5 November 2007

Dad - The Ocker Doc

Father bashing has become quite a hobby in the last 15 years. Many people credit their fathers with their later success or failure.

My father was a victim of his own health. As a healthy 25 year-old final-year accountancy student, he was taking his elder sister to a dance in the nearby town of Digby (it's not on your maps because it's in Australia!). In the twilight their motorcycle sideswiped a truck. The siblings both suffered severe injuries to their right shins. But bones heal.

Dad was placed in hospital to heal, but the man in the next bed had TB. Dad ended up with TB. Before the bacterium was known, TB was called 'consumption' for good reason. Dad was sent to a sanitorium to recover. Unfortunately his immune system was not geared to fight the bug. His left lung was a mess. He was labelled as 'incurable' and expected to die soon. That's a heavy burden before your 30th birthday.

An American Army colonel, Dr Gebauer, came to demonstrate his successful operation to control TB. He called for volunteers. With 50% chance of surviving the operation but some prospect of cure, Dad thought that it was the better option! Five others undertook the same risk.

All six were successful. Five died in car accidents, none died of TB.

But accountancy was now a thing of the past and life was more difficult. Marriage and four children meant that his first holiday with Mum occurred after 19 years of marriage.

Finally at the age of 59, life was settling down. While visiting the rented family home, Dad and his best friend took his new Volvo for a drive. The only eyewitness said that the car was up on two wheels as it went around a bend and into a very large gum tree. Death was quick.

I was not there and couldn't be found. The local priest looked for me in church but couldn't see me. He informed the congregation of the need for their prayers. Discovery was quick, but not painless. Mum never forgave the priest, but I didn't mind so much. You can dress the news up, but when you come to say "Your father is dead", the suffering is the same. The news that that lump is cancer is very similar, I think. But I think that suspecting the truth beforehand actually makes the shock less.

I regret that I did not know my father better. I cleaned out his desk after his death. I was struck by the similar way that we both thought. And now I regret not knowing him better. Mind you, the fault is all mine. Brash youth who knew everything better his parents - every child repeats the mistake. Mike and the Mechanics had a song called "The Living Years". The chorus goes:

"Sing it loud, sing it clear, You can listen as well as you hear, It's too late when we die, to admit we don't see eye-to-eye".

Need I say more?