Somewhere along the way my Dad died. I knew he died. It was completely unexpected, well, except that he was 84.
Brian John Storer
13 December 1928 to 30 July 2013
It was 14 months between my mother dying and Dad dying. The two deaths were so very different. Mum’s was drawn out and painful to witness, it went on for months and the final 24 hours were horrifying beyond my expectations. Some day I’ll publish the blog I wrote about that, but it’s still pretty raw. Dad on the other hand went at the end of a normal day. Like so many others. We have a photo of him, just hours before he died, he is alert and happy. When his death came he literally sat down and simply died. Oh for all of us to have it so easy. He died his own way, on his own terms, no fuss, not bloody quacks, no hospital stay. He was a stubborn man who didn’t need anyone else to help him.
I didn’t ever really connect with my dad. To me in my growing up years he was an angry violent drunk. He was vindictive and mean. I guess I loved him anyway, but I feared him and wanted to be spared from his anger. I didn’t want to be near him when he was drunk as he would often use me (or other siblings) for a cheap laugh or a joke. He thought it was funny to get drunk, wrestle me to the floor and proceed to tickle me. It was horrifying and scary for at any moment he could erupt into a ball of anger. I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of the belt or him trying to ‘knock my bloody block off’.
These memories last long into adulthood and it was years before I realised that I was outside his control and I no longer had to fear his anger. It’s clear that he left a big scar on my psyche.
Do I have any fond memories of him? I don’t think I have any great moments from childhood that spring to mind. I grew into adult hood and watched as he grew into old age. He and Mum won Tattslotto and after years of struggling on ‘compo’ after a train accident that left him unable to work this was a fantastic thing to happen.
We sort of settled into an adult relationship. He loved seeing my kids, he always took a keen interest in them and what they were up to. Over the years he certainly mellowed.
Then the whole issue of my sexuality came up for me. Dad was a devout catholic, he really believed in the stuff about jesus. I did too, for a long time. It was perhaps the only thing that kept us together. My fear of him rejecting me because I was gay was at the top of my mind. I didn’t want him, or Mum to find out. I kept it hidden in plain view. Both of them met Michael as we always travelled together. We never really spoke directly about who Michael was and I was always anxious that they might ask me. I knew that if they did I would tell them that he was my partner and that I was gay. I mostly keep to myself but when you ask a direct question I’ll give you a direct answer. My parents would ask my other siblings about me, but never did they speak with me about it.
Is it a crying shame? Maybe, I don’t know. And now I’ll never know.
Yes, there is some regret there, but I understand why I kept this away from them. I didn’t want to be rejected and I didn’t want either of them thinking that somehow they’d failed me. I didn’t want them thinking that I needed saving from the fires of hell, or when they worked out that there was no saving that somehow I was bound for the fires of hell.
And that’s what I think they thought about gay people. I can just about recall every nasty thing my dad ever said about gay people. The ‘woolly woofters’ which I think is rhyming slang for bloody poofters. I’m not sure.
I’ve shed a few tears about his passing. I know that there is a spot somewhere in my heart for the love of my Dad. I feel the sense of loss, a part of my life that has finished. I feel the pang of that separation, even if it isn’t as powerful as I would have liked it to be. Then there’s a bit of envy as I interact with my siblings. My brother Craig talking about calling Dad when their football teams played (Hawthorn and Richmond) or my sister Janine telling me about taking him out to lunch just days before he died. My brother Larry telling me about the things he did for Dad. My sister Angela visiting him with her children and developing a relationship with all of them. Including him in their everyday life. I didn’t have that. I stopped myself from having that sort of relationship with him. Part of me didn’t want it because my childhood was marred with unpleasantness that I never got over. Part of me was protecting myself against his rage and his rejection.
Did he know? Yes, I think so. I think both my parents knew I was gay, but we never spoke about it, it was a subject that none of us ever wanted to talk about. I can romanticise about my relationship with my dad. It’s easy to do that. I did have a relationship with him, it’s just not as I’d hoped for. I think it’s mostly my fault for not addressing those issues with my folks, despite my straightforward and honest approach with people, the courage and bravery left me when it came to speaking with my folks. And that’s ok.
It’s not easy to say to people that I didn’t like my dad too much. Because I didn’t. I’d do anything for him, but I didn’t like him. Whether or not the strain of that relationship was felt by him I don’t know.
Have I done the right thing? Yes. I handled the relationship in a way that meant I never had to put either of us into a confrontation that would send my stress levels through the roof. I did a bit of self-preservation. I may regret that we never had that conversation, but I don’t think so.
I’m at peace with where we left things. Despite all of this, I did spend time with Dad, short amounts of it. I’d visit and sit with him for a while, watch some TV, talk politics and about the latest news, catch up on stories from home. Then I’d leave. Sometimes I’d call him. I set up a computer for him, Dad was mostly blind so the computer needed to read to him, it brought him many hours of both pleasure and frustration! I felt safest around him when others of his children where present. I was there when Mum died, I made sure that he got what he needed by way of his religious beliefs. I stood next to him as she died and prayed with him. I understood just what his religion meant to him and I think I helped him at the time. I made sure we conducted Mum’s funeral in the true traditional catholic way. For what it’s worth I also made sure that his final service was very catholic.
Now both my parents have died. At times I have felt a great sense of loss. It’s a little overwhelming.
My Dad called me Son. He is the only person in all the world who called me that. He may have forgotten my name, there were so many of us! No, no, that’s a joke. I called him Pop or Dad, he is the only person in the world who I used those titles with. The name Son was what separated each of us from everyone else in the world. Pop may not have had the knowledge on how to show his love for us, but the weight of a single word when addressed directly to you is sufficient to carry the full set of emotions and love. It is a special bond, a link that only a father and son can share.
Until my own father died, I didn’t realise that I use Son a lot when I speak with Tomas, I call Caitlin Princess. I’m not aware of whether or not our parents had special names for their daughters.
The value of family can never be under estimated. The spontaneous hugs from Caitlin when I’m distressed or Tomas standing next to me at the graveside, hand on my shoulder, Michael my fiancé a hairs length away from me at all times, ready to embrace me when the grief strikes, these are the important moments when we pull together to take care of each other.
This is the love of my family that I value.
Mum has gone, Dad has gone, there is no one to call me Son. The special connection to my birth has gone, the two people whose love for me was never in question have gone.
I feel alone. I know I’m not, but the world has changed for me.
For me, I need to write this down. The exploration of my feelings and the grief, the resentment, the anger and the love are a swirling mess of thoughts and emotions. It helps me to write about it. I’ve spent 4 weeks in Bali writing this blog. My finger now hovers over the publish button.
I want to share this.
Everyone dies. Maybe your dad already has. Maybe it is yet to come. Mine died, quickly.
If I’d had some warning, what would I have done differently?