The end of Childhood
I loved my father - the three of us did. (This is one of the rare photos I have of him when he was young.) He was kind and had a wonderful sense of humour. He never minded if we tagged along with him. I always wanted to be with him, to be like him. I even tried (and failed!) to like oysters, and chillies, and hot sauce like he did.
Our childhood was marked with loss. Dad’s sister died when I was three. His father died on our sister’s second birthday when I was eight. And we lost dad when I was about 10. I don’t know the exact date. But that time is etched in my memory. I think the losses were too much for him. To lose two sisters whom he loved dearly, and then his father was a terrible blow. Our grandfather was not only his father but his friend and his boss.
Dad turned to drink and his drinking was too much for mum. So was our grandfather’s death. Mum loved him like her own father, a father she never knew. Mum was born of a single mum and raised by her grandmother. For her whole life she grieved for a father she never knew, not even his name.
Years later she would tell the story that while he was drinking, dad would take our little sister in the car with him (no child restraints in those days) and she was afraid he would have an accident and hurt her and that’s why she decided to leave him.
Mum asked my brother and I if we wanted to go with her or stay with dad. She would leave us too if we chose our father. But regardless of our decision, she would be taking our little sister with her. We older ones, 10 and 11 years old about, agreed to go with mum. Someone had to look out for our sister and we decided we three would stick together. But we didn’t want to leave dad. We didn’t see any other way we could stay together.
To leave dad and our home and our street full of cousins and uncles and aunties and grandparents was bad enough for us to have to bear. What we didn’t know then was the complete isolation from our family that would follow.
Mum got a job housekeeping for a retired school teacher. While she was there she also got a job as a nurse’s aid, working in an old folk’s hospital. Every week I’d write to dad and mum would post my letter for me. And every day I’d go to the letter box looking for his reply. But there were never any letters. The only thing I could think as time went by was that he didn’t care about us anymore. That he’d forgotten all about us; all about me.
It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that dad never knew where we were. Mum had taken us away and refused him access and any knowledge of how we were or where we were living. She never did post those letters I wrote. I wish I had them, to truly know the heart of my 10 year old self. I missed my father. I missed my cousins. I missed my childhood. I was faced with a reality that no child should have to face and my childhood innocence was gone.