My dad passed away more than 14 years ago now. I was only twenty-six when he died, and he’d been in a nursing home for two years before he passed away.
Yes, that’s pretty young for losing a parent. And it’s super young for having a parent in a nursing home.
My dad had been unwell for most of my life. He’d been in a car accident in his early twenties and broke several vertebrae. This all caught up with him in his forties, and by the time I was six years old, he’d been forced to medically retire.
For a man who had always worked hard, and often held more than one job at a time, it was the most humiliating time of his life. Not that I recognised or understood that at the time.
But for my sister and me, the fact that our dad retired early had a huge up-side. We grew up with our dad at home, and we got to spend a lot of time with him. More time than many kids might spend with their dads growing up.
Dad couldn’t play sport with us, and wasn’t able to take us camping and other things like that. But he was there and accessible in whatever capacity he had.
For a while Dad was able to do woodwork in his shed, and we spent hours there with him learning to use the machinery. I loved the belt & disc bench sander, and was allowed to use the band saw. He helped me with school projects and I always beat the boys at woodwork!
If I had a bad dream, I knew I could pop into his room in the middle of the night to chat and get over the dream before going back to bed.
Dad shared with us his love of jigsaw puzzles, books and learning. How often did we pour over an atlas or encyclopedia with him, looking up a place or learning about something we’d just heard on the tele.
I have great memories of Dad watching his beloved AFL, or the cricket. And he never minded when we crawled all over him colouring his nails with textas, putting make-up on him, or doing his hair.
As I got older, and Dad was less mobile, my favourite memories were driving with him. Yes we had some spats when I was learning to drive. But we both enjoyed driving and looking around, and we’d have great chats along the way.
He taught me how to change a tyre, check the oil in the car. And he was a fabulous driving instructor, teaching me real things about driving that I think a lot of people don’t get today. Things about handling the car, and not just following the road rules. I am a confident driver today because of him.
Actually, Dad was rather iconic around town in our cream coloured van. He was always available to run my sister and I to school, organ lessons (forgive me – it was the 90s!), to the shops, friend’s places and parties. Even if it was 3am. So he was very visible in our small town.
The security his presence gave me is priceless. It didn’t matter that he was flawed, that he made mistakes, and that he wasn’t well. He saw who I was as an individual and supported me, and he was always there to listen.
Dad was literally our rescuer and “knight” as my sister and I got older. I knew I could call him from anywhere at any time and he’d come get me. We were allowed to go to parties as long as Dad took us there and picked us up.
I remember one time my sister, who was about 16 at the time, rang me while I was away at uni. “Dad said I can go to the party, but only if he drives me and picks me up. How embarrassing!” she’d said.
I said, “Don’t know you know lucky you are? Sometimes those parties really suck and you need him to come and get you. And he will – wherever you are. So get over it. Everyone will be busy and half drunk and won’t notice you arrive anyway.”
My first year at uni in Sydney was extremely tough. I hated it and it took a while to adjust to big city living.
At the end of my first semester I was doing my last exam, and I could barely contain my excitement. It was nearly time to go home! And I knew that Dad had already arrived in Sydney, ready to whisk me away and take me home the minute I finished. I left my exam an hour early (don’t worry, I had finished), ran out and said to Dad, “Get me out of here!”
Another time I was coming home from uni – this time in my own car, I was about 30 minutes out from town. I had just crested the hill coming out of Breeza when I saw this familiar cream coloured van heading my way.
It was Dad. I pulled over, wondering what on earth he was doing. He turned around and pulled up behind me. He got out, came to my open window and said, “Drivers license and registration please, Miss.” Then he grinned that familiar grin of his.
He’d been so excited to see me he’d bundled the dogs in the car and came out to meet us.
I know sometimes Dad felt like he was just a taxi, but he was so much more than that. And I wish he were here now so that I could thank him with the words and insight of a grown woman.
I was twenty-four when Dad entered the nursing home. He had emphysema and lung cancer – yes, he was a smoker (I mentioned he had flaws). Way too young to have a parent in that situation. But I can see now that God knew we wouldn’t have him for as long as some people have their fathers, and so he gave us all that extra time when we were kids.
I’ve written this post with two purposes:
One, to pay tribute to my dad.
And two, to encourage all the parents out there. Even with our flaws, our limitations, and less than ideal circumstances, you can still be an amazing parent.
I couldn’t see it when I was younger, but I see it so clearly now.
What Dad gave me was:
- Attention that made me feel worthwhile
- Availability that made me feel loved
- Recognition and support of who I was as God created me to be – not who he wanted me to be
- Belief in my abilities, and encouragement to pursue my dreams
And most importantly, because of his faith in Jesus, Dad gave me the gift of the certainty that I will see him again.
Happy Father’s Day!