Sunday, 7 September 2008

Father's Day

Our family on holiday in 1966. I am on the far right.

I took this photo - same holiday; 1966. Taken on the Capburn Bridge - now part of the Rail Trail.

My father, about three years before he died.

My father died in 1968 when I was fifteen years old. Any photos of him which we've got - and they are very few in number - are in black and white. It wasn't until after he died that colour photos came into vogue.
When he died he left a family of seven children ranging in age from fifteen to five. Somehow Mum held us together and continued to bring us all up. We had to move to the town of Gore from the farm where we were the 'Married Couple (meaning that Dad worked for the owner of the farm and we lived in the farm cottage.)
He died suddenly one Sunday morning during Labour Weekend, at a Catholic church he somehow made it to, driving to get there whilst feeling dreadfully ill. Typically for our dedicated Catholic father, getting to Mass every Sunday was a priority, and as it turned out on Sunday, 27th October, 1968, literally became a matter of life and death. Only three of us kids were with him at the time. I was staying with a friend for the weekend and three of the others were feeling sick that morning. Mum, being Presbyterian, never came to Mass with us anyway.
Dad must've thought he had the flu too. But he didn't. As it turned out, he was suffering from a coronary thrombosis. He sent my two sisters and brother into the church, telling them he'd be there shortly. But he never made it.
It was farther complicated by the fact that the church they were attending wasn't a familiar one. They were staying in Riverton with Mum's sister for the long weekend, and the nearest church with a ten o'clock Mass that Sunday happened to be twenty miles away in Otautau. Eventually the priest wondered why these three unknown children who'd mysteriously turned up for Mass without a parent, were now still waiting alone in a car outside. When they explained that they didn't know where their father was, he went searching and found him collapsed on the floor of the church's small, wooden outhouse.
If Dad was alive today he would've turned eighty-eight last Friday. Most of his children are now older than he was when he died. I doubt anyone recovers from the death of a parent when you (and they) are young. Even after forty years, the grief remains.
He was a lovely man; a shy, down to earth farmer with the understated sense of humour of someone with a celtic nature. He disliked school (he left when he was twelve) towns and anyone who put on airs and graces. He loved the outdoors, reading, country and western music, dogs and horses. He was an affectionate, family man - whenever he sat down, it seemed it wasn't long before one of his kids would clamber up on to his lap.
An enduring grief is a lingering shadow that nags at your heels. Every so often I try to kick it away, but with little success. And then there are the dreams of the one who has died returning as a pale, remote imitation of themselves. How do you deal with that one? This is what I have tried to describe in this poem I wrote three years ago.

after thirty-seven years

How you’d have hated it, being that weak ghost
I dream of, the insubstantial father

too self-centred and ill to engage.
You’d prefer to be a dead hero,

the Larado cowboy of your songs, cold
as clay and long-lamented. And you have been.

Time now to address that dreamed imposter,
instruct it to remain under its weathered headstone,

or in its own paradise of green hill and stream
alone with its feeble heart and bloodless wounds.

For that pale invalid is not the real you.
You are ancestral-strong, beyond sight and sound, yet

not unwitnessed. You are the grin I hear in the corner
of my eye.

Kay McKenzie Cooke


Becky Willis Motew said...

Oh Kay, what a wonderful poem. And what a handsome family you all were, with your lovely father at the head of it. Of course you still grieve.

Tammy Brierly said...

KAY! That was an amazing poem! Your dad's passing at such a young age with such a large family is tragic. Very moving post Kay.

Anonymous said...

a beautiful tribute to your father.

McDinzie said...


Di Mackey said...

I love this. Beautifully captured and recreated.

Unknown said...

That's a powerful poem, with a killer last line, Kay. Thank you for the back story too; I'd guessed as much from your collections.

dinzie said...

I wish I had met him ... He died too young for poor McD to have strong memories ...Too young for you all I can only guess


Catherine said...

That's a very moving tribute.

Anonymous said...

Your Dad looked so substantial and fit in that photo. It must have been hard losing him at such a young age. I love the poem.

Sorry it's been so long since my last visit. At the end of September I'm putting academic study aside for a while and will be back to blogging.

Kamsin has been here for the last two weeks but returns to Japan tomorrow. I hope to go next year.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

What an amazing post, Kay, both prose and poem!

Rethabile said...

Great. Thanks for sharing: prose and poem, yes. And photos. Indeed, we can hear grins.

Jan said...

This was a both moving and wonderful post, Kay.
And how precious that photograph must be.
Your poem is amazing and that very last bit particularly special. Thankyou.

rel said...

You're correct in your knowing the linger saddness of a parent gone early and long ago. I've always believed that the best poetry comes from the same place where that sadness resides...your poem reaffirms my belief.
My dad also would have been 88 this past February. I was 30 when he died and a husband and father, but the hurt was still immense.

Kay Cooke said...

becky - Of course, I do, you're right. I shouldn't expect not to really. Thanks for understanding.
to die too.

tammy - Thanks. Life is tragic in many ways isn't it?

ccm - Thank you. One of many I have made over the years - it's as if I don't want the memory of him to die too.

mc d- I know you know ...

di - Thanks so much. And I know you know all about capturing the moment or time in your photography. Having photos of someone who is no longer with us is very precious.

barbara - The back story hopefully enlightes and enhances and doesn't take away ...

dinzie - Yes he died before we could get to know him as adults. That's the on-going tragedy of it I guess. As with all young deaths.

catherine - Thanks very much.

carole - Thanks. We are hoping to get over there next year too. Looking forward to your return to blogging.

joyce - You are so kind, thanks.

rethabile - Thanks. Yes, grins are sensed in more ways than one.

jan - Thank you for that nice comment and encouragement. That photo is very, very precious - i wish we had more but alas who was to guess?

rel - That's amazing that your dad was the same age. Even fifteen more years with your dad than I had with mine, doesn't make the loss any less.

Avus said...

He sounds like a great Dad, Kay. His physical presence may have long gone, but your love and remembrance ensures that his psychical presence will always surround you.
Thanks for sharing such a moving story.

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