True Stories [February 5]
The story I’m about to tell you only ever had two possible endings: a happy-sad one and a disappointing one. Let me explain.
I have never seen my father move. I’ve heard stories about him and seen black and white photos of a tall young man with my jaw-line. My existence is proof that he once existed. But somewhere deeper than my conscious mind, he never quite seemed real.
Fifty-three years ago my father ran into the surf to rescue a pair of drowning swimmers. I was on the beach that day, a newborn baby wrapped in my mother’s arms. So yes, I have seen my father move, but no memories survive.
The story of what happened that day has two different endings. It all depends on when you press pause.
There is a happy ending: the struggling swimmers grabbed my father and he hauled them both back to shore. There is an unhappy ending: after he had rescued the swimmers my father disappeared under the waves and drowned.
When a man dies a hero he can seem too good to be true. Perhaps that’s why he’s always been like someone I’ve seen in a dream.
Recently a family friend sent me another old photo of my father. In this one there is a huge movie camera trained on him as he plays the trumpet. If someone once filmed him, could that footage still exist?
With the help of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia I discovered a ten-minute documentary had been made at a national music camp in 1955 – the same year the photo was taken. The Archive people promised to send a copy of the film down to their Melbourne office for me to watch. But had my father had made the final cut? I tried to steel myself for disappointment.
Last week my sister and I were led into a small room and invited to sit in front of a computer screen. We held hands and I pressed play.
Five minutes in I stopped breathing. On the screen a tall young trumpeter was sitting behind a music stand. He had a jaw just like mine.
He licked his lips. He blew a raspberry. He took a deep breath, pressed the mouthpiece to his chapped lips and blew.
I pressed pause.
My dream-father was real.
(This column was first published by Fairfax in Feb 2018)