To me, Dad was tall, funny, fit and grumpy. Dad loved barbeques with Coke, chips, lollies and Boags Draught beers. He loved going to work at the number of different businesses he had throughout his career, he loved going to the gym. He loved having his shirt off… the amount of times I found myself introducing my friends to Dad with his shirt off, whether on the boat or at home in the garden, looking back is a bit odd. He passionately loved the mighty fighting Hawks. And he really loved being on the water.
These were the opening lines of the eulogy I gave my dad, Peter, at his funeral. I was 23 years old and I’d lost my fit, seemingly healthy, 57 year-old dad 4 days earlier to a relatively short bout of this illness called depression.
Growing up, my weekends revolved around the water. Dad was a keen diver and I loved surfing. We would spend the week studying the weather forecast – he would be saying how horrible it was going to be – a pessimist, while me, the eternal optimist would be telling him how good the surf would be! We’d take the tinny out, he would dive while I had a fish and then we’d shoot around the corner for a surf. We’d tell stories of the monster cray or the tube I’d almost made, drive home, wash the boat down and sometimes he’d even let me reverse the trailer into the garage!
I’m a dad myself these days. I have a 3 year-old daughter Fleur and a 6-month old son, Davey. Davey Peter. Fair to say that I’m still learning the ropes, but I’ve been given some good material to learn from. Dad was a workaholic. He was meticulously professional but with the mantra that the work would not do itself and was the first to get his hands dirty. I have witnessed his conscientiousness and passion to be successful. I’ve appreciated more in later life the sacrifices he made to provide opportunities for our family. But I have also learnt the importance to balance my time, to enjoy life and how important it is to look after myself if I am to be the father, husband and mate that I aim to be.
Dad taught me many things, he pretty much taught me everything. Not just how to manoeuvre a boat, hold a good party or outsmart a cray, but strength beyond words, pride in who you are and honesty.
My knowledge and understanding of mental illness as well as our broader issues, particularly as men to look after our own health, has grown significantly since his death. I’ve often wished that at the eulogy I made, when I had such a captured and engaged audience of over 1,000 people, that I could have made the speech that I can now and address the challenges of mental health. I wish I could share the importance of looking after ourselves and those around us, and share those warning signs. I wish I could’ve explained his death.
When Dad died we were devastated. I will never forget the strength I gained from the support around us. In particular, I’ll never forget the loyalty I felt from the motley bunch of mates at my footy club. The loosest bunch of early 20s misfits you could ever meet. They’d call in with a spag-bol to our family home, not always knowing what to say other than: “you can even eat it on toast, it’s that good”. They’re the same blokes who first grew moustaches and formed the Mobart Mo Bros in 2006 – finally a fun way we could show that we cared and be passionate about a really serious cause – and they’re all still growing mos.
Today would’ve been Dad’s 70th birthday. 14 years after we lost him too young, it’s becoming harder to imagine him as an older man. A man my wife and kids never knew, a grandfather, perhaps a little mellower, perhaps a little more relaxed.
I will always strongly believe that his death was avoidable, that’s why I share my story. I will always continue to support SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY and Movember, because I know we’re making a difference in our community, we’re saving lives