Dad was a man of endless contradictions. He had boundless compassion and sensitivity, coupled with a short fuse and occaisonal beserker inclinations.
We called it the ‘red rage’, the temper that fell like a thick impenetrable cloud. Many crazy family stories were born in that angry murk: the puddle-splash tinned fruit assault, the guy who swore in front of me and then learned about 30 new expletives, the infamous Friday-night-piddle baseball bat…
We used to tease him about the two collections he had piled on facing chairs in his living room – talking teddy bears on one, machetes and fighting knives on the other. That said it all really. Even when I write him down I can’t quite make sense of him and I had all my life to figure him out!
Dad believed in strength with every fibre of his being. When, as little kids, we whined that it was too cold to walk so far, he’d tell us we would’ve never made it on the march back from Stalingrad and to toughen up!
Dad often said that he had lived many lives and had been a warrior in all of them but this – we were never quite sure whether to take him seriously or not and I still don’t know for sure whether he meant it.
In this life he said he had to learn to fight the quiet battles, the inner struggles. Apparently that was much tougher than facing down a hoard of angry Huns or taking on a SS Heavy Panzer Battalion but he still gave it his best shot….
Cancer was not something he could fight with his fists. His strength, his size, did him no good against it. I will never fully know what that long losing battle felt like for him – there were many pains he did not want me to share or carry with him.
After years of fighting he came to the point when he knew he was all done, all spent. A few days before he died he called me and said ‘I’m not being hysterical, but I think I will be dead within a week’.
I think his final conclusion was that when you can’t win, going down with courage is a good enough way to end the show.