Six months ago today my Dad passed away.
And today, I’m sharing his eulogy.
For those of you who may not know me, I’m Kristine, and I’m the baby.
When I started to think about what I would say at this time, it was the middle of 2019 and Dad was still with us, beginning the seventh week of his longest hospital stay. Understandably, he was feeling pretty frustrated although he could still count backwards from 100 in sevens.
I needed a pen. And my fingers.
Despite his frustration, I’d have been quite happy if he’d stayed safely tucked away in his favourite hospital room, watching the planes and being monitored in hospital forever. The doctors and nurses at St George Private, and St George Public, who have spent time looking after him have been wonderful and have kept him going until he couldn’t go anymore. I can’t possibly name all of them, but special call out to Dr Lynch, Fiona, and Nurse Chris, and Dr G and all the nurses on Level 4 at St George Private Hospital.
They helped him keep going, and he amazed them – and us – at every turn.
None of them could understand how he managed to survive the extraordinarily high potassium counts.
Or the extraordinarily low sugar counts.
Or could fault his ever-present sense of humour.
Every time some poor nurse asked him what he was allergic to, the answer was… women.
He also apparently told highly inappropriate jokes to poor Nurse Chris, who was the only person he ever wanted to change his catheter. No one else ever did it right. And none of the jokes are suitable for polite company.
But at that first hospital admission back in September 2018, we knew we wouldn’t have him much longer.
We were so lucky to have had him for another 14 months.
Dad – born Cecil John Thomas was named after an uncle and known throughout his life as variants of Cec, Jack, John and CJ – was born in 1935, the first son of parents William Charles and Ivy Mavis. He was the first of four kids – followed by twins Julia and Helen and then baby Josephine.
He grew up in Redfern – a much different place to what it is now – married twice and had five kids – Sue, Bob, Natalie, Darren and me, and seven grandchildren – Nicolette, Timothy, Rachel, Tamika, Cody, Bailey and Ruby and a few kids-in-law – Michael, Donna, Ryan and Hayden.
He was so proud of his kids and grandkids, even if he did give a few of them a hard time about climate change from time to time. He liked to call it weather.
He loved being a little contrary, to play a little Devil’s Advocate. He loved seeing how we’d argue back and engage and fight for what we believed in. Even if he didn’t always agree.
He was the best essay editor I had through University. And I think he liked learning as he read. He’d always been a thinker.
After finishing school at Sydney Boys High, he won a Commonwealth Scholarship and studied Economics at the University of Sydney. Later he studied Actuarial Studies at Macquarie University, and at the University of New England.
While studious when growing up, Dad also played a lot of sport.
He claimed to have played rugby league, rugby union, tennis, squash, golf, cricket, soccer, ten pin bowling, basketball, and netball, although I’m still not convinced he played netball, despite his insistence. He was also a rather good hurdler at school – which given his height topped out at about five foot eight or nine, and the fact that he most certainly never had long hurdler legs – surprises me to this day.
After leaving school (where GPS union was the rugby of choice) he played league for the Chelsea United Rugby League Football Club. He played with a few of my uncles and it wasn’t that long ago that I heard the story about him combining with my Uncle Rod to score for Chelsea in front of 40,000 people on the hallowed turf of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
What I wouldn’t give to have seen that!
They used to call him something like the ‘little high-top winger’ and he played against today’s rugby league royalty, having fronted up to Nick Moriatis when he played.
He played President’s Cup for the Bunnies, and he’d have loved to have played first grade for the Rabbits instead of going into the corporate world, but he ended up retiring due to an unfortunate ingrown toenail that gave him trouble – an injury earned during National Service.
Though, if he’d played first grade, he’d probably have gotten into trouble for talking back to the refs – at least, he would have if the last few years were anything to go by. The NRL refereeing drove him nuts – to the point he actually gave up his season tickets at the Sharks.
But he’d still watch. And occasionally we convinced him to come to a game.
And sorry – even though he loved them, I think the Sharkies were always his second team. He was a Rabbitoh at heart.
More recently, while we were walking the corridors of St George Private Hospital – I liked to nag him until he went for a walk – he told me about tackling some guy who was bigger than him – which probably wasn’t that unusual given, as I said, Dad would never have been considered a tall man in stature – during one game. Dad tells me it took some doing but he’d tackled the guy around one leg, and the guy had managed to get a pass away before going down. When they’d both got up from the tangle of the tackle the guy patted Dad on the head (probably ruffled that fabulous hair), said ‘good try’ and jogged away.
Dad was pretty persistent. I reckon he might have gotten him the next time around.
Dad worked at the Commonwealth Bank before moving into the insurance industry, working at Legal & General and later Mercantile Mutual/ING.
Dad didn’t have an issue with telling truth to power. It got him into trouble at least once when he challenged a manager about a decision to send a particular letter. He was the only one to ask why they were sending it in the first place. A good question but a career limiting move.
But he got on with life.
And he instilled in us a sense that people were just people.
And we were pretty much all the same.
That being said, Dad didn’t have a big issue with nepotism, at least when it came down to his kids. Dad signed my first ever pay cheque in the early nineties when I got a summer holiday job working at Merc. I think he might have signed Darren’s first pay cheque too – at least his first ‘full time gig’ one. I’m not sure what Daz did with his, but I promptly cashed mine and bought a discman.
It was a little later that Dad’s lessons on saving and investment rubbed off.
Dad drove to work every day and, working at Merc meant that I often travelled home from work with Dad. He’d also pick me up from Uni from time to time. And there was one ‘Rule of CJ’ that he drummed into us during those drives. Don’t be impatient in traffic. Whenever you’d be in the car with him and there was someone else was dodging in and out of the traffic, he’d tell you to just watch. And, almost without fail, you’d pull up at a set of lights a few minutes later and the dodger would be next to you.
And he’d make sure to point them out. Dodging traffic never got you there faster. Patience was a virtue.
Dad grew up with a love of horse racing, running bets for his grandmother to the SP bookies down the street. He started his kids gambling young, I started at three or four. I think it was something about the numbers that attracted him. Working out the probabilities, studying the form.
That said, I started picking the horses by colour of the jockeys, or by name, and taking the Kirrawee TAB mascot bear Winston home for the weekend. Winston was huge (at least he was huge to me at the time). And Dad would always pay for the bets but, if I won, I’d have to pay him back before I could keep the winnings. I actually thought that was pretty fair and carried this arrangement a fair way into my teenage years!
In later years, before the TAB moved with the times and allowed you to choose your maximum spend, I’d have to call Dad and ask him to do the maths on my bets. I never could work out the multiplication for six horses in a box trifecta for the Melbourne Cup.
I still can’t. But I bet if I’d have asked him this year, he’d have got it spot on.
He’d always wanted a horse – which he finally got at eighty-something (at least a leg or so anyway) but we’ll come back to that.
He was also pretty laid back most of the time – eating any number of pink scones that I baked, or letting Natalie, Darren and I draw all over the walls of the unit at Jannali.
In hindsight, that was a bad idea… when he tried to wallpaper it before moving to Kareela, the texta kept bleeding through the paper… whoops.
He was also pretty tolerant every time my precocious-self corrected his pronunciation of dinosaur names, trashed the lounge room with sheets for a cubby or when I assigned places at the Sunday night family dinner table and made people change seats – much to the annoyance of other family members.
Dad indulged me a lot.
He’d tell me about walking to the corner store on Sundays as a kid and buying individual Arnott’s Montes. One for each of the family members living in the tiny three-bedroom house at 813 Bourke Street. He’d talk about the struggle not to eat his on the way home.
He preferred his ice cream Blue Ribbon, his margarine Meadow Lea and his chocolate Cadbury’s. He had such a sweet tooth… There was ALWAYS a block or two or more of Cadbury’s in the fridge.
And he was easily convinced to stop and buy ice cream and/or chocolate of an afternoon when he was taking me home. It became quite the ritual…
There was also the time he let Natalie, Darren and I order breakfast our first morning in Los Angeles in 1987. Dangerous letting the kids order breakfast – especially kids who didn’t really understand pancake stacks and couldn’t all agree on what to eat. We ended up with plates full of food. PLATES. Pancakes, doughnuts, buttermilk biscuits. We could have eaten for days. Another whoops!
He could have a horrible sense of direction and distance. He’d get lost on the casino floor in Vegas, though, to be fair, casino floors are designed to be hard to navigate and I’m actually not sure whether the getting lost was accidental or deliberate given his phase of love for the poker machines. They seemed to appeal to his mathematical mind, even though that mind knew the House always won.
Then, showing further issues with distance, on our first or second night in Vegas on a family trip in 1997 Dad decided that we’d walk to a casino where we were booked to see a show. It’d be faster than a cab he said.
Yeah, no. It wasn’t.
In fact, Google tells me it was four point six kilometres. A 59-minute walk. Or thereabouts.
And it’s cold at night in Vegas in January. Really cold.
So cold that, the next day, we hit the outlets for scarves and gloves instead of cheap Reeboks and perfume.
He loved encouraging us to see the world. He’d always ask me where I was planning my next trip, or where my favourite place was. He wanted to know we were living our best lives.
The thing I will miss the most is going to Dad for advice. He always gave the best advice but it was always simple and straightforward, never fancy or overwrought.
I’ve always known that Desiderata – A Way of Life by Max Erhmann was a poem he loved, but the words never really resonated for me until last week, and it’s probably because, when I read it again, it sounded exactly like him.
So, today, in closing, I wanted to share it with you.
Because, at the bottom of it all, while he wasn’t perfect, this is how Dad tried to live.
GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive them to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
Love you Dad xx