I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say…*
So goes that familiar song.
It was quite popular in the early 90s of those high school years. Not really a cheerful song. Nevertheless a poignant reminder of the brevity of life.
To say your piece. To make peace. To see eye to eye first. To say it loud, and to say it clear. Before it is all too late. Before those you hold dear are gone.
I loved that song, but I could not relate to it then. My father was away for the most of part of that period. I related to it by projecting myself into the future. Into the world of what-ifs. Would those words be ringing true for me when my time came around?
He was a soft spoken man. He was one to always go for the more peaceful option when in the midst of conflicts. He had a knack for choosing the path that was less desired. A path most would shy away from, for fear of being seen as unmanly and weak.
Only now I realise that it was the exact opposite. It takes true courage to take that path. The kind of courage that is seasoned with humility. To walk alone.
He recollected once to me of how he saved another man’s life when in prison. A man who was supposed to be his enemy.
I wish I could sit down with him one more time and get more of those stories from him. Going back even in time to the stories of his childhood.
I want to ask him.
What were your favourite pastime when you were growing up in Elakalde?
Was the earth of Konggouldum paste-like and as yellow as I picture it in my mind?
What made you leave the comforts of the fairytale fields of Nangguin in pursuit of a western education? To journey on foot from the top end of one province to the tail end of another. From the headwaters of Ambum River in Londol down to the muddy plains of the Waghi in Fatima in the early 60s.
I want to say sorry.
That afternoon when my friend Kumdi Max showed you to my room at Niomuro flats when I was doing my first year in Uni. I was consumed with rage to see your face. It felt like betrayal all over again. I was lost at what to do. A part of me wanted to punch your lights out. Instead I blew cigarette smoke into your face and told you to get the hell out as you came sobbing and hugged me.
Perhaps the better thing I should have done then was to ask you. To get your side of the story as to WHY you were missing from the picture for the most part of my high school days. Now that I have joined you in fatherhood, I want to know even more, but I still come up empty handed.
It is only in retrospect that we learn some of life’s tough lessons. That emotions left unchecked and unrestrained always gets the better of us. If we could empathise more, then perhaps we could understand better.
I would eventually make peace with him over the years. I brought him his first granddaughter to see. The joy was all around as he held her in his arms with tears welling inside. He beamed with pride as he called the name we gave her. Nisoron. A name of his language.
His health had been deteriorating for a while. It took its toll on him but he hung on. He would still be up and about with his black weather beaten briefcase as if everything was ok. He was one to hide such things from people. Smiling at every turn.
In early March of 2016 I spoke very briefly to him. It was a rushed phone call before I left for Mt Hagen. His voice sounded a bit weak over the phone. I put that down to one of his many faint spells. He was not in a good state to journey with us, he told me. I think I said I would get back to him. Maybe I didn’t. I do not quite remember that last phone conversation clearly.
There was so much on my mind then. I had planned this traditional bride price event for over a year by that time. My wife and daughter were flying to the village with me. This was where I was going to formalise the traditional chapter of our union in front of my tribal kinsfolk and elders.
I had no time to talk. I would talk to him later, I told myself.
On the morning of 30 March 2016 I would board the plane for the return journey to Australia with my wife and my 7 month old daughter in my arms.
Four days later news would reach me. That my father passed away that same morning I was boarding that flight. I still did not get to tell him all the things I needed to tell him.
Life goes on and the memories are all we have. All those stories that remain untold fade from memory with every passing day. Yet more get swallowed up by the grave.
All those unasked questions go still unanswered. For now they may remain as ‘crumpled bits of paper filled with imperfect thought’.
* The Living Years by Mike + The Mechanics