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Narrative

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'Daddy's Little Girl' by Nadine Tisdell

From the beginning of my existence, my father was the whole world to me. He came to me with comfort and advice whenever I needed help of any kind, he cheered me when I was down; he made me laugh at myself and learn not to take life too seriously. He was the best cuddler in the world and could always tell when I needed a hug. He was like a great big teddy bear - and everyone needs their own teddy bear to give them comfort from time to time.

My very first word was 'daddy' and, by the time I was around three, I was labeled 'Daddy's little girl'. I used to love going out into the garage with him and making a mess everywhere. I never got in trouble either: probably because he made more of a mess than I did. I used to help him make things too - well, I passed the hammer and nails. I was too afraid to have a go myself because I knew I would drop the hammer on my foot.

I was a very clumsy child and not at all like your typical little girl - sugar and spice. I hated wearing dresses, especially pink ones, and I despised those horrible lengths of ribbon that Mum tried to put in my hair. Instead, I roamed about in brown overalls or tracksuits (my favourite was a green one) and preferred to keep my hair ribbon free and shaggy. I was the boy my father never had - he even took me to the barber with him and we got our hair cut together.

My father and I both loved the outdoors and tried to keep outside as much as possible. I watched him cook our weekly barbeques out on the verandah and was constantly fascinated by how quickly he could flip the sausages over - and yet never burn himself. I once tried this but couldn't flip them properly - instead they rolled off the hot plate and onto the ground. My dog, Cindy, was extremely grateful for the meal. I also burnt myself in the process.

When our new pool was installed, it was a dream come true. I remember my father and I throwing Cindy in the pool and laughing at the way she dog-paddled. We had races against each other, which he always won, and we also tried playing volleyball with a large blow-up beach ball.

Probably our most memorable times together were on vacation at Foster, Tuncurry, where we traveled at every opportunity, usually about three or four times a year. We owned our own caravan and boat so we took these both with us.

Some of the best times of my life were spent at Tuncurry. There was something magical about that place to me -it was a place where families were re-united again. We all bonded together in a way we never could at home; perhaps it was because we were thrown together in such small surroundings. Our house was mammoth in comparison. If we ever had any fights there, I can't remember them. All I remember is a feeling of utmost peace, contentment, love and safety.

The days were spent at the beach, fishing or playing tennis, while the evenings were a time for our card games in front of the portable telly. At 11 o'clock we would call it a night and I'd climb up to my top bunk with a soft toy and drift away. Saying goodbye at the end was hard but we were comforted by the fact that we would return again.

Christmas was also a very special time of year for me. Each and every year I would awaken at six in the morning (much to the despair of my parents who had been up half the night wrapping presents, cleaning up and drinking the milk I perpetually left for Santa). I figured that after all the gifts he gave me, the least I could do was offer him a drink for his trouble. Mum once suggested I leave a beer for Santa, just for a change so I did. I was worried though because how would he drive his sleigh if he drank all of it? Beer can make you go silly and my father always said you couldn't drink and drive. Still, I left it there. I remember thinking he must have liked it an awful lot because there wasn't a drop left in the morning. Perhaps Santa didn't have to worry about drink driving; he would be very hard to catch in his sleigh, which I imagined could go pretty fast.

I was a little concerned as we didn't have a chimney - how did Santa get into the house with such a big belly full of beer and milk from other places? But my father assured me that Santa was a very magical person and could probably fly through the walls with his helper. I wasn't entirely convinced by his story but it didn't matter - the next Christmas my parents bought a fireplace with a chimney big enough for Santa to climb down.

My parents usually made me wait until around seven before they got up, but this never stopped me from jumping up and down on their bed, just to make sure they didn't sleep in any longer than seven. Looking back on this today, it's a wonder my parents didn't throttle me, especially since they probably only got a few hours sleep from the night before.

As soon as the clock hit seven, I was a bolt of lightning headed straight for the Christmas tree; I ripped into those presents like a mad person. After the festivity of opening our presents, we had to clean up the paper - and boy was that a job!

The second highlight of the day was when our relatives came over with even more presents. Dad used to dress up in a Santa outfit. He was in his prime, acting out the part so well we thought he could have scored one of those Santa jobs in the shopping mall down the street. He was much jollier than those other yucky men down there, who never smiled anyway.

Once the relatives left, we were free to explore our new treasures. By the time I was eight I had a fine collection of Barbie dolls from my past Christmases. I loved to turn my bedroom into a big Barbie house - I kept Barbie things everywhere - especially on the floor. Mum didn't like this too much because she was constantly tripping over things. If she ever complained about this, I just stated the simple logic that, had she been looking where she was going, she wouldn't have tripped over in the first place. Mum didn't like it when I answered back - especially when I was right - so I usually ended up having to clean my bedroom. But at least I wasn't the only one. She made Dad clean his bedroom up too.

Soon I started growing up and with that came lots of other hassles. It seemed a bad attitude grew with my new breasts. Why is it that when you are around the age of thirteen you think you know everything? If I were wrong, I would never admit it. I started to become sarcastic towards everyone and hated being told what to do. I eventually grew out of this phase, to the relief of my anguished parents, but I soon noticed that I was not the only one who was changing...

My father became sick when I was about fourteen and it spread so slowly I didn't even realise he was ill until the disease was almost at it's peak. The scientific term for his illness was 'pulmonary fibrosis' - it basically meant he had an abnormality in his lungs that affected his lifestyle. The doctors said it couldn't spread so it wasn't like cancer. But his lungs began to deteriorate ever so slowly. At first, the change wasn't so dramatic - he became tired after playing a game of handball or walking fast. He was still able to work. So we didn't start to worry ... why should we - he could probably die of old age before the disease killed him, right? Right?

He became worse, getting exhausted after doing the smallest thing, like vacuuming the pool. He had to resign from his position as cleaner at the Toronto RSL Club because the job left him feeling horribly exhausted. Towards the end he was confined to an oxygen machine 24 hours a day. This time of our lives was one of the most traumatic - having to watch the father I loved so dearly deteriorate from a fit and active member of society to a sick cripple pained me so much it still brings tears to my eyes. Surely the whole disease was some kind of mistake - just a cruel joke God was playing on us. No man as wonderful as my father deserved the hell on earth he faced every single day.

God was cruel to us that spring of 93.

Every morning I awoke to the sound of him coughing and coughing - not just a normal cough - but a dry, rasping unlike anything I had ever heard or ever want to hear again. The coughing soon turned into fits which left him panting in exhaustion and frustration. Even eating became difficult and simple things like going to the toilet became too much for him to handle. The trip from the lounge room (where he spent each and every day sitting in the same chair, not moving because he didn?ant to have another coughing spasm) to the toilet was too great for him to manage alone. We had to bring him a bucket every morning to clean his teeth in, and a separate bucket in case he had an attack and needed to get rid of some phlegm. Even speaking was a battle - he had to talk slowly so he wouldn't run out of breath before the end of a sentence.

He had been put on the waiting list for a lung transplant but the list was so unbelievably long ... it must have been so hard for him to think about what he used to be compared to the cold reality he faced at the time. To watch us go about our normal day to day routines, taking each step, each breath, for granted, not realising how badly he wanted to live a normal life again. To be able to go for a walk to the park or even just to go to the toilet by himself. He knew he was literally a cripple, and to think about what he used to be like would have been the far greatest pain he ever experienced ... and he experienced much pain.

We would gather the family around, sitting on the floor while Dad sat in his chair, and just hold hands. I suppose we were praying, trying to send God a message. He was a tender and loving father, a devoted husband, and a loyal friend. He had so much left to give to the world. We didn't want to let him go. It was useless of course; no one in the world can win a tug of war with God, no matter how much love or how pure the intentions. We were just so desperate to hold onto him. Sometimes I squeezed his hand so tight I thought I heard him wince, but I would never let go.

I believe he knew he was dying, despite our constant assurances and bravado that he would be fine. He was so scared. You could tell just by looking into his eyes: like a little boy that didn't know why he was being punished. He was afraid of living because he knew he wasn't really living ... only waiting... waiting for that one phone call that could change his life, that could give him a life to change. If only that phone call had come...

One night he was having another coughing spasm but this one was far more violent and left him shaking and panting so rapidly I honestly thought he would die right there and then. He coughed a bit more, and then ... something happened. It was as if a part of him had just been ripped open inside his body. A single cough that was so deep and shattering, it almost knocked him off his feet. I knew something had gone wrong, he had never been that bad. We called an ambulance. His neck was swelling out horribly and a part of me felt he would be gone soon.

When he was admitted to the hospital the doctors discovered he had torn one of his lungs right open from his fits of coughing. They waited a few hours before telling us those words I will always remember - that there was nothing else they could do for him.

I remember sitting in the waiting room for at least an hour, just staring into space; I guess I was in shock. My half brother Allen came in and told me that they had called all of the family because the doctors said he only had three days to live, at the most. I broke down into an uncontrollable heap of anguish and sorrow. I couldn't bear to think about life without my father - the one who could always see the good side of a bad situation, the one who had always been there whenever I needed him. I couldn't accept it - it was so damned unfair! Why couldn't it happen to someone else, anyone else? Why did it have to happen to the man who was my whole world?

When I walked into his hospital room and saw him connected to every single machine imaginable, I almost broke down again. He knew he was dying and he was trying to tell me all these things but I couldn't understand him. He had a huge oxygen mask on. I took it off and he started crying and told me how much he loved me. I hugged him as hard as I could - I didn't want to let him go - I loved him too much. When he told me he loved me, I felt something wither up and die inside me. I just cried and cried.

I stayed at the hospital that night ... and the next. Those days are clouded over; it's like they happened to someone else. I was just watching from a distance.

One afternoon, the third afternoon, the doctors told us he had taken a turn for the worst and to be prepared for the end. This was the time when all his family crowded around him, saying all the things that should have been said so long ago. The whole scene was too overwhelming for me ... I waited until after everyone had left to say goodbye.

I remember telling him that he wouldn't be in any more pain, that he would be going to the best heaven, like a five star hotel, because he was so wonderful. Then I said for him to just close his eyes ... and he did.

The doctors turned his machines off and I watched his body go limp. His hand fell from the hospital bed. He was gone.

My father, the man I expected to live until at least 100 years, died at the age of 57. Everything went numb for the first few days after his death. I can't even remember the funeral.

My father will never see me hammer a nail in by myself or finish my degree or drive a car to the supermarket. It is these simple things that are taken for granted every day that hurt the most.

It's been seven years since he passed away but the pain is still inside me - every bit of it. I will probably never quite get over the death of my father. He was a man unlike any other; he cared so much for others and, even at the end, was more worried about his family than he was about himself. I doubt whether any other man could possibly live up to what my father was. He faced the world with courage and bravery. He gave us everything he had ... and then more. But most importantly, he showed us the meaning of courage and sincerity.

Nadine Tisdell
2000

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