Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tribute to my Dad on Fathers' Day

MY DAD WAS AFFECTIONATELY known as "Joe-the-carpenter". And if anyone didn't know his name, they knew the guy who drove the white Kombi van, because he was a legend around the eastern suburbs of Sydney for decades.

An Austrian immigrant, my father built a life for his family in suburban Matraville. Along the way he also built some significant "cultural" objects and spaces locally - the first skateboard ramp at Bondi Beach, the squash courts in Bronte Surf Club, the renovated Bondi tram, and numerous pieces of furniture for the houses that our family could never afford to live in.

My dad was a craftsman who preferred to work alone, whistled as he chiselled and filled his stomach to a fixed timetable; smoko at 9am, lunch at midday sharp and dinner at 6pm. But my mum functioned on Koori time quite often, so it was normal for my dad to be halfway down the street in the car while mum was still putting lipstick on.

Father's Day, Christmas Day and his own birthday were exercises in patience for us kids. You see, we had to force dad to open his presents. He would pick the gift up, shake it a few times, sometimes smell it, squish it and hold it up to the light. And then he'd put it down. If he'd guessed it was chocolates, he wouldn't open it at all. It was traumatising for a kid like me who loved spoiling dad on Father's Day. But my dad was financially astute and he was dragging out the event to get as much mileage as possible from the gift, even before he'd opened it. You see, my father worked physically hard every day of his life for his pennies, and so he spent them carefully. He would drive five kilometres to save $2 on a case of beer, and then buy five.

Labels meant nothing to my father. He wore the same tracksuit for about a decade (except when he showed up to my graduation in a new suit). The tracksuit drove me to despair. And then he replaced it with a Planet Hollywood Honolulu sloppy joe before he opted for a Saucony one. I gave him new tops, but he'd say: "The other one isn't worn out yet." Similarly, he would ask me: "How many pairs of shoes do you need? You only have two feet." My father was a wise man.

My dad was chivalrous, offering to help a stranger in the street carry her groceries. She thought he was trying to steal them. He never offered again. My dad appreciated that my mum worked also and that her hands were weathered from other duties. He believed a woman shouldn't have to drag a bin up the driveway when there was a capable man around. He was right and I loved him for that.

My dad passed away in 2005, and I miss the wise, chivalrous, generous, family man who gave me life, and not just because I was his favourite. Now, every time I see a sale for Toohey's Light or I buy a pair of shoes I don't need, I know he is nearby.

From The Melbourne Age: Saturday September 6, 2008:

1 comment:

The Funeral Lady said...

Beautiful tribute to your father...thank you for sharing it!