He respected guns, and taught me to shoot. He took me out driving in every vehicle my license would allow me to drive, so I could be confident to drive anything I got behind, except somehow he never taught me to back a trailer. Oops. Still, I've driven tractors, trucks, stick shifts, column shifts, automatics, vintages and you-name-its.
He loved lollies, and had quite a sweet tooth. He was fiercely independent and very private. We didn't have a lot, but we had enough and I felt rich, and secure. He played Lotto. He had his chair, a recliner rocker that was hotly contested as long as he was not in it. This is how I remember him very clearly. I'm delighted I have such a 'like' photo of him, and although there are others of him around, this is a beauty. Cropped out is the cat at his feet.
He loved to fish, and I wish I could lay my hands on a wonderful photo of him holding two enormous deep sea dhufish, after a great day of fishing, the cats at his feet. He loved his cats. He loved dogs too, and used to breed dachshunds when I was a small child, but my Mum didn't like dogs, so they had to go.
He was a hoarder, a pack rat. Remind you of anyone? You should have seen his shed when he died. I still have some of his stuff, including his diary from the year I was born, noting my birth. I treasure his handwriting.
He loved his four daughters, and always vowed that he was more than happy to be the father of four girls, with no sons. I was born when he was 32, the last of us a few days after his 40th birthday. I remember making him a card for his 40th. This week I will make a 40th card for that sister.
He was allegedly domestically capable, but this was rarely demonstrated. Instead he was waited on hand and foot, his cuppa quickly fetched within minutes of his return after a hard day's work.
He was a sparse drinker who enjoyed a tipple but rarely over-indulged. Gift bottles of whisky would last for years, eked out in his occasional Irish coffee. He always smoked however, for a few years it was a pipe, later rollies.
I have a treasured memory of him in the last days of his life, in a palliative care unit at the time, sitting outside on a patio, offering me his ancient woollen dressing gown against the evening cold, while he rolled a smoke. We sat together peaceably for a time and then he was tired and I tucked him back in bed. It was the last conversation we ever shared.
The next morning he slipped into unconsciousness, and was taken home where we spent the next 48 hours preparing to let him go. He was barely rousable. The only words he spoke that weekend were of love. "Th'nk you" "Love you" as we turned him, or cleaned him, or stroked him. It was pretty special, and a great privilege to nurse him at the end of his life. He died peacefully on a Sunday at lunchtime, hours after seeing an old friend from Speedway days. We laid him out in his full Masonic regalia, as a Past Master, with family photos in his pocket, his XXXX strong peppermints, money for the paper. The months of his illness had finally seen the grease stains fade from his fingertips, and the undertakers somehow buffed out the welding sparks from his glasses. We were so astonished that we each commented on it at the viewing.
He was a man of dignity and few words, but occasionally he would rabbit on about an unlikely topic. He spoke to all men. He loved children, and called them all Charlie. Five of his grandchildren were born in his lifetime, luckily mine, as the eldest, knew him. The working windmill and swing he built for my kids are still in my yard.
He died one month after he turned 65, from pancreatic cancer, a fast and aggressive cancer that took no prisoners. It is on both sides of the family, and I feel a little daunted at the thought that I may have seen my future end. I hope I have the courage and dignity he showed.
I miss him, and yet I don't. Everything he was to me, he still is. A guide, a mentor, a role model. Steadfast, old-fashioned but interested in innovation. I have his lessons, and he is within me. I often sense his presence. Sometimes I hear myself laughing his throaty deep chuckle. Of course I do miss him, and love him, his acceptance and insights. Even now, fifteen years after his passing, I still have the instinct to tell him something. He was a thinker. I wish he could visit, but maybe he does. I know he would be proud of me, of the Laura I am today. Except he called me Jane. Its a long story. I'm not sure what he'd make of us all now. Things have really changed a lot for our family, not all for the better.
But, today I celebrate the anniversary of his birth. The roast dinner is on. I will raise a glass. Writing this has led to more than a tear or two (where're the tissues when you need them?). This is my favourite photo of my Dad and I together on my wedding day in 1985.And I am proud to be Dennis' daughter.