Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Made with his own hands

A while ago my mother got a post largely to herself.  In the interest of fairness I thought it was time my father got a look in.

Father was a German Jew.  I am pretty certain his mother went to America just before the war started (without him) but know nothing about the rest of his family.  It was a taboo subject in our house.  He rarely mentioned the war either.  I know at some stage he was fighting in Egypt and I know that after the war he lived in Birmingham.  His path to the UK and his life before that is pretty much a mystery to me.

He moved from Birmingham to Australia in the early 1950s to take up a position as a technical officer at the Research School of Physics at the Australian National University (ANU).  His initial salary was nearly 300 pounds (a year) which he told me was unheard of riches.

He crossed paths with my mother and her first husband in Birmingham.  They moved to Canberra so that my mama's husband could take up a position at the ANU (also in the Research School of Physics).  My mother's first husband died, leaving her widowed in a strange country with three children under five.  Life must have been very, very hard for her.

She and my father got together and I was born about a year before they married (very brave for the time in a small community).  Mama always said that she wouldn't get married for my brothers but that she wouldn't marry to spite them either.  So a new family was formed when and only when she was confident it could work.   By and large we managed.

My father said that he had no time for religion - that it cost too much.  Certainly he was not a practising Jew and was very partial to four legged chicken (otherwise known as pork).  His stated ambition was to be the first Jewish Pope, and for the remainder of his life Christmas and Birthday cards were addressed (by all of us) to Pope Dick.

He was a complex man.  He was very bigoted about some things, and was unbelievably and embarrassingly crass about homosexuals and Italians.  And had good friends within both communities.   He talked about pink shirt poofs (and yes I cringe remembering).  One of my more successful presents to him was a burgundy silk shirt.  Which he wore until it was undeniably pink.  And then continued to wear with pleasure.

He was stubborn.  So, so stubborn.  When he had made a pronouncement that was it.  No ifs, no buts.  And he didn't change his mind.  Ever.  He was the master of what was known in the family as the circular argument.  He would state his case as he strode across the lounge room and then, as he exited into the hall coming back into the lounge via the kitchen that was your only chance for your say.  When he reached the lounge he would restate his case.  Repeatedly.  Until the other side gave up or left.

He disliked my Smaller Portion intensely, and banned him from the family home.  So, being my father's daughter I said that if he wasn't welcome I wasn't either.  When we found out that he had cancer and was dying we put the hostilities on hold.  If he had lived nothing would have changed.

He was a fix it man.  Nothing was ever thrown out, just squirrelled away.  He was immensely patient (when he wasn't supremely the opposite).  The lawnmower was a special hate.  One Saturday when it refused to run for him he threw it into the fishpond.  And then spent several weeks restoring it to (mostly) working order.

We always had animals.  I grew up with German Shepherds (father said they were only Alsatians if they had bitten you).  We usually had birds, cats and fish as well.  My brothers had guinea pigs.  He condemned my mother and me for indulging the cats.  And then poked a hole in the fly screen near the breakfast table so that he could push fingers of toast and Vegemite out to the cat on the window sill.  Who had only just gone outside.  He chastised the German Shepherd by beating her with a blade of grass.  She yelped.

He was a big man, with thick clumsy looking fingers.  And he taught himself jewellery making, and produced some very beautiful and delicate pieces.

He had a perverse sense of humour.   While he was teaching himself facetting he used Reich's beer bottles to practise on.  A visitor came to the house and he brought the latest effort in to show her.  She asked what it was 'Reichite' was the reply.  'Ah, yes' she said 'mined in remote South Africa'.  Father finished that piece and set it into a silver ring and sold it to her (at her request).  He never told her that she was wearing a piece of beer bottle.  But chuckled about it.  Often.

He had incredibly bushy eyebrows.  And if bored at dinner parties would plait them as a subtle hint to my mama that he wanted to leave (or wanted the visitors to do so).

When he knew he was dying he got immense pleasure out of ringing the local rabbi and arranging his funeral.  And we are so glad he did - none of us would have known that he wanted a Jewish funeral.

I loved him, I hated him, I miss him.


  1. While I am really not a fan of self-hating Jews, there's no telling what growing up in Nazi Germany will do to a person.

    The jewellery is fantastic! I love the story about the lawn-mower. It's like what I did to my printer, except I didn't fix it.

  2. What a complex man! And this word portrait of him brought him to me in all his complexity. Well done, EC! I really enjoyed learning about him.

  3. Don't we all love, hate and miss our parents when they pass on. Got a giggle out of the lawnmower in the pond sometimes lawnmowers do try your patience, fantastic portrait of your dad :-).

  4. Fascinating story, well-told (as usual!). I'm glad you put up some pics of his jewelry--obviously he was quite talented. Mitzi, I don't get the feeling EC's father was necessarily a self-hating Jew, just not religious. When I was growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles, a non-religious Jewish kid having ham for lunch wouldn't have been particularly out of place.

  5. Mitzi: You have me intrigued. What did you do to your printer? And yes, nothing I have learnt about growing up in Nazi Germany sounds designed to make for a well adjusted human. And I learnt nothing about it from my father. Made an oyster sound garrulous on some subjects.

    Thank you DJan. A hard man to pin down - at all, never mind to a page.

    Windsmoke: Many thanks. I worried I had gone too far.

    Paper Chipmunk. Lovely to hear from you. Thank you lots.

  6. He plaited his eyebrows?? Wow.
    Love the jewellery.
    And the zebras in the previous post too, how did I miss this last Sunday?

  7. Oh gosh - so much honesty in this post. Very moving.

  8. EC this was just so good to read. Does anyone have parents for whom they do not harbor mixed feelings? Complex, contradictory humans provoke those feelings in all who love/hate them. I can see why you miss this man, and I thank you for sharing this writing and remembering with us.

  9. What a fascinating post. A complex relationship indeed, but along with the bad parts you've highlighted the good so well. The plaiting of eyebrows reminds me of my dad. He does much the same by taking out his top palate of false teeth and waggling them at people when he wants them to shut up. Parents. You seem to have a sane view on the whole thing, which can only be good.

  10. Thanks for sharing this with us, EC. Someone has already said that he was clearly a 'complex' man and I agree entirely. Despite the bigotry and opinionated bluster, he sounds like someone who tried his damnedest to do what he could with the life he was given.

  11. I could echo your last line to reflect my thoughts about my own father--and my mother, for that matter.

  12. I love that story about the beer-glass ring. I heart your dad for that.
    Thanks, it's a wonderful post, as always!

  13. You move me, EC, and you make me laugh. Pope Dick, indeed. It sounds like he was too blustering for subtlety - and yet he was subtle. And difficult. And hard to love. But you did. And that jewellery is more beautiful than it appears in the photos.

  14. I want those blue earrings!! Irridescent, beautiful.