Illustration credit: Franco Matticchio
It won’t take you long to work out that I exaggerate.
It’s all true, but I tend to ‘gild the lily’ as my mum would say.
My father wasn’t invisible; at least he wasn’t the way I drew him.
That drawing caused me heaps of trouble.
My teacher called my mum into a meeting.
“I’m not saying your son is strange, but this drawing is a bit disturbing.”
I’ve always been good at illustrations. It amazed me that others weren’t so good. Like everyone else on this planet, I take my gifts for granted. Don’t you?
My father travelled a lot because of his job.
He sold stuff, and that stuff seemed to change quite regularly.
He always had a suitcase full of samples.
As he went out the door on each sales trip, he had two cases — one for his clothes and one for his samples.
The upside of his job for us was that he had a car. Most of the other families around us didn’t. Only professional families could afford one.
I hated him being away, but I knew it was his job, and that’s where the food, toys, and school fees came from — even so, I wanted him to be home like the other dads.
After each trip away, there would be three or four days where he didn’t have to go into the office, and I’d get to stay home from school on at least one of those days.
Dad would wake me up way too early, and I’d stumble out of bed and eat toast with one eye open with my pyjama top unevenly buttoned. I couldn’t think straight first thing in the morning, but I was not going to miss out. My mother didn’t sleep much, even when dad was home, so she would look like she’d been up for hours and probably had.
“Move your scrawny little behind. We’ve got places to go and people to see,” my dad would say just as I was about to fall asleep on my plate of toast.
Most times, we would head for the beach, which gave me half an hour to fall asleep in the back of our big old Ford. There were no seat belts in those days, so I’d curl up on the leather seat, and the movement would lull me to sleep. It was the same routine on the way home, only I’d have sand in my shoes this time.
Once, I ended up on the floor — a rough industrial grade carpet. Some bloke pulled out of a parking spot, and dad hit him. I must have been knocked out for a few seconds because I opened my eyes and stared at a bottle of milk and a box of biscuits that mum had bought before we headed home. We all ended up on the floor of the car without a single injury. Dad was busy telling the formally parked motorist what he thought of his driving while mum peered over the front seat to see where I’d ended up.
“Are you okay little man?” she said with her delicious voice.
“Yes mum, but the bickies and a bit bent.”
“Just so long as you are okay.”
The bump on my head was the centre of many conversations when I returned to school. I was determined to tell a different story to each person who asked, but I ran out of good ones. I’m not sure that the Pirate story gained much traction.
After a week, sometimes two, my father would start talking about his next trip, and I’d get that sick feeling in the part of my stomach that bullies liked to punch. Whenever he left, it felt a lot like I’d been hit.
His two suitcases would be placed neatly on my parent’s bed. The case containing his clothes would be closed up first. Then, his sample case would receive a final check to ensure everything was there.
“Can’t afford to leave anything behind. It’s too far to have to come back,” he’d say.
When he wasn’t looking, I’d drop something of mine into his sample case — something of me to carry with him on his journey. Something to keep him safe — usually a shell or a stone we had collected on one of our adventurous days.
I know how a dog feels when you leave for work each day, “How can I protect you if I don’t know where you are?”
I felt the same way with my dad.
I don’t know how I thought I could protect him, but I know I would have tried.
As long as he had something of mine, I knew he would return safely.
I was a child, and the world seemed simple to me — stay close and stay safe.
Of course, it doesn’t work like that, but I didn’t know that back then.
My father never said anything about finding my ‘keep safe’ objects, but he must have known.
Many years later, my mother found a shoebox under their bed with a bunch of shells, stones, and small plastic soldiers. She wondered why my father had kept them and where he had found them in the first place.
I didn’t tell her.
It was our secret.