Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

Losing and Finding Dad

 

By Gillian Bouras

Eureka Street Magazine

Feb 2010 Vol 20 No 2

www.eurekastreet.com.au

I WRITE ABOUT families; many people wish I wouldn't. But in a sense families are all we've got, even though they may be extremely problematical, either safe havens, repositories of tawdry secrets, or something in between. And yes, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

........My family seemed happy enough, held together by a quite remarkable mother, a person of rare intelligence and understanding. When she died, everything changed, and eventually my father rejected his two children. My brother and I take no responsibility for this estrangement, and our father need not either, for old age, ill health, and rash decisions can alter lives irreparably. And sometimes irrevocably.

 

“We drove [to the nursing home] through the leafy avenues near the city, and I heard again the comforting click and chime of trams. Melbourne was baking in summer heat and dust; a strong northerly blew small eddies of rubbish and leaves along the broad streets."

The kaleidoscope. Quite suddenly and recently, circumstances changed yet again. My brother went to visit our father. And then my turn came. We drove through the leafy avenues near the city, and I heard again the comforting click and chime of trams. Melbourne was baking in summer heat and dust; a strong northerly blew small eddies of rubbish and leaves along the broad streets. I felt that I had never been away. Through tunnels and along freeways we went to the nursing home.

I felt as sick as a dog and was doing a fair imitation of a cat on hot bricks; I was also jet-lagged and weary. Would Dad recognise me? It had been more than seven years, after all, and he had recently been diagnosed with dementia. If he did recognise me, what then? Would he be pleased, or would he fall into a rage and start roaring in well-remembered fashion? There was nothing for it but to find out. Like childbirth, I told myself, the only way out was through.

Some of the residents were watching a film, we were told, and Dad was one of them. We were taken through chintzy lounges to the darkened projection room. My brother moved to one side, while I stood peering into the gloom. By dint of concentrating, I eventually saw a very old man being helped to his feet. I suppose I was clearly visible. I also suppose I will never forget that moment and the moments that followed. At least not for a very long time.

Dad's jaw dropped, and then he broke into his familiar wide grin. He waved, and then came slowly towards me, pushing his walker in front of him. Once outside the door he took a couple of steps further. 'Hullo, Dad', I managed to say, although I now wonder how the words emerged from my constricted throat. He grabbed me and wept; I grabbed him back and wept, too. When we finally let each other go, I could see that my brother's dark eyes were filled with tears.

Dad was always an emotional, volatile man, but one trained in the old school: real men do not cry. So he mopped his eyes and announced, 'Heavens, I'm stupid!'

"I suppose we all are from time to time, but so what?' I replied. His voice had not diminished in strength, and the truculent tone had not changed.

We three then sat in the guest lounge, trying as best we could to catch up, to plug the enormous gap in time, to mend the frayed connection. Dad worked his way steadily through a box of his favourite chocolates, while we attempted to prod his memory and succeeded, at least to a certain extent. I had brought some photos, not knowing at all whether this was the right thing to do. But it turned out to be. Dad knew most people from his past, predictably recognising his parents and aunts more easily than his nieces and nephews.

I wondered whether I should show him the photo of his first wedding, but I did. There they were, 65 years previously, our Mum and Dad, he laughingly proud and in uniform, she smiling sweetly, shyly, through mists of tulle, and leaning into his shoulder. At that moment, Dad's moment of sighting, I had to turn away and blink rapidly. For he said, very quietly and wonderingly, 'God, she was beautiful'.

We left soon afterwards: Dad was tired. While saying goodbye, I held his hand, feeling relieved and thankful beyond measure.

'I hope all this has not been too much of a shock, Dad', I said.

He looked at me and smiled the smile I had missed so much.

'No', he replied. 'It's not been a shock. Not at all. I've been expecting you.' #

 

 

Gillian Bouras

 

Eureka Street

Gillian occasionally writes for

Eureka Street

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