i wish

Dad and Ian

Dad and Ian
Written by Cathoel Jorss,

Dad’s number is 0412 195 957. Mum’s number, obtained in a different year and from a different phone company, is separated from his by only two digits. For years their numbers were almost the same and then Mum put Dad’s mobile through the wash and now Dad has cancer in his blood. The doctor’s stopped the chemotherapy because it wasn’t working, but not before it turned their home life medieval. He had radiation, hormone treatment, then the magic pill. He will be dead before I ever get home.

Dad has a close friend from childhood called Ian, not the Ian in this picture. They were lifesavers together on the Gold Coast. Tonight I heard that Ian has inoperable cancer in his lungs. My brother sent me a photo of Ian coming out of the water at Little Burleigh looking hale and strong: he sent a photo of the four dozen young men lined up in their wrestle suits. This is how men were built in those days, I thought: before McDonalds. As I lay down and closed my eyes a strange calming image flooded me. I was thinking about the two friends who now have known each other longer than they’ve either of them known anybody else, just about; so many people have died. Their generation is at the wall. Their bodies are crumbling. I knew Ian was in town for a while to spend time with his children, our playmates on the long summer holidays at the beach, and I thought: what if someone could bring the two of them together, if they both wanted; and then discreetly disappear; so they could have a beer or a cup of tea with no one fussing around them and being social; and face the horizon as it approaches. Dad told me once years ago how when they were lifesavers they were both out on their boards beyond the breakers, where the water is green and tilts; a huge shark went cruising past his feet. He said he wasn’t scared. It was just a part of being in the water.

I always thought once you step into the ocean, you are in their territory. They know the places we cannot map and can eat the things we are. They have no mercy, so far as we can understand it. They maybe don’t even have fear. But once you leave the sloping beach and paddle out past the breakers you are out of the reach of land and you have stepped into the wild.


My father was born during World War Two. It’s hard to imagine he minds being deprived of his mobile phone, the constant connectivity that keeps us bobbing on the surface of our minds like so much trash.

For the first time now the living outnumber the dead, things will only get worse; it is a strange and insecure world we have made, top heavy and crumbling fast, like a breaker. We are a web on the surface of a world we have ruined and let ebb, and filled its clear salt waters with our junk and emptied them of all life using nets the size of dead cities. We are a glinting and reflecting shifting roof of plastic bottles for the endless ocean which needs no roof.

When I went to buy a futon in 1996, my father had the only mobile phone I’d ever seen. He lent it to me, so that he could call me later to come and pick up his car. I shoved the phone in my bag and forgot it was there.

The futon I chose was so comfortable after I lay down on it I fell into a sound sleep. A strange blaring noise woke me, repeated and insistent like a tiny tugboat. People around the shop were stirring and saying to one another, I think your mobile phone is ringing. That’s what we called them in those days, two words. I said when asked, loftily, Oh noI don’t have a mobile phone. Then, mortified, recollected that I had, and this was my father, ringing me on it. His phone and his car were in my custody.

I bought this week a German sim card, after a year and three months here without one. I am wary of giving anyone the number. I think of the life I had, once I had slipped its leash, as like telling the household I’m just going out for a walk. Unless you take your phone along – no one can know where you are. No one can call to say Stop for milk or You are late, and so you can browse and forage and glean and sift through your thoughts like hot sand that sparkles neverendingly and forever through your fingers which are dry and brown. It makes me sad that my father doesn’t have a phone now and that it seems hardly worth replacing it. It makes me proud for him, and happy, to think of him slipping the leash, gazing at the sky, listening to the birds.

On his verandah with his afternoons all to himself he can see the horizon from his long cane chair which curves like a Malibu board. But the chair is so low and Dad struggles to get out of it. He cannot make it to the landline in time if I call him from my strange time zone in another season; efforts to reach him seem futile. From his supine position the verandah rail is his horizon. It has snuck closer in his sleep.

On the far side of the world where the water is cold I stare and stare towards the south but it’s slipped round the curve. I hear nothing, and I see nothing, and I get these occasional emails. My father who then was the love of my life with his fearless innovations and his steady carpenter’s hand has stepped off the coastal shelf now, he is out for a walk and he may be some time, he is going where we none of us can follow and I don’t believe he will ever meet us there; he’ll be gone; he has stepped into the wild.

32 comments on “Dad and Ian

  1. So many thoughts… I still have my 1996 number too. My children learned it by heart when I was doing field work with my moorhens. I’ve kept it because Chris knows how to contact me.

    The other day I went out without it (my phone) and by the time I’d realised, it was too late to go back. I felt like a naughty child who had escaped supervision. I completed the errands and drove home again. My first thought was to check the phone for ‘missed calls’ but I decided that whoever it could be would have to wait and I watered the garden, fed the chickens and made some dinner first.

    There were no calls missed. I felt just a little bit neglected, but happy for the lack of emergencies.

    How many times have I asked a friend “What did we do before mobiles?” when I did receive a phone call and was required for a rescue of some sort.

    Jane March 8, 2016 at 3:07 am
  2. A Dad, as opposed to a father, can never be lost… Ever, Cathoel. My Dad was a man among men. He had no earthly recognition that attracted awards. What he truly excelled at was not something for which he ever sought rewArd for there are few awards on offer for having turned loving unconditionally into an artform surpassing the works of the Masters. Dad could turn every moment of failure or doubt into an opportunity… ‘Better luck next time Sweetheart’… Those words s ring in my heart, still validate who I am… That I am indeed OK. The look of love and acceptance in his beautiful blue eyes, the warm hugs and the shared tears… That’s my Dad and for me, he will never be gone. He’s in my heart every single day, his star is there for our chat every night. Physical loss is a true pain Cathoel… But you will never lose your Dad. His will love on in your heart and who you are has always been… And will always be… A part of him. Treasure the image you see now and know he too is seeing visions of you right now. Close your eyes, feel his loving arms. You are not apart. X

    Maz March 8, 2016 at 5:22 pm
  3. I have just said goodbye to my father, in Australia, on the phone while he lay dying in the UK… it took four days, I kept a vigil, lit candles and held photos, I spoke on the phone and sung songs and talked of dying… of flying… it was some of the hardest, darkest, most lonely and magical days I have encountered.. This was just two or so weeks ago. It is so hard not being there, and easier too… either way letting go is such a hard thing to do.. I asked my friends ‘why?’ one wise one said ‘It is because we are wired for connections’ true. In that infinite sea, we are all one, we are always together in our grief and solitude. Peace and ease to you both.

    Katiebell March 16, 2016 at 3:49 pm
  4. “The verandah rail is his horizon” – your evocative essay on memory and attachment, your tender wishes for your father brought tears to my eyes. What a loving act and so finely done.

    Rhyll McMaster March 17, 2016 at 4:05 am
  5. What a beautiful tribute to your Dad. As long as you remember him, he has not gone. Thinking of you in your time of grief. Hold tight to the memories x

    Kate Nelson March 18, 2016 at 7:14 am
  6. That’s really kind, Kate, thank you very much. Thank you for reading x

    Cathoel Jorss April 6, 2016 at 11:05 pm
  7. Beautiful, Cathoel. I can think of nothing other than “thank you” and can’t wait to read it to dad. I’m so pleased they got to have their time together. It’s funny, but whenever I’m sad, angry or happy I head for the water…
    Hugs from across the seas,
    Shona (daughter of the “Ian”)

    Shona Di Clemente April 10, 2016 at 6:16 am
  8. Shona, it feels beautiful to know that you have read this and you are reading it to Ian. I think of him with such great affection and feel very far away. I’m pleased, too, that they got to spend some time together. I miss the ocean like you wouldn’t believe – in this stony, iron, land-locked country – and when I get back it’s always the first thing I want to do: immerse. Thanks for reading, big hugs back, I hope you’re all doing ok.

    Cathoel Jorss April 12, 2016 at 9:22 pm
  9. I read your story “happens so fast” before this one – the poignancy is doubled. Remembering my father, who snuck off before we were ready. We knew what was coming, but how could we be ready when we’d never experienced it?
    I send love…it’s what we can do in the face of finality.

    Alison Lambert May 10, 2016 at 5:17 am
  10. Thank you, Alison. I’m so sorry to hear you didn’t get the chance to give your father farewell. Sometimes it seems people almost sneak off like a cat, to die alone or at least apart from their loved ones. How can we ever be ready?

    Ian died on Friday. It’s hard to take in. He was wonderful to us when we were children. A cheeky, adventurous man. I harassed my brother & Mum until she took Dad to see him in the hospital – my idea was that the two old friends would be left to make peace with their fate some way together, without interference, which didn’t happen but they did at least get to see each other – and as they were leaving, Ian said from his wheeled bed: I’m gunna beat you. And – he has. With finality.

    Cathoel Jorss May 10, 2016 at 8:12 am

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