I’ve been quiet for a while as my father, George Henry Barrett, passed away on the 12th of March.
He was 86 and had spent the last 2 years in and out of hospital due to the advancement of his emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis.
During those last years I spent slightly less hours than I would have liked with him.
I also spent a lot of time in my head, struggling to rationalise my memory of him with the aged reality.
Throughout my teenage years he was an oppressive cloud of resentment and spite, lurking in the artificially darkened lounge room.
He watched WW2 documentaries and late night news programs that seemed to feed his angry aura and would only occasionally emerge from the lounge to bark orders or make denigrating comments to my mother, my brother or myself.
I recall one of the final straws before I moved out of home, and before my mother divorced him… one night after witnessing him denigrating her for the millionth time I threatened to smash a chair over his head. He goaded me on to do it and called me a gutless turd when Mum broke it up. I wished him dead.
I’m sure he would probably dispute this memory – as likely I would at this time. I can’t even remotely equate this to the man I re-engaged with.
Perhaps time and age has mellowed us both? Perhaps the calming influence of his partner Pat?
Here was a man who applauded the occupy movement and expressed pride when I mentioned going on a march against the Campbell Newman government.
Here was a man concerned about his carbon footprint – doing his best to ensure his passing was as ecologically sound and stress free as possible (he kinda failed at this but shit inevitably happens.)
Here was a man who could eloquently follow a curiously Adam Curtis-like logic in ascribing the woes of our current world to US and UK negligence in foreign policy.
He was a child during the blitz. Was one of the Narnia children, sent away from the city as an early teen. In his reality there was no Aslan only pissing himself with nightmares.
He joined the army in time to not see active combat but “enjoy” the aftermath.
He returned with dreams of being an engineer – only to be told there were buses to be driven.
Through two marriages and four sons he carried this resentment. That the rest of the world was at best an inconvenience and at worst, actively plotting against him.
I know this because much of the time I feel the same way.
As a parent of a child with sensory processing disorder I have some very dark days where the void seems way more inviting than any attempt to communicate my despair.
He carried the burden of undiagnosed depression and did nothing about it – whether through lack of access, lack of knowledge or lack of courage.
This burden poisoned most of the relationships he had.
In the process of going through his stuff I’ve uncovered a consistent obsession with cameras, video and documentation that he could well have shared.
We would never have this bond.
I choose to learn from this – the man who died was a man I loved – but we spent too long estranged to have enough time to make up for that.
Every day I remind myself of how I want things different for my son Griffin. I remember my dad, I remember how impossible it seemed for him, I look up at the black monolith of depression and just start climbing.
This isn’t a Mike and The Mechanics song.
His last words to me were “Safe travels.” I replied “You too Dad.”