Paddy Davidson – In Memoriam
On 16 October 2012, eight months after his diagnosis, my father died of stomach cancer. I had been composing a written tribute in my head ever since I knew his illness was terminal, but when it came time to commit the words to paper, I found them hopelessly inadequate (likewise, this tiny corner of the Internet as a memorial).
But as the old song goes, words are all I have; I wrote them anyway, printed it out and tucked it in my handbag. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with it; I had no intention of reading it aloud at his funeral, because I didn’t think I would be physically capable of forming coherent sentences, but when Dad’s wife rang me on the eve of the funeral as I stepped off the plane at Brisbane airport and asked if I wanted to speak the next day, I found myself saying “yes”.
Given the content of the tribute, it would have been hypocritical of me if I had said “no”.
Here’s what I said on that day.
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If I had to choose one word to describe Dad, that word would be “strong”. He was a master of manly pursuits; rowing, boxing, rugby, woodchopping and rally driving. At a time when most men take up more relaxed pastimes like golf or gardening or bridge, Dad took up karate, working his way up to attain a black belt. He was impressively fit, mentally tough and had a titanium will. Even when his body failed him, he remained strong in spirit to the end, defying doctors’ predictions in a battle against cancer that was both awe-inspiring and traumatic to watch. As my husband said, with the utmost of affection and respect, he was a “hard bastard”.
Children are meant to learn things from their parents; some of those lessons are explicitly taught, and some are shown by example. Here are some of the things I learned from Dad:
- Always be kind to animals.
- Kindness and a smack on the bum are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
- There is no such thing as being too honest.
- Good table manners are the cornerstone of civilization.
- Except for the ones that kill you, there are few mistakes that you can’t recover from, so don’t be afraid to make them.
- When the pain of staying is worse than the pain of leaving, then you leave.
But Dad is not gone; I see my father’s legacy, his determination and fearlessness and competitive spirit, in my children. I see him in my youngest daughter Zoe, who had to learn to cartwheel for dance class and who practises so much that she literally cartwheels out of bed in the morning; in my daughter Alia, who came home from school one day in tears because one of her friends beat her in a maths test; in my son Declan, who performed a solo haka in front of 400 people at a school assembly.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of going to the beach with Dad. He would carry me out into deep water, and I would see the incoming waves, and I’d be afraid. Dad never said, “Don’t be scared”, or “It’s OK, I’ve got you”, or any of those useless platitudes that parents say to their children. We would face the waves together, and when they came, he’d lift me up above them, and I would know I was safe.
Now the challenge for those of us left behind is to find our own strength to rise above the waves.