Who was my Father?
Who was my father?
When I began writing his story some years ago, I did so with a degree of trepidation. I felt as if I was rifling through his sock drawer and wondered what I may find, both good and bad.
To me, he was Dad. A quiet gentleman from the old school that never swore in front of my mother and always opened the door for her. He wore a hat that he ‘tipped’ on meeting ladies and when he ventured out his shoes were always immaculately clean. He loved to build things out of wood, maintain his own car religiously and demolish targets at the rifle range. Rhythmic thumps could be heard coming from his shed as he pounded the punching bag that swung from the exposed beams.
Yet for all of his solitary activities and quiet demeanour, he was the most enthusiastic of fathers. With no childhood of his own, he was the first to kick the ball, ride the bike or jump the skateboard. He would always enthral us with his childhood tales and patiently work through a problem with homework. His sense of humour was a constant thread that bordered on mischievous at times. That was my Dad. But there was another man.
As I interviewed those that he had fought beside and pored over page upon page of official records and log books, I came to know another man. Still quiet and still solitary, but with an unmistakeable fire in his belly. It was a fire that drove him to cast off the shackles of the Great Depression and the oppression of drought and dying cattle. It was a determination to fight and later to fly, despite the odds being continually stacked against him. It was a combination of courage and luck that saw him survive two wars while many good men fell beside him.
At times the revelations were not pretty for those of us raised in an era of privilege and peace. Ruthlessness in our time is a turn of phrase, in his, it was the cold hard line between life and death. This quiet gentleman that I knew had killed and I came to know this fact in detail. He had killed with ferocity, effectiveness and very little subsequent contemplation. Such a world was black and white and he liked that. It only ever became grey if you thought about it too deeply and seemingly, he did not.
And for all the adversity and the horror, he married a wife, bought a house and raised three children as the most dedicated of fathers. One would not say ‘loving’ if acts of affection define the sentiment, but I’m quite sure that love was actually the underlying force. And duty, and respect, and honour. His later life blended into the suburbs without a hint of where he had been or what he had done.
So as I delved deeper into the sock drawer, I was confronted by the man I had always known. There were no lurking skeletons. There were secrets, but they were astounding truths buried by his modesty. However, there had indeed been low points and he was far from perfect. As a young air force pilot he was solid rather than exemplary, always in the middle of the pack. Ultimately, he rose to gain the respect of many through grit rather than flair.
In writing his story I have come to know more than my Dad, I have come to know the man that he was before I ever took breath. Young, vital, angry and aggressive in an age when this defined survival. Tempered by time, the fighter became a father and I am so very fortunate that he did. Now it is my time to tell his story to the world, for I know that he was far too modest to ever utter a word.
Rest in Peace, Dad.