Words for Dad

P1400272“Big John” – that’s what one friend called him…

and yes, he was a big man.

Big arms to carry sleepy children in from the car

after the long drive home.

Big ego, big enough to dream a town,

his voice burnished bright with hope

for this small town that he loved as family.

And a big heart, to love greatly.

Dad cared about everyone in Coleambally, the tradies and mothers, the footballers, and the smallest and most vulnerable.

And he remembered everyone,

where you came from,

where you belonged and what you loved.

He remembered the best of us,

and forgot the worst.

His big love for family came down to the smallest of his great grandchildren, bending over their small heads to find that bird in a book for Declan or Lachy, or holding hands with the littlest princess in pink gumboots.

A heart calloused by grief for sons gone too soon,

but sorrow, like rain, only grew his heart,

made it large and soft as a sweet peach.

And then there was Eileen, his greatest love, a love wide enough to reach beyond this lifetime. On quiet days he said he heard her in the next room waiting for him. And I imagine them now strolling arm and arm, haloed in golden light.

In these last months as his body shrank, his soul grew large. And I’ll swear I saw Dad’s soul gleaming through his eyes and skin. I expected, if I’d ever imagined Dad’s soul, which I hadn’t, to see a dazzling soul, perhaps a little brash. But no, it was a soft light, like dusk at the river. That exquisite light when you know god walks the earth, when everything is still, and there’s the scent of eucalypts, the quiet nuzzle of water curling into the bank, and soft slap of fish that makes you look up quick, and turning, remember Jim standing on the far riverbank, grinning back.

Dad’s soul was of the earth, a farmer’s soul, etched with his love for the land, the land he had tended for more than fifty years. Coleambally was Dad’s heart and soul.

 

In these last months Dad, you broke my heart – open.

Not like cracking a nut, but like a horse whisperer, you broke it gently. You broke us open with your fortitude and quiet dignity.

And when I asked you late, “Dad, how should we remember you?” You gazed out into the cloudless sky as if recalling the best of your life, and you told me this, “not for my deeds remember me, not for the plaques or medals on the wall…” but then you stumbled into silence. As I waited and watched it seemed as if you were calling to your soul to remember who you were, to find what mattered most. You turned to me then and said quietly, “remember me for love, for the small care I gave each and every one. Remember me for these smallest of things that live in my heart and carry me through long nights ….”

And I remembered what you said and I wrote it down.

But I forgot to tell you what you gave me Dad, and you never asked.

This is what you gave me Dad, and perhaps to others too.

You let me believe I could dream and be that dream, that I could look on the world and see something bolder, and build what I saw. You showed me how to give, and ask for nothing back, to value my own effort for itself, for its own dreaming. You showed me that half-heartedness never reaches mastery. You showed me what it means to have deep faith, unwavering, even when life batters you or tosses you hard against that last wall. And you showed me what it is to have a great heart and to love widely, to love where you are and who you are.

For these gifts I thank you Dad. Some things I have learnt well, others I’m still learning.

 

“And Dad, did you get what you wanted from this life, after all?

I did, I did

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth.” (These last words were borrowed and adapted from Raymond Carver).

 

Goodbye Dad, Big John, may you rest in the arms of love for eternity. Amen.

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