The Hand and the Fist – My Father (Ron)

Dad

I had a poor relationship with my father – most of the time. Sometimes I remember fondly when he was the hand, but most of the time he was the fist. My mother and siblings will dispute what I am about to write, but to me it is the truth. And the perceptions, real or imaginary, identified the person I became. I do not write this in vitriol rather than in understanding.

At my father’s funeral over ten years ago I wept. My sister told me that it made her sick. But I was crying for the relationship we didn’t have. It is sad, for both of us.

My earliest memory of my father was him spanking me – hard. You see, Dad was filled with insecurity, fear and anger. In the end I believe he felt guilty about how he had treated me, and I really appreciate that. Not all that long before he died he told my son, Michael, that he shouldn’t blame me for the mistakes I had made as a father. “It’s all my fault” he told Michael.

I have chosen to omit the many times he hit me, sometimes with his fist. It isn’t worth repeating. But I will recount one particularly frightening example. Our neighbour, big George Smith, had been teaching his sons and I to box. I was terrible at it to start with but soon got the idea. I remember in our kitchen one day my father was trying to explain to me why children of my age (14 at the time) couldn’t drive cars. I decided to make a smart-arse comment saying “I thought it was because their legs were too short to reach the pedals”. Dad struck me and my immediate instince was to raise my fists in an orthodox boxing manner. He smiled and said “I’ve been waiting for you to do that for a long time”. He chased me out of the house as I ran toward the Smith household. Thank God George was home. He restrained my father and calmed him down, but I do remember Dad saying “I’ll kill him”.

Dad’s anger with me, his resentment of me, lasted almost his entire life. When he was in his early seventies my sister, Dianne, convinced me to attend a BBQ at my parents house over the Easter weekend. I hadn’t spoken to my father in many years. Dad was even more anxious that me about the get-together. By the time we had finished the meal he was fairly inebriated. He asked about an incident that occurred when my parents we away on holiday. I was just 18 years old. I drove my father’s car against orders and managed to have an accident when I left the handbrake on whilst on the home driveway. The car, with Glenda in it, rolled backwards and ended up crashing through a neighbour’s garage door. I had never told my parents the real story and Dad waned to know. So I told him. It enraged him and he ended up in the middle of the backyard with his fists up saying “I can still take you”. So very sad. The worse part was that my mother and sister decided to deny that this had occurred. It’s exactly what they had done for so many years – conveniently claiming that all the bad things that I had experienced over the years of my childhood lay purely in my imagination. But that’s simply not true.

In another weekend game a brawl broke out (as it so often did) and this guy started belting me. My mother ran onto the ground with an umbrella and attacked him. The referee eventually restored order then escorted my mother back to the sideline.

Anyway, the other good memories of my father were mainly to do with holidays. These were significantly good times. Every year in the May holidays we would trek north to Coolangatta (just over the Queensland border). It was my favourite time of the year and to this day when I need to escape I dream of Coolangatta. The occasion I dream about quite often is when we stayed at one of the famous Cooloogatta boarding houses for a week. It was called St. Leonards and was right opposite the beach. All meals were provided and they had a games room where we would play the jukebox and table tennis for hours on end. The year was 1960 because I remember Nat King Cole’s ‘Rambling Rose’ was number one at the time and we played it over and over. My father loved the song and we sang along with it together. One afternoon my father took me (just me) around the corner with a pocket full of sixpences and we played pinball machines all afternoon. He was so relaxed; we laughed and joked and had a great time. It was special mainly because I don’t remember our relationship ever being like that again.

Well after Dad died, Mum started telling stories of Dad’s deep depression. Apparently some days he would spend in his pajamas, sitting in the corner of his bedroom, crying uncontrollably.

I swore I wouldn’t be anything like my father – but I failed. We are all so complex and I believe my father was also abused as a child. Thankfully my children, especially my son Michael, have broken the chains. Michael tells me he thinks the difference is that he always knew he was loved. I didn’t have that.

Geoff Mooney