My parents lived a long life. Mum was 89 when she died and Dad 96, seven years after Mum. My siblings and I often said we wished we had ‘normal’ parents, but what is normal?
We had a Catholic upbringing, all of us agree this was half the trouble. Our parents put the priests and nuns up on a pedestal, their beliefs never wavered, Dad even hearing the beating of his own drum when the Latin Mass was replaced for the more modern updated version that is still in play. He joined a society of ‘true believers’ and followed these beliefs up until he died.
When I was married in the 1960s, Dad wouldn’t come to my wedding — not because I wasn’t being married by a priest (I was), but because I married a non-Catholic. Unfortunately he never went to any of my siblings’ weddings either; two of my brothers married non-Catholics, too.
Dad was brought up by his father as his mother died having his younger sibling, who also died. He and his father came to Australia from Ireland in 1931 to join other family members. My father was 12 at the time.
He met my mother in the suburbs of Sydney and they raised a family of six, I was the eldest. My youngest brother had Down Syndrome and this was a struggle for my parents. There weren’t any early intervention in the ’50s. My mother’s already fragile state went into a downward slide over the next few years.
My parents coped well while we were young, but as we grew up they found it difficult. A shortage of money didn’t help. We were placed at private schools at the mercy of the Catholic system, but the distance between my school friends luxury lifestyle and our pauper one sunk in as I got older. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that once I left school in 1960, I never saw or heard from any of my classmates. In hindsight, I wish I had gone to a less prestigious school, but can also now appreciate the reason behind the decisions my parents made for us.
As my parents advanced into old age, Mum’s depression and Dad’s paranoia meant that our weapon for coping was our humour. Dad and Mum decided when they were 80 to sell up and move to Dad’s birthplace, Ireland. No amount of reasoning could talk them into keeping their home and renting so off they went, packing a shipping container with all their possessions including the car, which had to be sold for a smaller vehicle once they realised the roads in Ireland were like laneways in the towns. They built a house in a village of old cottages, and their happiness wavered. In Australia, I coped with my daughter giving birth to premmie quads and looking after her toddler.
My parents lived in Ireland for three years before they returned back home, which was humorous in itself. They lost their passports, and as Dad had never been naturalised he had to be escorted out of the plane to have his visa replaced. They then decided to move three hours from us, which made it difficult to visit with full-time jobs. We were the worst children in the world for not ‘wanting’ them. This ill-feeling continued after my mother died, when it was revealed she had spent three days in hospital prior to her death. We felt as though we’d been denied an opportunity to say our goodbyes.