Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.
— Albert Einstein
A portion of these words are written on my father’s plaque at the crematorium — the bit about living on in our children. I can’t remember exactly, but I think we chose these words because we liked the idea that Dad would always be alive in us.
Some of Dad definitely lives on in me — the shit-stirring part.
To my horror, I have also discovered that the ‘Dad jokes’ part has also survived. How do I know this … well, I obviously hear the full range of Dad jokes as they spew forth from my mouth, in my voice, but it became inarguably clear when it was pointed out by my daughter:
Late last year we had been lucky enough to join another dragon boating crew on their training/coffee-run paddle when all of our sweeps and much of our team were trialling for ACT team selection. We were lined up at the museum for coffee and chatting to a couple of the guys from the other team. One of them commented about how he liked to stir his daughter up, keeping her on her toes, and ensuring the Dad jokes stayed alive.
He added, ‘It is the role, and right, of the Dad to do this.’
My daughter promptly, and drily, remarked, ‘My mum does that role.’
Dad would be proud of me, I think.
The other thing I feel I have inherited from both my father and my grandfather is their ability to take their lot in life and lighten it.
Many years ago (pre-kids), Dad and Pop had come over to our house in order to remove a particularly ugly, despised (by me) and downright vicious prickly Grevillea from the garden alongside our driveway. I say vicious because I couldn’t get out of the car and go inside without it reaching out and stabbing me mercilessly. It had to go! My husband protested, but he’s a bike-rider and didn’t have to contend with the beast, so he had no say as far as I was concerned.
My grandfather had macular degeneration, which knocked out his central vision, allowing him to see fuzzy peripheral images from the affected eye, which happened to be the one with the better eyesight.
My father, who had been in and out of hospital his whole adult life with asthma, had been recently diagnosed with restricted airways syndrome. (This is like permanent asthma, but with no relief to be had from ventolin.)
They were faffing around, working out where to start. I went inside to get them a coffee, obviously an essential element prior commencing any manual task. When I came back out Dad turned to me and said, in all seriousness, ‘Pop and I are starting up an odd-jobs company — The Blind and the Breathless. You’re our first client.’
That’s who they were. Why would you sit around bemoaning your issues when you could make light of them?
After discovering I am going to lose my hair (thanks chemo) and probably at least one breast … I heard myself say to someone (and then multiple other people), ‘I’ve spent years wishing my hair wasn’t so thick and my boobs weren’t so big. Wish granted!’
Well – I now know Dad and Pop both live on in me. Which feels good!
There are, however, parts of my own personality best left to lie when that time comes: quick, unreasonable temper; anal obsessions; fastidious behaviour and expectations; perfectionism to the point of unreasonableness. I certainly don’t want these to live on in my children.
What would I like to pass on?
I really hope my children gain and retain:
♦ my ability to stand up for myself and not take shit from anyone
♦ my (new-found) ability to express my thoughts in whatever medium works
and, above all:
♦ the parts of their grandfather and great-grandfather that I have kept.
However I don’t intend my body to become a wilted leaf on the tree of life just quite yet. Just so you know.