We Still Miss You – 30 Years On. By Owen Zupp.
In the small hours of this morning, it marked thirty years since my dad passed away – still, what he brought to this world lives on.
Thirty years is a long time and yet the memories are clearer than many that have weaved their way into my consciousness in the years in between. If I close my eyes, I can see him clearly as my mind’s eye in the small fibro house that was our home. To dad, owning that western suburbs house was a three-dimensional testament that the losses he witnessed as a boy during the Great Depression didn’t beat him, although I have come to suspect that there was some scar tissue.
I miss so many things about him. His strength, his honesty, his sense of humour, but mostly I miss our time together, just talking. Of an afternoon we would sit together on an oddly shaped piece of concrete behind our house that we’d named “The Step”. Together, he would polish his uniform shoes to an impressive sheen and I would salvage what was left of my school shoes.
Dad was a quiet man who chose his words carefully and that further encouraged me to listen. His formal education had been cut short through family hardship but he was the most prolific reader I have ever known – perhaps with the exception of my daughter. His general knowledge was immense, from the workings of an engine, to the physics of the universe and the history of just about everything. Despite my extensive education, he could correct my punctuation and grammar with precision.
Still, it was his approach to life that I would soak in. Honesty, family, service were at his core. He could easily accept mistakes and saw them as a chance to learn but if you strayed from the truth, then you’d best beware. He never owned a credit card and after paying for his home in record time, never borrowed another cent. When credit cards began to emerge and he was sent a “Bankcard”, he sat me down and cut it up in front of me. Some scar tissue from the Great Depression, no doubt.
Whether we were polishing shoes, sitting under the wing of an aeroplane, or going for a walk, I would hang on every lesson. Some of those walks, which he termed as “going for a mooch”, would see my legs aching as a youngster and I credit them with making me a distance runner in my teen years. Little did I know at the time that dad was passing on his greatest lessons and ultimately his greatest legacy. I was just happy to be with my dad.
Mum would say in the years after his passing that she didn’t think he’d like the “modern world”. I think she was right. He never cared for the latest model of anything and enjoyed maintaining whatever he possessed. Loud, brash people annoyed him and beyond informative documentries, the television was an “idiot box”. He had fought in two wars but I would learn more from interviewing his comrades than he would ever reveal – except in an unguarded moment. On ANZAC Day, he never marched and only war his wide array of medals once, at mum’s insistence. To him, his service was treasured but tucked away.
I never saw him show emotion, although my mum said he sniffed once at his mother’s funeral. He never hugged me but would firmly shake my hand when it was deserved. By today’s standards that could all be seen as strange but I never needed any physical indication that he loved or cared for us – it was in every breath he took and every word he spoke and every sacrifice he ever made.
In these times of the pandemic, I draw on that strength more than ever – although I have a softer edge with my kids. His wisdom has been with me through every challenge of my life and nothing has changed thirty years later. When confronted with adversity, I hear his words and I consider what dad would do, although I also hear him telling me to, “Be your own man.”
I still feel cheated that he was taken from us so young, more than Dad ever did. Terminally ill, he was more worried about his family and would remind me that his mates had died very young, in those wars long ago. He’d say that he’d had a “fair ration” and that as a boy he never could not have dreamed of having a family, owning a home and flying aeroplanes his entire adult life.
I have no regrets of the time we had together, only that dad never met my wife and children. He would have loved them and, I like to think, proud of them. Kirrily caught a glimpse of him once when she was a student pilot and he came to the flight school. Little did she know.
Even so, our family speaks of dad as if he is alive and I have always shared his adventures, stories and jokes with them. Perhaps his message is survives in them, I like to think so. I still remember my daughter being interviewed at school and asked who in the world she would most like to meet. When the other girls rattled off a list of celebrities, my daughter paused for a moment – and then simply said, “My Grandad”.
Rest in Peace, Dad.
29 December 1925 – 31 July 1991.