Recently, it was Fathers Day in Australia, which is a tough day for my Dad because 14 years ago, my Mum died right after Father's Day so it has a bad association for him. We keep it low key but this week in September is tough.
And it's been tougher because a man I've called a pseudo-parent since I met him, unexpectedly passed away leaving behind his gorgeous wife who he cared for. My heart breaks for her, their family, and for the loss of him in all our lives.
I've been truly blessed to know some wonderful male figures in my life, many who've played father-like roles and/or have been great friends. I know it's an odd thing for a female to say, but I'm an odd female, plus my career was working predominantly with men so I guess it's not unusual.
Growing up, I was surrounded by women being the eldest of four girls but I was always a tomboy and hung out with Dad because we liked similar things. I loved sport, fishing, the outdoors. Pre-5th class, I was friends with most of the boys in my class, and then they left the school and from then, I went to all girls school and never really fitted in. So my best childhood memories are playing sport with the boys. Most of my friends' dads were referred to as Uncle, and at most gatherings, I'd be playing sport with the men. It sounds dreadful, and I can't think of a way to write it where it doesn't sound wrong so I'll just spell it out. Nothing was creepy, or sexual, or predatory. Looking back, I think it's odd, but at the time I was never uncomfortable. Being with blokes was where I fitted in most.
Throughout high school, I struggled. Looking back, there's a real scarcity of males in those years. But in the last years of high school I joined a mixed youth group, and again, my best times were when I was with the guys. One day I remember coming home from a day at the beach and when Mum asked questions (like why didn't someone put sunscreen on my back), it dawned on me that I'd been on a trip with the guys. There hadn't been any other girls. I hadn't noticed.
I was never attractive, suffering from extreme cystic acne and rosacea ensured that, and so I didn't flirt, didn't try to play games, I was just me. I think this is why I had so many male friends. (Thanks to a girlfriend for pointing that out to me, after it had baffled me for years).
I worked with men all my adult life, comfortably. A couple of guys flirted with me when drunk at Christmas parties, but aside from that, I never felt like a different gender. I was just a mate.
And I had a range of age groups among my mates, not just guys my age. I had male colleagues, who'd mentor me, who had retired or were close to retiring. I had bosses who were like working with Dad (I also had bosses I struggled to work with, so it wasn't all smooth sailing!). I chat to people, and I used to be able to drink alcohol, so I'd be privy to some quite personal conversations with men, sometimes without them realising that I was female.
The friend we lost over the weekend I first met when he was the local butcher and I used to get dog bones and dinner. We chatted, he was always polite and sweet. Then he was gone. Retired they told me. Some months later, I met my now husband, and his neighbours were away when we began seeing each other. When they returned, I worried about meeting them because they were his pseudo-parents and very good friends. When I got in there for the first meeting (a Friday beers night), it was my mate the butcher and he remembered me! He and his wife were the nicest people you could ever meet. They welcomed me like a daughter. They treated Pete like their son. We regularly had Friday meals together, sometimes Sunday morning teas. Tom knew everyone, knew all the connections in the small town, and I loved hearing his tales. We'd shoot pool, drink beers, move to (CS)Cowboys (Baileys and Butterscotch schnapps), laugh, talk sport, eat, laugh, talk.
From Day 1, I was part of his family and I was incredibly blessed to know him. He supported us, always. He supported me. He had the patience of a saint and encouraged me to learn golf, to which I have no aptitude, but he cajoled me around those damn holes many a time, even when my 10 000 hits of the ball caused me no end of frustration and anger. He made me laugh. He calmly gave tips. He'd cheat so I didn't lose my mind. He'd side with me. He'd side with Pete. He'd make us both laugh. When his wife was ill, his unceasing love and care for her was incredible to witness. When his daughter was ill and then died, his grief was raw, he shared his emotions and his stories and his love. He allowed people to be. He accepted you as you were, allowed you to live your life, and supported you as an individual. He was a man I've been honoured to know.
And thinking about him made me realise how many of these sort of men have been a part of my life. Strong male role models and friends have always featured. I could name almost a dozen without any thought, and without counting family.
My Dad is a fabulous bloke, and I've been blessed to have him as my Dad, but I've also had a lot of other 'dads' who have touched my life and I've been very lucky to have known them all.
(Just so you know, I have had some amazing women in my life too, often the wives of these men, but my mind was on 'fathers' since it's September).