Father was a German Jew. I am pretty certain his mother went to America just before the World War Two started (without him) but know nothing about the rest of his family. It was a taboo subject in our house. We suspect the worst. He rarely mentioned the war, other than to say that 'War has no winners. There are losers, and there are bigger losers'.
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). As a side note I only discovered after his death that he had been married when he moved to Australia and divorced his wife to marry my mother.
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.
One of his bosses claimed to have an 'open door' philosophy. Father didn't think his actions matched up to his words. So he went into work one weekend and removed the door. When he died (more than twenty years later) that door remained where he had put it - as the door to his workshop.
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. You got your chance to make your point as went into the hall before coming back into the lounge via the kitchen. 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. I never found out why. 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 and turtles. 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 hands which shook perpetually. 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 did repair/restoration work for a local antique store, but charged a boredom surcharge if he didn't like the job (like the time he was asked to sharpen a set of silver forks). He exhibited some of his work in local galleries.
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. 'Good morning Rabbi, I want to arrange a funeral. My funeral'. 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. And how I wish I had been able to coax him into talking to me about his early life. So many questions. So few answers.