Do you find it difficult to tell your father that you love him? Do you want to tell him while there is still time?
This was my problem, 19 years ago.
My father was in his late 70s and terminally ill. I suspected he had only months to live. I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me and that I would miss him dearly when he was no longer with us. But it was difficult to find the right time and circumstances to do so. And some things are just too hard to say to your father, no matter how old you are.
When I discussed this problem with my husband, he suggested I write down what I wanted to say to my father.
So this is what I did. I wrote a poem.
On 25 April 1998, I spent the entire day at the computer writing the following poem. It was Anzac Day, a public holiday in Australia, so I didn’t have to go to work. I had time and opportunity to collect my thoughts and put them into words.
Writing about my father was an emotional experience. Alone, I shed many tears as I recalled the various facets of my father’s life and reflected on the years and our shared experiences. Regardless of how my poem would be received, I realized that writing it was therapeutic for me.
That same day, around 6.00 pm, I visited my father, to give him my poem. I was bursting to share it with him. But, at the same time, I was a little worried how he would respond. I was aware that I was taking a huge risk. “He may not like it”, I told myself.
To my surprise, he was really moved by my words. He shed a few tears (which was not the norm for him) and so did I. He didn’t say a lot that night – I think he was quite overwhelmed. What I had done – writing something so intimate about him and for him – was so unexpected.
Nevertheless, as I hoped, this gesture of mine paved the way for us to speak to each other at a deep personal and spiritual level over the months that followed.
So, what did my father think of my poem? He said it was “good”, but added wryly that I was “a little hard”. I’m not sure exactly what he meant. I didn’t ask him. What I had written was heartfelt and true (from my perspective). I didn’t want to change anything.
In a funny sort of way, via my poem, I checked out my father’s eulogy with him!
(Dedicated to Bill Proposch)
My Dad –
So intelligent, quick-thinking and wise.
Honourable, noble, upright and fair,
You are a man of integrity and duty.
A leader, a loner,
A lover of your wife and own.
My Dad –
So clever, shrewd and far-sighted
Innovative, futuristic and unafraid.
A genius with numbers and a mind alive.
In business, a successful man.
My Dad –
So fun-loving, daring and untamed.
Smoker, joker, and full of wit.
A risk-taker, gambler and trail-blazer.
Out on your own
Yet never hidden in a crowd.
My Dad –
So hard-working, dedicated and resolute.
Auctioneer, fruiterer and travel agent.
A soldier in the battle of commerce
Never a follower
But always your own boss.
My Dad –
So proud, yet strangely humble, a hard man
And hard to get to know.
Stubborn – just like me,
You can be unrelenting,
You hold your cards close to your chest.
My Dad –
Educated, cultured, yet learning still,
A person to be esteemed.
You speak with voice and words
That mark you out
As a man among men.
This is how I remember you
Praising me, defending me, advising me,
Teasing me (my nose, my legs, my pride)
Always interested in me
Dad – you are my friend.
I have not forgotten all the time and money
You devoted selflessly to me:
Typing up my childish story,
Encouraging me in my study, music and art,
Meeting me at the train.
You worked so hard and long and didn’t often rest:
You spent Sundays at the dining table
Pouring over figures and books.
But then I recall the camping holidays –
The caravan such a treat.
Can you remember Friday nights
In front of the TV?
You and I relaxing, a hard week at its end,
“The Avengers” and a block of chocolate
Shared with much delight.
You love to listen to the radio (and the TV).
The news, the weather, the races
And now the stocks and shares.
I still remember Sunday nights with Billy Graham
When I was a child.
You are a man of simple pleasures:
A quiet beer after work, a whisky or two.
Your home is your castle,
Your children and grandchildren know
They are always welcome there.
You are so organised and thorough,
No stone is left unturned.
In business and in family life,
You are a planner, a designer,
So generous to your own.
Now old, now frail, now tired.
But I see you as you were –
So strong, upright, energetic,
Full of life.
Everything for you a challenge.
I cannot be with you
As you face your last great challenge.
But I want you to know
How much I love and admire you,
And want to meet you on the other side.
Your life has seen many struggles
Not least the present one.
And to have a ‘religious’ daughter
Was not your idea at all –
But didn’t we talk about God when I was young?
I want you to know how much I have prayed
Over the last twenty-four years for you.
I don’t want you to die
Until I am sure –
You are at peace with God (through the Lord Jesus Christ).
May it be for you, when you leave us here,
That God calls you home
And says to you, with arms open wide,
“Well done, good and faithful servant!
Come unto me and rest.”
• • •
On 24 June 1999, 14 months after I wrote this poem and shared it with my father, I read it to family and friends at my father’s funeral service. The words I wrote to tell my father how much I loved him (my personal tribute to him while he was alive) formed part of my public tribute to him after his death.