For a long time, I was angry at you, angry for all those moments when you weren't there for me when I was growing up and for all those faults you made towards your best friend and my mother. This anger ate me up, swallowed me, spat me back out, and rolled me back up and threw me back into the mix.
It all came to a tipping point on that day in 2015 - the last time that I saw you in person. Frail and vulnerable like I had never seen. Part of me couldn't take it. It scared me to the core seeing such a big influence in my life wilting like a dried flower. You spoke no words, only uttered sounds. I cried myself to sleep in the car ride home that day. A grown man praying for sleep so the pain would temporarily dissipate.
"I can't see him like that again." Those were the words I said to Mum that day. She cried after hearing them and fought back and tried to make me understand why that wasn't important. But my anger got the better of me and my ego ballooned and shielded itself from the truth. The truth of which life will deal its card whichever way it wants, whenever it wants. I guess I wasn't ready for that nor mature enough to ponder it at a deeper level.
When I think back to when I was growing up, my memories of you are fragmented at best. From the little time you spent at home in Australia you were buried in writing, books, music, drugs, and alcohol. I guess it's true what they say about geniuses - they can't stop themselves. Of course I never understood that when I was a boy. I remember those nights when you would be writing a book about some distant country, the yellow lamp illuminating the office and with it a stream of cigarette smoke and whiffs of whiskey. The only thing I liked about that room was the records and CD's where rock music from the past three decades would roar out of the speakers. Do you remember that time when I came into the office one night and you told me to have a taste of the whiskey, but made me promise that I wouldn't tell Mum? I do.
It was like so many of my other memories that we shared, all as fleeting as the last. "Don't listen to that religious bullshit they tell you at school" after you saw that I had religious studies homework from a catholic school I was attending at the time because there were no good public schools in the area. I don't think I ever told you, but you were also the reason for a dozen detentions after questioning the religions studies teacher why there was an "s" in 'religions studies' if we were only studying one religion or telling her that the bible is a book written by people high on drugs and drunk on wine. Well, I think it would make you proud that your skepticism and contempt of organised religion and faith in reason has trickled down into my life.
After those early years, I can't remember when we connected again. You were off on what seemed like never-ending journeys across the planet. It was Mum and I fending for ourselves. Little did I know you were probably trying to concoct a plan to set up a timber trading scheme with Sudanese warlords or picking fights with dictators. Then came the divorce. It scarred me for a long time and like so many children I blamed myself for so much of the pain that I felt. For the first time in my life, I had to make a real choice, a choice not of my own making and a choice that no child should have the burden of carrying. But this is life.
It was a fall from grace for you. Even at my young age, I could tell. You were a broken and drunken mess trying to subjugate that genius that was hiding in your mind. I was only 14, but I was so curious about all that you had done and remember asking questions about what LSD and magic mushrooms were like and what it was like smoking hashish in Afghanistan back in the '70s before it was blown to hell by the Soviets. If there was one bit of fatherly advice that you've given me, it was don't try heroin, but that a little raw opium is ok and that LSD and mushrooms were fine and that pot was alright provided you didn't do it while working. The perks of having a father straight from the flower power age of hippies. We never really got further than that because half the time you were dulled by alcohol.
All around me were crafts of your work. Writing from across the world, hand-drawn maps of entire cities, carpentry that you carved yourself, and souvenirs from every corner of the planet. Things of which I wouldn't understand until so much later. Then you got fucked by the one thing that you had the illusion of which was helping you. Booze. You boozed yourself and fell down a set of stairs injuring your head that turned you into a vegetable in the span of three years. It was the most fucked timing of my life. It was a time when I was old enough to leave the comfort of home. I shipped myself off to India and Nepal by myself for months and couldn't even talk to you about it.
I did not feel the same for a very long time. I was torn between two selves. One self that looked up to you and your legacy, the other self an angry mess that couldn't accept the truth. I was walking in the shadow of a giant with no guidance with only silence there to accompany me on my journey. For years, I wandered the planet trying to discover what it had taught and shown you and what you told me about education when I was young was true. A couple of years wandering around Asia will teach you more than you will ever learn at university. Each wandering step I took across the planet I thought about what you had seen, what I was seeing and how similar or different things were. But again, I remembered that I would only be met with silence. Years went by like this wherein everything I did I fused your life into mine vicariously through the world and its experiences, but it wasn't until only a few years ago I realised everything was staring me right in the face.
I think you would have found it appropriate when I realised this in the midst of chilling Himalayan winds in 2019. I felt the icy cold air bite at my lips as I looked up into the whitewashed night sky. I thought about you, but then the most peculiar of feelings begun brewing inside me. It was forgiveness and understanding in silence. For the first time in my life, I felt the force of those words and it brought tears into my eyes and I no longer felt that bottomless feeling of anger. I didn't care about anything else, as its warmth caressed and kindled my heart.
You found solace in the world and the world found solace in you. It taught you everything you knew, but that didn't mean you were perfect, of course you weren't. You were as flawed as all of us are, but I think you understood that and accepted it and it was time for me to accept the same things. It didn't matter to me anymore that I didn't have a person to discuss eastern philosophy with or what my personal drug experiences were or what travel stories I wanted to know. In your silence, you showed me something greater than any conversation could have shown. I felt at peace and it was simply enough to call myself your son and to make the footprints you left on the world last through me and what I chose to do and how to act going forward. It was simple and it was something called love. I'm sure you would have understood that too because the life that flowed through you also flowed through me.
I was now walking through the valley of death with you. Rejection had no place there.
You lived the lives of a thousand men and I would be willing to bet that there were very few people in the history of the world that were as well travelled as you were. The complacency of normal life made you bored and instead you went and looked at life directly in the eye. Never shying away from an adventure or challenge. A mammoth of a personality, as I would be so told by many that knew you, but also by those who only spent minutes in your company. You touched the world with your personality and your thirst for curiosity never led you away from trouble, but rather into the middle of it. It takes a certain person to take on what you did.
But now it has all come to a close for you. You always did like the term "live fast, die young" but you only succeeded with one part of that. At 78 years old you lived until you were old and frail despite drowning in thousands of bottles of booze, burning through hundreds of thousands of cigarettes, falling ill from malaria, hepatitis, dengue and a plethora of other things. Mum always did say you were a tough bastard and you fought for nine months after people said you were going to die, to the very end, and until I was ready to speak to you.
"I forgive you, Dad. Don't worry anymore, I love you and everything I do and have an interest in has been infused in me by who you were as a person. We will be ok, please don't wait anymore, you can rest now. I love you and Mum and I will be ok. Travel well."
The next day you gently closed your mouth after you took your last breath with your best friend, my beautiful mother, at your side.
I'll be thinking about you and your memory will live on through me. I hope what I couldn't tell you would have made you smile. You can now go back into the Earth and join the world and universe that created your life and in turn, created mine. You epitomised what it meant to live without being afraid. I don't think death was ever your enemy. Rather, it was a companion that was next to you every day that made you take those steps that transformed into your life and today is the day when you finally reached your destination. I will feel eternally grateful that your silence shattered my anger and replaced it with forgiveness and love.
I'll take those next steps tomorrow for you into the unknown.
Travel safe, old man.