Father’s Day is here again, which brings to mind the wonderful man who had so much influence over us all, as a family. He certainly was more than the average ‘man of his time’ in more than one way. My dad was the epitome of a soft, gentle soul who adored my mother and all of his family and set a standard for us to live by.
As a young child, I remember distinctly the day I found out some family background. I was colouring at the kitchen table and my mum was working at her sewing machine, nearby. I asked the question, “Mummy, why do R, K and S [initials of their first names] have a different surname from J and me?”
Mum’s reply was because their father had died when they were very young and then she had married my father later. My little sis and I were the two children who followed that union. Of course, at the time I did not think this was remarkable, but just continued colouring in.
Sometime later, a friend at school took great pains to inform me, that if my elder siblings had a different father, then they were actually my step-brothers and sister. Coming home from school on that particular day, I approached my parents, who just happened to both be at home at the time, and brought this subject up. My dad immediately replied, “In this house there are no steps!”
I instantly accepted this as truth because that is the way that our family lived out our relationships. My dad was called by that name by all five kids. In fact, only the very eldest of the three older kids could actually remember their father at all. The eldest was also the only one who remembers our dad joining the family, after my mum had been widowed. The other two hadn’t even been told that dad wasn’t their father until it was revealed, after my birth (by a tactless relative’s comment to my elder sister, when mum was in hospital).
In the 1950s it was fairly standard practise to keep details of births and marriages, even the slightest bit outside the norm of the day, from children. Hence, many children were unaware that they had been adopted. This is how it was, with the case of the paternity of my older brothers and sister. As my younger sister and I were still children, compared to the older siblings, we were still oblivious to these details until I asked my questions. My dad simply fulfilled the role of father to us all; a hardworking, caring, loveable man who spent time talking to all of his kids, showing an interest in us and always giving quality time to family life. This was only one of his most admirable qualities.
Dad’s other amazing qualities were his support of my mum, ceaselessly and tirelessly, from a domestic perspective. Mum had taken up dressmaking at home, as a widow of three very small children, simply to make ends meet. When dad came along, they married and had two more of us, so it was a tall order to afford five kids, in a post-war environment, when wages were low and economics strained. Dad had been a victim of the Depression, in his family of origin, so that educational opportunity was extremely limited. World War II followed this period when he served in the army, overseas. This meant, in his late-20s, dad returned home to take whatever manual labour employment he could find. After marriage, he moved to Sydney and worked for the Australian paper mills, for more than 20 years. As a shift worker on a rotating roster, dad often had a stretch of five days off, once per month, after finishing the seven night shift round. This meant he was often at home during weekdays, before afternoon shifts or finishing at 3pm.
It was nothing unusual for Dad, to come home after day shift, peel vegetables and prepare dinner (plain basic wholesome cooking common at the time like stews, roasts, corned silverside, chops, sausages, mince dishes like rissoles and plenty of vegetables, some of which he grew in the backyard). After dinner prep he would go to the local to meet his mates, for the few beers after work, as was common at the time, in the saloon bar, where only men were allowed. He’d then come home, where depending on Mum’s dressmaking deadlines, he’d serve up dinner for the family and often, clean up. We didn’t have hot running water anywhere in our house, so kettles boiled on the stove were used to pour over the sunlight soap for washing up. I remember fighting with my little sister, over whose turn it was to wash or wipe up, as we grew older. Both of us maintained we had homework to do, as we were both keen students, so dad would often give in and send us away, doing most of the washing up and wiping up all by himself. Mum often had customers coming after work, for fittings in the evenings, so she could be caught up with her customers. Dad was an amazing support to her.
Dad also did other household tasks on his five days off each month. He usually washed the kitchen floor, with hot water and soap using a scrubbing brush and applied the floor polish from the tin, on his hands and knees. It was a rather large area. He then used one of those electric polishers, which had two large pads that rotated noisily, as it was manoeuvred around the kitchen linoleum. He also would help to do the family washing, in the big laundry tubs and the boiler, then put items into the wringer washing machine, one after another, feeding them through singularly. A small share in a lottery win of $300 (considered a lot of money then) was spent on the first automatic washing machine, a very large top loader. We were mesmerised that it could do all the washing by itself and it was a godsend to my parents’ workload, with a family and both working so hard.
As little kids, my baby sister and I knew how to amuse ourselves with dolls, playing schools and many other creative games, socialising with nearby friends. As we grew older, when Mum was too busy to take us out during school holidays or weekends, it was not uncommon for Dad to take the two of us and one or two of our friends out for the day, in Sydney. I remember distinctly dressing up in our best clothes with long socks on, and catching buses to Circular Quay and then the ferry to Manly, just for a nice outing to have some fun. He also often took us to the beach, in summer.
These days many changes in family parental roles, with the advent of working mothers, means that many wonderful men contribute substantially to family life of domestic duties and child rearing. I do believe though, that my dad was definitely a man before his time, who not only blended a whole family together but by his very example, of love and commitment, to all of us, especially my mother, gave us the legacy of commitment and devotion, to those he loved. It is not surprising that the life partner I chose, has many similarities in his core values. I am indeed, a very blessed daughter, wife and mother.