This weekend, we celebrate Father’s Day in Australia.
This will be the first Father’s Day that I won’t have my dad with me. He passed away on the 15th October, 2017. He was 87 years old.
Dad was not one to celebrate special occasions. He would always say that it was just another day, and would look at gifts as a waste of money – and another thing he didn’t want or need.
Today, I look down at my cup of tea, which I’ve poured into his “world’s bestest daddy” mug – a Father’s Day gift I gave him many years ago – I find myself smiling at the fact that I seem to have enjoyed this gift more than he did, especially this year. For some reason, it feels like by holding this mug in my hands, there is a little piece of my dad sitting here with me.
My dad loved a good cup of tea. For as long as I can remember, he has always enjoyed a strong tea, with milk and two sugars. He taught me how to dunk a scotch finger biscuit. First you have to snap it in half and then slowly dunk it into the tea so it gets wet, but not soggy. Don’t over-dunk it because it will drop into your tea and then you’ll have a big soggy mess. There were many times where we would laugh over my attempts to dunk my biscuit, only to lose half of it as it over soaked and fell in a damp heap into my cup.
In the rare absence of a scotch finger biscuit, we would improvise by putting some butter on an arrowroot biscuit. This was not to be dunked, but dad took pleasure in passing on his knowledge of how that tiny scrape of butter, when evenly applied across the biscuit, transformed it from being a plain sweet treat, to a whole new delightful experience.
I still take pleasure in this secret ritual of ours today.
In recent years, I took to buying dad a traditional gift of the Father’s Day Bag from Darrell Lea. Filled with different types of liquorice and lollies and sweet treats, it would take him months to work his way through it all. A resourceful and practical man, once he was finished he would re-use the brown paper carry bag to store his paperwork, medicine and all sorts of random collectables.
Last year on Father’s Day I remember dad was not doing so well. My husband and I arrived in the morning to pick him and my mother up for our usual day out. My mother pulled me aside and said “your father is not well today. He may not make it outside”. So we took our time and kept a gentle eye on him as he insisted on getting ready and going out for the day. For the first time ever, he asked me to help him out on his sports coat. He was having trouble getting his arm through the sleeve. I think that day he knew he wasn’t well, but he was a stubborn man of his word, and whenever we made plans to go out somewhere he would show up regardless of how sore, tired, or unwell he felt. I think from the telling look in his eyes he also secretly knew that this was going to be a day we would all want to remember.
Before we went out, we asked him “dad, it’s your day, what do you feel like doing today?”
He paused to considered his options before replying with “I feel like Ice cream”.
Dad was a huge lover of ice cream, and we all smiled at his response. Especially in his last couple of years, it was almost like he was regressing into a child again often requesting to go to McDonalds for a happy meal, or the Olde English Lolly Shop, or to go for some Ice Cream.
However, Mum being the more sensible of the two piped up with “oh, don’t be silly Brian, you can’t just have ice cream for lunch!”
Dad looked at her with the face of a disappointed child “Aww… why not…??”
So we all looked at each other and agreed – Ice Cream for lunch it was.
My husband Rob came up with the idea of taking him somewhere different this time, so we went into Surry Hills, where there was our favourite place, Gelato Messina.
Across the road there was a park – actually, it was the park where Rob’s parents became engaged over 50 years earlier. It was a beautiful warm sunny day, so we decided to find a nice cosy spot in the shade and left Mum and Dad to settle in while Rob and I went across the road to peruse the menu.
We came back with some ideas and asked Mum and Dad what they would like. Mum said “surprise me”. Dad said “something fun”.
So we got Mum a mix of some stronger flavours like butterscotch, pistachio, and some multi-layered chocolate and berry combination.
Dad ended up with a combination of cookie dough and apple pie and other warm, gooey desert flavours. From the moment he took his first bite, his eyes lit up.
It took him about ten minutes to devour his three scoops of carefully curated ice cream, before leaning back with a big stretch of his arms and declaring “now that was the best ice cream I’ve ever had”.
We spent the next two hours basking in the sun and enjoying watching the people go by.
The park was full of young families, people waking their dogs, and others stopping to enjoy a stretch in the sun before continuing on with their walk, jog, or bicycle ride.
An older couple were walking a beautiful pair of Dalmatians off leash, when one found its way to my dad. It was wearing a tradition Dalmatian-red collar, almost mesmerised by him as he gently patted its head and stroked the side of its body. Before long, there was a long lean black and white body sprawled regally on its back ready for a belly rub. The couple were kind enough to sit and chat with us while they allowed dad some time with their beloved pooch. He was giggling like a five year old boy, bemused with the affection and playful connection he was making with this dog.
I think they could see the immense joy on his face. He was like a young child completely at peace with his brief moment of contact with this beautiful, kind and gentle animal. It was almost like a gift from above. Sent to bless his day even more.
As the couple bid us farewell and continued on their walk, my dad followed them with his eyes all the way to the end of the park.
I looked over to him, held his hand and said “I think you made yourself a friend there”.
He smiled, his face and mind snapping back into the present moment, and looked back at me as he said “I’ve really enjoyed today, Dino. It’s been very quiet, very peaceful, and the sun is beautiful. I’ve had the best ice cream in the world, but now I’m ready for a good cup of tea and a lie down”.
And with that, we all piled back into the car and continued on to our next destination.
At dad’s request – we went to McDonalds.
We spent another couple of hours with dad as he enjoyed his coffee, carefully working his way through his French fries, alternating eating one on its own then placing some on his cheeseburger as we had always done. After all, it’s not cheeseburger if it doesn’t have chips on it.
After his happy meal, we were all ready to head back home when dad made a surprising announcement “I think I might have an apple pie and a thick shake. A large chocolate thick shake”.
And so it was done.
In this life, I think sometimes you get to the point where it becomes more important to see someone truly enjoy themselves, to see them beam the biggest smile, to savour the moment, and just go with it. Looking back on that last Father’s Day with my dad, I remember so clearly the joy on his face. The simple pleasures that filled his heart and soul with peace and contentment.
Just sitting in the park and watching the world go by was so much more meaningful to all of us then showering him with useless gifts and trinkets and things we all knew he would never want or need.
And as I sit here today holding my favourite world’s bestest daddy mug, I look back with my own sense of peace and contentment knowing that the quality time we spent together each and every day means more than just one nominated date set at the same time of each year.
Now I have a little piece of my dad with me everywhere I go. I hear his laughter. My husband takes pleasure in keeps my dad’s corny jokes and one-liner’s alive. And I feel a deep sense of happiness and gratitude that we were able to enjoy the simple things.
The cover photo I have shared with this post was taken exactly one week before my dad passed away. We were visiting him at the local club and we were laughing and taking silly photos on Snapchat. He was not well at all that day, but his spirit of fun and his sense of humour never left him. This was his favourite photo from the day. He thought he looked like Elvis Presley.
And now here we are almost a year later, and wishing you another Happy Father’s Day, Dad. But this year it’s not because it’s Father’s Day in Australia, but because you were the best dad a girl could ever ask for everyday. And everyday will be Father’s Day for you now and always.