I was in the car with my father when my brother rang and told us that his partner was pregnant. And not just with their first child, but the much-awaited first grandchild. I remember looking over to Dad as I heard the news. His eyes were glistening. As we drove back home slowly, Dad’s smile grew. Later I asked him how he had been feeling and he told me, “All I’ve really wanted was to have my kids and grandkids around, playing and jumping all over me.”
When I was growing up Dad was dedicated to us kids, but during the week he left for work early and often came home after we’d had dinner and were getting ready for bed. He travelled fairly regularly for work and when he was overseas I would write him letters for each day he was away. Letters that guessed what we might be having for dinner that night, wondering if my brother or sister had been mean to me again. They were letters that wanted him to be part of my daily life for those days that he couldn’t be there.
When Dad was home, however, he was wholly devoted to us. He was at our disposal. Dad sat with me as I talked endlessly about how I wanted a secret hideout just like the one in the French TV show ‘Allo ‘Allo, underneath my bedroom. I drew plans of an elaborate entrance accessed by a secret knock on my wardrobe door. Dad would also play tennis with my brother and sister until the sun had dropped and the mosquitoes started biting. If we asked him to play with us or to help us he would put down whatever he was doing.
In the winter Dad would put my pyjamas on the heater before bedtime and I would ask him to be a sloth, my favourite childhood animal. Channeling his inner sloth Dad would get down on all fours and make off down the hallway. I would be hanging off his neck, shrieking with delight. I was delivered to bed this way most evenings when I was young.
I hear those shrieks of joy now, but they come from the grandchildren. Watching Dad and my 16-month-old nephew tussle on the floor and come up disheveled, grinning and out of breath, I get the sense that dad is growing younger with each day. My nephew adores my dad, and when I see them together it reminds me to slow down and to be relaxed in the way I interact with my own son.
Dad will be with his grandsons but not need to say anything. The other day he and my nephew sat on a rug outside in the sun and Dad didn’t say a word. They just watched the wind take the leaves from the trees. I don’t think I’ve seen two more contented people.
Dad is also an honorary grandfather. My parents live next door to a family (a set of grandparents, a mother and son) who moved here from China a couple of years ago. The son is eleven years old and has come to see Dad as his Australian grandfather. After school or at the weekend, the son pops in to get Dad to pump up his bike tyres, to show him his remote controlled car, or to bring his own grandfather in for some English practice. With gestures and a smart phone language app, they get by.
It strikes me that some people calcify as they get older; the passing years make them brittle and harsh. As I watch dad I see that he is becoming even gentler, even more reflective. The time that he didn’t have when I was growing up, he now has with his grandsons. He has time to fashion toys out of wood; time to read books in the morning without going off to work and time to have a second-parenthood. And in this second-parenthood dad adores my son and my nephew, and they adore him in equal measure.
And what could be a better Father’s Day gift than that?
(And just in case you’re wondering, I never did get my ‘Allo ‘Allo style hideaway. Dad must have thought it was a good idea though, because a couple of years later he stole my idea and built himself a subterranean wine cellar; an idea I didn’t appreciate at the time but needless to say, I certainly do now).
As I watch dad I see that he is becoming even gentler, even more reflective. The time that he didn’t have when I was growing up, he now has with his grandsons.