a letter to my father

BY dorothy henderson, western australia- BASED MEDIA STRINGER


As Fathers’ Day approaches and other people organise gatherings and gifts to ensure the fathers in their lives know that they’ve not been forgotten, I feel an aching gnawing emptiness in my soul as I realise that my siblings and I will be without our father again this year. Of course, most of us expect to have to live our lives without the presence of our parents at some point---a harsh reality that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens (assuming that you do miss the absent parents as opposed to finding the lack of them a relief!).


Last week I unpacked the last of the boxes moved into our home when it was built two years ago. One was a generic cardboard removal box that I eyed with both a sense of dread and eager anticipation.

The contents were photographs, ones which had been safely stored for years as we moved from farm to farm to farm; ones I knew contained some of the last images we had captured with our family as a whole. There is more than one of the parts of the whole missing now, and the joy that comes with seeing those lost is mingled with the tears that flow. The very definition of bittersweet. 

So rather than endure the nagging emptiness as the Fathers’ Day hype jams our mailbox with catalogues of tools and camping gear, I took my own trip down the mental memory lane that follows the course of life as one of my Father’s children. Many of my memories are shared by my siblings; some are mine only. The presence of the father of our children in our lives does not replace the father that is our own, even though our partners fathering deserves to be celebrated. Fathers’ Day is a bit about celebrating childhood. As I held the aging photographs of my father with his grandchildren, babies sitting on his knees supported by his gentle hands, I composed a letter to him in my head… 

“To my dearest Father Bear. 

It is Fathers’ Day. I wish I could tell you how much I miss you! I guess I can, and assume that you can hear me---a voice in a void on a day that is filled with memories. 

I miss the Sunday morning phone calls. The 7am “hello” that kept us as a family. The genuine interest in what we were up to; what each grandchild was doing with their time and how they were. The retelling of tales that were not necessarily ours to tell, ones which belonged to my siblings and may have been warped a little by the distance between us, but which showed me that you cared about us all. Memories rekindled despite the miles apart. 


I am reminded on this Fathers’ Day of the Fathers’ Days Past. The times when we were younger and life stretched far ahead of us. We spent hours creating gifts for you…cobbled together or lovingly crafted, or perhaps chosen from the chemist’s shop in the most recently visited town. Socks, jocks, magazines full of fast cars or powerful tractors, pictures of sheep, horses made from clay…homemade cards. Toffee. Key rings you didn’t need…tokens of our love and the need to show you that we knew it was your day. As a parent now, I know the real value of these gifts. 

I have other things that remind me of you all of the time. Tanga, my well-worn Panda Bear whose soggy body and threadbare hide reflect the arduous nature of his journey. Brought to me from London, given in an English farmhouse. I will never forget the day that bright black and white bear was given to me by a loving father…grey and charcoal now, the bear is a link between a father and child. 

There are other memories that are not backed up by hard things…fishing in brooks in Scotland; seeing a spotted fawn with its mother in the bracken; tagging along while the farm duties were done…feeding cows, sheep, hoeing beets….riding with you in the blue Ford tractor, first on English soil and then in the seemingly endless paddocks in the Western Australian Wheatbelt. You were a constant in a changing world. From one hemisphere to another, fathering and farming.  

Of course, nothing is perfect, and though I have only fond memories of my life as your child, I am sure there were undercurrents that I was oblivious to, and complications that I didn’t see, but the fact that that was the case is what makes a childhood good. And I thank you for giving us the chance to wander for miles through the bush unhindered, for letting us be creative and yet fostering a love of the land and our fellow creatures. And for cooking perfect porridge in the mornings…and tolerating the ponies, pet sheep, stray cats and dogs and other critters we cluttered your life with. 

I miss you and wish you were here to see your grandchildren grow. They miss you too. Fathers’ Day just isn’t the same anymore.”