had almost replaced my dad with his brother. My uncle Alan.
As well as being my dad’s brother, he was also the boyfriend of my mother’s sister so I saw him a lot. He was cool and drove a motorbike. Alan was kind and caring and I put all the love I wanted to give my dad into him. He gave me the cream satin scarf that he wore while riding his motorbike. It hangs in my bedroom still, even though he too abandoned me.
It’s a reminder of those few years I felt like I had a dad.
As a teenager I watched my dad be the kind of father I wished he would be for me. I saw the pride he took in my two brothers, the children he had with his new wife. My sister and I would visit, but I never felt part of their family. I was always a visitor in their house, invited in to watch my dad be the person I wanted him to be – but for other people. It hurt.
Weeks and sometimes months would go by and I wouldn’t hear from him. When I did he wouldn’t say much and it would be left to me to fill in the spaces. I would talk and talk – reaching out for some kind of connection. These conversations left me feeling empty and uncertain.
I need to know the parameters of a thing, be it a project I’m working on or a personal relationship – I like to know what the boundaries are. I never knew where I stood with my dad. Why did he call me if he was going to say so little? What did he want from me? What was my role in his life as not-quite-daughter? Who was I to him? I still don’t know the answers to these questions.
When I was leaving to move to Northern Ireland in 1998 I visited my dad. I left him a bag full of vintage clothes and my collection of 1950’s anodised tin kitchenware. The last bits of me that I couldn’t bear to give away. He said I could keep them at his place. These were the only parts of me, things that were mine – that remained in the country of my birth. They were a strange tether. In time to come they would be the only thing tying me to Australia.
In 1998 I was living in Northern Ireland and I was working in a pub in Belfast when a call came to the bar for me. It was my dad. He was ringing me to tell me that my little brother had died. I was shocked, then angry that no one had told me his death was a possibility. I knew my brother was sick but either no one had told me how sick he was, or if they had, I wasn’t able to take that information in. I’m not sure which it is, perhaps I knew and I was the terrible person for leaving the country. I remember feeling deeply sad and angry that I was on the other side of the world.
My little brother had always wanted to visit Ireland. I later found out that his requests to the Make a A Wish Foundation were to be able to visit Ireland, or to get a saxophone. He died of throat cancer. Neither of his wishes could be granted, it was too late.
I had sent my brother a parcel of gifts two weeks before I got that phone call. They arrived a few days after he died. That breaks me.
I thought, selfishly, so selfishly, that after my brother’s death my father might take more of an interest in me. I thought he might realise he had a daughter who wanted to be loved by him too. That’s logical right? But people aren’t logical and that’s not what happened.
For some reason unknown to me a few years ago my dad just stopped answering my messages, letters and parcels. I don’t know why he did this, I might never know why. Then one day last year I had a call from him. He had had a heart attack, he was ringing to tell me he loved me. How my battered heart dared to hope. It was a quick conversation, only about two minutes long. He said he would call me in a week.
He never did.
Today three large boxes arrived, no note attached.
Two boxes of vintage clothing and a box of dusty anodised tin. My last link with my country.
My last link with my dad.[/restrict]