The big 8-0

My dad turns 80 tomorrow. Yep, the big 8-0.

Wow that makes me feel old … I can’t even begin to imagine how it makes him feel!

I’ll be wishing Dad a happy birthday via Zoom or some other new-fangled thing.

He only lives two hours away in Newcastle, but I haven’t seen him since February because he’s worried about catching COVID-19 from me.

Four months is a long time not to see your family when you are on the verge of being an octogenarian.

Before COVID-19 struck we planned to mark the occasion with a night at Jamala Wildlife Lodge in Canberra because Dad loves animals.

When my nephew was little my father had an annual pass for Taronga Zoo and the pair spent many a happy day there.

Jamala Lodge is a zoo that’s been built by a local family to house animals in as comfortable surroundings as possible. Most of the enclosure sizes are far larger than found in other urban zoos. It offers the opportunity to experience close encounters with some of the world’s most dangerous and endangered animals.

DD took his kids there last year and they all loved it.

I’ve just realised there was a bit of a clash with that plan, since the youngest and I were meant to be stopping over in Hawaii on the way back from the World Skipping Championships today.

Ah well, we’re not doing either. Damn you, COVID-19.

As for my dad, he’s always been the determined type. His childhood, spent in the coal-mining town of Cessnock, was humble, but he was determined to go to university. He got a scholarship through BHP and went on to become it’s chief metallurgist.

Mum was a few years behind Dad at school and had a huge crush on him – he was a prefect and football jock at Cessnock High School. They got married, moved to Newcastle and brought up two kids.

Uncharacteristically for the era, he was an involved dad, from doing his fair share of baby duties onwards. Holidays and weekends were devoted to his family – bike ride and canoeing and games of Monopoly. He also travelled a lot for work and would bring home exotic gifts, including kimono dressing gowns from Japan and packets of matches from the many hotels and restaurants he visited to add to my collection. I still have them all!

One business trip to Singapore I tasked him with hand delivering a stuffed koala to a pen pal. Since subsequently living in Singapore I’ve realised how far above and beyond he went to fulfil that request.

Speaking of above and beyond, he also accompanied me to a few Split Enz concerts when I was under-aged, even buying tickets from the scalpers outside on one memorable occasion.

His patience was tested one day when he arrived home from work to find a Bichon Frise puppy cuddled up to his children – given to my mum as a surprise leaving gift from work.

She has form in this area, she was also given a puppy as a surprise wedding gift. Dad said NO WAY to keeping him – he wasn’t an animal lover back then – so my Nan took ownership of Choo Choo.

Fast forward 20 years and Dad still didn’t think animals belonged in houses. He took one look at the white fluff ball and said: “I hope that’s a toy.”

He insisted the puppy go back. Much weeping and begging followed. Dad relented and said the puppy could stay, but only if he lived outside.

The puppy was too little to live outside yet, so Dad let him sleep in the laundry. A week later, the puppy was allowed downstairs in our house. A week after that, the puppy was also allowed upstairs, but not on the beds. A week after that, the puppy was allowed anywhere he damn well pleased.

Casper had Dad wrapped around his little finger. He could do no wrong, even when he rolled on dead seagulls at the beach.

Casper lived to the ripe old age of 14 years and 8 months. My parents were devastated when he died and never got another dog.

Fortunately, they finally got their first grandchild not long after that. Dad loves babies even more than animals.

He would catch the train to Sydney every Thursday to mind my nephew for many years until his health got a bit dodgy. He and my nephew still have an incredible bond.

When my kids ended up at the same primary school as their cousin, Dad would pick all three grandchildren up every Thursday, entertain them for the afternoon and feed them dinner.

He adores his grandchildren and has spent many an afternoon in recent years playing cards and board games with them on visits to Sydney. I’m sure he misses that very much. Hopefully one day soon he’ll get to do it again, although my mum is worried he would find the two-hour car trip a bit challenging.

We will need to travel to him, once we get the OK.

Happy birthday Dad. Cheers to 80 years. I’m sorry I can’t be there to give you a birthday hug.











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