For all intents and purposes Justine and I first moved out of home before we’d even finished school. For our final two years we attended boarding school in Geraldton, 480 kilometres south of Carnarvon, and only saw Mum & Dad for holidays and the odd long weekend. After we graduated we each spent one more year at home, then we were off; between us we lived in Perth, Japan, Queensland and the U.K., visiting home as often as the vast distances would allow and phoning regularly but nowhere near often enough.
We were used to being apart; being away from Dad on Fathers Day has been the norm for many years now. Except this year was the first Fathers Day that Dad was away from us.
It’s already been over five months, but I still feel a shock each time I’m reminded he’s gone. A fleeting second of disbelief when I find the remembrance bookmark from his funeral between the pages of my book, see a link to the post I wrote about him, or re-read condolences from a thoughtful friend. Or when, like tonight, one of the boys talks about “Oma & Pa” as we always talked about them; as a single unit, and about visiting them when we next go to Ballarat. He’s just always been there for us, it seems inconceivable that he wouldn’t be.
It’s much easier to talk about him now, and to remember the good times. But even deep in the grief of those first few weeks we had some laughs; laughs some might think inappropriate but that’s just how we roll. For example, a few days after Dad’s service we had a little ceremony to scatter some of his ashes under his favourite roses. The lid of the plastic urn was plugged in really tight and it took me a good five minutes to open the blimmin thing – I had to prise it open with a bread and butter knife. It was like wrestling with a particularly stubborn tin of Milo.
When I finally did succeed in getting the lid off I poured some ashes beneath his best rosebush, very carefully, closely monitoring wind speed and direction… I couldn’t help it, the scene with Walter, The Dude, and Donny from The Big Lebowski kept popping into my head.
I said as much to the others, then Mum added it was too much like emptying the vacuum cleaner. Justine then asked “should we water him in?” and we all laughed our heads off, then hugged and cried, and laughed some more… I love that even though he’s gone, he can still crack us up.
He took us on one last adventure, too!
Being an old salt at heart he’d always said he wanted a burial at sea; we’d always joked Mum could just wheelbarrow him off the end of a jetty. That kind of thing is frowned upon by authorities, so instead, one glorious Friday morning a few days after Dad’s 70th birthday we all headed to the Paradise Point Sailing Club on the Broadwater.
Justine had lined up a rescue launch to take us out! How cool, and so very appropriate, considering all the time Dad spent on search and rescue missions with the Carnarvon SES. I’d envisioned a largeish rescue launch, something like from Water Rats.
Instead it was more like this;
I’m kidding! I kid!!
It was a semi rigid IRB for up to 9 people, that is could rescue up to 8 people… Dad would’ve approved. We all jumped in; Captain John at the wheel, Mum, Me, Justine and Roars up the front and J and Finn at the back. Heading for the Gold Coast Seaway on the nice, flat, protected Broadwater was brilliant… no waves, sunny, warm… a great start.
… And a gentle intro to the kids’ first experience on the open ocean. I felt a typically parental conflict; I wanted them to have an exciting new adventure, but I also wanted them to be able to deal if it got a bit scary. I knew we’d be bumped around a bit, and splashed, and get wet and probably cold, but I hoped they would feel exhilaration and not… er, terror. Both J and I love the outdoors and we want them to love it too, but I don’t want to expose them to too much too soon and freak them out. An ideal adventure would somehow challenge and invigorate without scaring seven shades of shit out of them. So I hoped for that.
We did have a few tears when Finny’s hat blew overboard. He had a bit of a Chuck loses Wilson moment but our skipper executed a quick u-ey and we fished it out. We copped the occasional light spritzing to the face but the trip to the Seaway was smooth and uneventful.
Then we went through the Seaway.
Just beyond the channel between South Stradbroke Island and The Spit lies the open ocean; nothing but the Pacific for thousands of miles until you hit Chile. Things got bumpy and we started to rollercoaster on the growing swell. Water, lots of it, suddenly started smacking us in the back of the head and pouring down our necks, and our little boat pitched and tossed. I made a big deal about how fun it was (Whee! WHEEE! Isn’t this fun?!) while I watched the boys like a hawk. They were smiling… sort of.
Then as soon as we were clear of the channel Captain John opened up the throttle and we charged at the surf. We ploughed through wave after even bigger wave, launching off the crest of each and dropping into the troughs beyond. Our arses levitated in freefall, then the boat, rocketing upwards on the next wave, would slam us so hard in the bum we were airborne again. While getting spanked hard and repeatedly by our metal seats, we also had water dumping non-stop over our heads.
Captain John took us out a few hundred metres offshore and then (thank God) we stopped, laughing and groaning. Checked the boys; they were totally fine! Better off than me I suspect. I was so proud of them. Though it helped that Finn was at the stern which of course bucked considerably less than the bow, and that Rory had a soft seat, namely Justine, to land on. I was amazed and impressed at how she managed to keep hold of him during all the zero-G! I pictured Dad laughing his head off, glad to be on this final adventure with us, his first with his grandsons.
I wrestled with the ‘milo tin’ again, and we scattered Dad’s ashes into the deep blue water.
As we sent him on his way I remembered countless other times on the sea with him… our childhood home with a view of the Indian Ocean from the front doorstep, hundreds of hours of beachcombing, camping, fishing off the One Mile Jetty, fishing off the beach, more fishing from a tinny, and of course when we were kids him coming home from work smelling of the sea. (That’s a romanticised way of saying “smelling of raw prawns.”)
So many memories. Dad’ll be especially in my thoughts whenever I do those things with the boys, and I’m pretty sure, judging from this experience, that they’ve might’ve inherited some of his adventurous spirit.