Twenty years ago today, my father died. This is one of the few surviving photos of him. In case you can't tell, that's me on the horse, and I'm terrified.
My father was named Michael James Peek, and you don't know him, and neither do I. To me, Dad is a collection of images from my childhood, and stories from other people. The closeness to his brother, Dennis, and the trips to his house every second or third day when he lived in Sydney. He was close to all his brothers and sisters, but Dennis most of all. His three brothers gave up smoking after his death. A trip in Tasmania before I was born and before he was married resulted in some kind of Black Bar drink in which he and his friend got very, very drunk. He told awfully racist jokes about Aborigines. He blew up of garbage bins at school. He made bullets in the garage. He made beer there, also. The guns he kept tightly locked up in the house. His desired to move into the country, like his brothers and sister. He planned to retire at fifty-five. The time he presented his youngest sister, who is mentally disabled, with a tree made from twenty-one one dollar bills for her twenty first. Australia hasn't had one dollar notes for years. He could skin a rabbit and once showed a bunch of us how to do it with a pocket knife. He hand-made leather belts and sold them to friends and friends of friends. His left kneecap had been shattered and removed in a soccer accident, and as a result, he hated sitting in cinemas, because it hurt his leg. He only liked westerns and films with Clint Eastwood, anyway; though he and a friend once hooked up VCRs to illegally copy a rented tape of the Empire Strikes Back for me, because I loved Star Wars so much. He hated that I was always into TV, comics, and books, more than sport and guns, and he hated that I was timid, where other boys were not. He yelled at me when I wouldn't stop crying after slamming my thumb in the car door. In the hospital, he would give me money to buy comics and books and, of all things, darts. The serious amounts of drugs he was on would mean that he would forget that he had done so a minute later. He used to listen to country music and play Slim Dusty and Johnny Cash as we drove in his big, brown Valiant. He would trade that in for a Volvo, eventually. He would drive both with his knees--one absent, scarred flesh, and the other whole--while rolling his own cigarettes. He smoked Camel. He died from cancer.
There are two surviving photos of my father and me. We were never a big photograph family, like some are, and that's the reason for it. The second photo is the one that I've put here on the blog because it captures the image I have in my head. Also, it's the only one I have scanned in. Never over look the easy answer. The first photo was taken when I was around a year old, and we're both sitting in a pool, and he, while wearing an ugly orange hat, holds a beer in the other hand, and me in the other. I guess this doesn't help if I wanted to make an image of my father out to be a progressive social champion who challenged the status quo on race/feminism/or something like that, but lets face it, he wasn't pushing that line. He was, I suppose, a hick. A bogan. A Westie. Pick your term. You've all got one. I would have clashed horribly with him as a teenager.
I usually keep the personal stuff off this blog, but some of it, I don't mind putting up here. Maybe it's surprising that this is one of them. It shouldn't be--it happened twenty years ago. It's not the intense, private thing that death often is in the first years. It's simply a thing and every now and then, on anniversaries, events, topics relating to, you talk about it, and you do so without pain or pause or grief, because all that stuff is long gone, and there's nothing left to do with the dead but talk about them, and give in to a few moments of nostalgia. If you're lucky, you dig up an old photo, show it round, and have a few laughs.