Happy Father’s Day
I’m having lots of feelings, so I’m going to write a few of them down.
A year ago, I was in the middle of the most stressful time in my life. To sum it all up in a few sentences, after many years of failing health, Dad had (finally) been diagnosed with cardio amyloidosis – a slow hardening of his heart due to a build up of protein. It is quite rare, and pretty much untreatable.
As Dad had been divorced for 30 years and I am his only surviving child, I had made the decision to move back from Melbourne to care for him. He would have hated a nursing home. In the year prior to last Father’s Day, I had to leave a career that was gaining momentum, move states, gotten married to a wonderful woman who was cool with the fact that her Father in law would be living (and probably dying) with us, we’d moved house again from our places in Melbourne (mine) and a share house in Adelaide (hers) into a place that would fit Dad, my best mate (who was living alone on an army base), and the two of us.
We’d gone on a honeymoon (my wife and I – the best man stayed home) receiving the news on our second day away that Dad had been admitted to hospital again, and I had performed shows at the Adelaide Fringe, Melbourne Comedy Festival and on a Cruise ship. At the end of all that, Dad had moved in with us, and after 5 months, we were starting to get a lot of static from certain friends of his who disagreed with how we were trying to take care of him.
During this time, I started a video blog called “While my Dad goes to the toilet” which I recorded as I waited the half an hour each night that my dad went to the toilet before I would help him into bed. It’s me at my most run down, frustrated and venting and I haven’t been able to bring myself to rewatch any of it but the Father’s Day episode I just saw.
On Fathers Day a year ago, Dad woke up in a foul mood, and it was a hard slog to bring him out of it. After we got him in a decent frame of mind, we took him to his favourite fish and chip place which restarted an eternal argument over his diet, and there were constant phone calls to both him and me from his friends asking to take him out on what we all knew would be our last Father’s Day together, which I found pretty insulting.
But whatever I thought was making my life tough, I can’t imagine what Dad was going through. I can’t imagine, because that’s not the kind of relationship we had. Occasionally he’d share how scared he was of dying, but more often, he was would deflect a lot of honest conversation by being sarcastic and grumpy. Not in a mean way, that was just my Dad.
Within the next month, Dad got a leg infection and had to go to hospital again. Even at that time, I knew that he wouldn’t be coming home. He spent a couple of months with the wonderful people at Mary Potter Hospice and passed away on November 20th.
My life since then has been very difficult. Sadness hits me a lot, and as much as I have the very best people around me, it’s been a very lonely process. Organising a funeral, trying to go through Dad’s house, getting his affairs in order, dealing with a complicated estate, paying his bills – it’s a process that I can’t fully share with anyone, even those that are helping me with it. And when I think about how I don’t have a Dad anymore, my grief is paralysing.
In addition to that, right after his death, I had to write a new comedy show to perform in 2 festivals. It wasn’t a show I was happy with, and to perform it for 2 months to disappointing crowds and moderate reactions has left me quite uninspired by performing. I tried desperately to take some time off once the festivals were over, but things kept coming up and this week is the first time I’ve been able to take some time to myself. And mostly, that time has been taken up by me clearing things off my massive to-do list that never seems to get any smaller.
I haven’t even had time to thank the people who have been so generous to my Dad and I over the past 2 years. My amazing wife who has willingly stepped in every puddle of crap with me. I have asked a lot of her over the past 2 years and she has only ever given me her total support. I am humbled by her.
My mum, who helped me with all the practical things that I couldn’t get done myself as well as kicking Dad up the arse when he needed it. My best mate, who found himself living in the middle of this emotional washing machine which meant his wants and needs were largely ignored by the household – it must have been very tough to live amongst.
Dad’s heart nurse, Lyn, who ended up visiting Dad at home every day and was an generous vessel for me to dump my frustrations. I haven’t thanked her personally yet because I can’t find a way that really conveys how much I appreciate her dedication to Dad. Dallas, Dad’s palliative care nurse who organised a lot of Dad’s care and took the time to explain things so that we could understand them. The RDNS staff who visited Dad at home, Dad’s myriad of doctors, and especially the staff at Mary Potter Hospice, who allowed my Dad to live his last few months in as much comfort as possible, always greeted him with a smile and provided an ending of dignity that I didn’t know was possible before I met them. Again, I haven’t found a way to thank them that will let them know how much I appreciate them.
And Dad’s friends. All of them. The ones who visited, the ones who Dad-sitted so I could go to work. The ones who took him out and listened to him complain about how I wouldn’t let him eat his favourite foods anymore. Even the ones who let him eat that food, and told me I was doing a bad job looking after him. I know they were only looking out for a mate, and wanted what they thought was best for him.
Realistically, I feel this has broken my career. I moved to Melbourne 3 years ago – 31 years old ready to make headway into the big time. Now I’m 34 and even if I could move back within a year, I’d be 36 before I was at the same place I was when I was 31. Except I’d be 36, with a wife that I’d need to uproot, and the increasing probability of kids. There’s not enough work to be a full time comic in Adelaide and I don’t feel funny at the moment.
But I wouldn’t ever have done this differently. My Dad needed me, and I was the only one he could count on to help. It was my responsibility and one I’d perform again if given the chance.
So what’s the point of all this? I’m not trying to ruin your Father’s Day or make you feel guilty for having a Dad. This is the first chance I’ve had in 9 months to spend some time reflecting on my relationship with my Dad. And here’s what I’ve come up with.
You die how you live. There’s no magical moment at the end of a life where father and son become best mates and laugh and hug and cry. A relationship isn’t built on one moment, but of all the moments that make up your time together. So the way you want to be remembered is the way you need to live. I constantly catch myself thinking “I’ll do it better next time around” with one off things, as if I get a chance to restart and have another go. But that’s not how life works. Even if reincarnation is your thing, you don’t get a do-over with this particular life.
So if you want an honest and open relationship with your Dad, it needs to start now, if not years ago. If you want to know more about his past, you have to ask him. If you want him to know that you love him, you have to tell him. I know my Dad knows that I love him, but it felt weird to say out loud, and it would have been nice for him to hear me say it. Same goes the other way, too.
At some point, it WILL be too late to start. I don’t know when that is, I can’t imagine anyone does. But it’s never too early to start, and its not a pass/fail kind of thing anyway, so the more you live with positive relationships, the better they’ll be at the end.
I’ve had a happy Fathers Day, surrounded by friends, family and laughter. I wish my Dad could be here, but it’s a nice knowing that friends, family and laughter were the three things my Dad enjoyed and valued the most in his life, and it’s a nice way to pretend he’s still here.
Happy Fathers Day Papa Chong. I love you.