The Long Distance Dad

I was 17 when I got my first girlfriend. Unless you include the time that a girl named Snake that I had a crush on agreed to go out with me. Two days later I was admitted to hospital to have my appendix out and a week later, the day after I got out, she dumped me. So let’s not include that, huh?

When I look back at that relationship, I realise that it was pretty rocky and during our thirteen and a half months together there were more than a few occasions when we became single again. One of those occasions lasting nearly a week. The good fun when I pulled out of school only a few months into year 12 and started looking for a job. I don’t think that impressed her or her family. I was in trouble.

This was my first real girlfriend, my first relationship. I didn’t realise that arguing, fighting, sulking and in general being miserable wasn’t supposed to be part of it. After all, I only had my parents as an example. What a miserable bloody pair of whatevers they were.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. We had a great group with a close bond. The six of us, 3 boys, 3 girls, enjoyed each others company. One of the girls even wrote a beautiful letter to all of us promising that this ongoing bond that will stay with us all regardless of what happens to the individual couples. I haven’t heard from her in over 20 years. She didn’t even accept my Myspace friend request, lol.

I believe we sorted through most of the worst of it and yes there were still plenty of arguments, but we knew how to avoid most of them.

Then one day a bit of a surprise. Something that was supposed to happen didn’t. A lady something, didn’t. Now I’m not sure if those little packs were available on the supermarket shelf or not back then but we went to a little family assist building and they gave her a little bottle and she disappeared for a few minutes. She came back and the person at the clinic got out this small square plastic thing with 3 windows going diagonally across it. They got the dropper and dropped two or three drips into one window. It would then seep across the middle window and all’s done when the 3rd window changes colour. The 2nd window is set so that it will automatically have a – appear and if anything else is happening then a I shows up as well giving you a +. Well the I showed up before the – meaning she was most definitely, very pregnant.

Both being 18 years old we were a little concerned. It was a fairly quiet drive home as we made our plan of telling our parents together. I’d go to her place the next day, talk to her parents then she’d come with me back to my parents. I rang her the next day to see if she was ready for me to come around to talk. She said that there was no need, she already told her parents. She didn’t feel like coming to see mine so I had that conversation on my own.

Later I went to see her. We were both still in shock. Although she seemed fairly calm suddenly. I asked what she wanted to do next, should we get married or something. Sorry ladies, I think that’s pretty much how I put it too, romantic huh? My shithouse proposal was met with “No”. No surprise there. The next bit I didn’t see coming. Within 2 minutes of suggesting marriage I was a single man. Beautifully finished off with the line “I never loved you, I just thought I did!” OUCH!

We kept in touch. Every couple of months I’d get an update on the baby. Then he was born in September 1991. I was never told she was going into hospital. Two weeks early. I went to a party that night that finished at 11pm, then to a pub that closed at 1am, followed by a 4am nightclub and lastly to a nightclub that finished with being carried out to a taxi and sent home. Hey, I was 19 and single.

I wasn’t too popular the next morning when I found out and we headed into the hospital. I still had a fairly strong taste of Bundeburg Rum in my mouth regardless of the toothpaste and apparently a fairly strong smell of it on me too. When I went to the hospital the next day I had been banned. For the whole week the nurses would stop me and tell me she still says no. Eventually through some pleading, her mother collected the baby and brought him to another room so she didn’t have to look at me.

I was able to keep in contact easily and visit fairly often once she and the baby went home. That is until she moved to somewhere near the South Australian border. Several hours drive away.

It never ceased to amaze me how many people believe it’s okay to refer to someone as a bastard or arsehole for being a typical bloke and running away from a pregnant woman. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? I felt I couldn’t even go out anymore.

Through all this only one friend stood by me, and he was about to finish his apprenticeship and head to London on a two year working visa.

It was at this time that a very angry, self hating, world hating, 20 year old man crawled into a bottle and stayed there for quite a while. Not a proud part of my life.

A job opportunity came up that gave me a chance to run away from Ballarat, my dad (there’s some stories for another blog or two) and the pain. Guess what, you can’t run from pain.

She moved back to Ballarat and married someone who WAS a very close mate of mine. (I guess that’s why he stopped returning my calls.) I would try to get to Ballarat when I could and see my son until about his 4th Birthday, they moved. I had no address and no phone number. I heard they lived in a certain street so many a time I would drive up and down hoping to get a clue or a sighting, nothing. Found out many years later, wrong street. Several of his birthdays I would ring her parents house and the phone would just ring out.

I won’t pretend I’m completely innocent. I know I could have tried harder. I know there were things I could have done. But I was angry, hurt, lost and confused. Not to mention young and bloody stubborn too. Pride can be a dangerous thing guys.

Some time later, I’m married with 2 kids, I start playing on Facebook, as you do, and see who you can find from your past. I found my old mate. I found a couple of photos of my son. Recent photos. I procrastinated for a day or two and then messaged my old mate with my number. Nothing. A month later I tried again. The next day SHE rang. She wanted to know why I suddenly wanted to be back in his life again. She told me that she had spoken to him about me and that I had made contact but he wasn’t ready to meet me. I suppose that’s fair enough. I was never there for him. He’s over 16 years old and has only heard about me, doesn’t remember seeing me, I don’t blame him not wanting to see me. That doesn’t stop it hurting though and I shed several tears that night.

Six months later I get a phone call. He’s going on holidays to Vietnam. He needs a passport. He’s not 18 so he needs both parents to sign a piece of paper to say he can go. I was working in Springvale at the time and she was going to drive from Ballarat to Springvale to get me to sign the form. The day before she was coming down she rang me again. “He wants to meet you. Is that okay?”, “Hell Yeah!”

It was a very strange day at work that Sunday. Constantly distracted by the thought of catching up after work.

In the same year he was born, a band called Weddings, Parties, Anything brought out a song called Father’s Day. All about a guy who only sees his son on a weekend since the separation. It was a song I played a lot when feeling a bit melancholy over the years. That day at work, as I’m walking to the toilets, I leave the shop floor and start down the corridor when over the work radio that song came on. That bloody song! The tears just started and nothing I could do so I hid for a bit in the dunny.

The McDonalds closest to my work was decided on as good, neutral, territory to meet. We both just stared, waiting for the other to say something. It was more than 13 years. He’s 17. I’m waiting for anger, I’m waiting to be asked for explanations. Nuh! Just the sweetest, nicest and one of the shyest guys you could meet.

Next thing you know he’s back from holiday and invited my whole family to his 18th. Including his 8 week old half sister being carried by my very tired wife.

At another get together a year or so later, with a beer or two under my belt, I tried to apologise and explain my lack of being around and he said “That’s all in the past mate! It’s different now and that’s all that counts.”

That’s why his mum and I stayed together as long as we did, because we needed to create this magnificent human being. She’s done an awesome job of bringing him up and I’m proud of both of them.

Last September I was at his 21st. When I was introduced to one of his mates, the mate asked who I was and my son said “This is my dad”. That was the first time I had heard him EVER refer to me as dad and I had to change subject and quickly talk my way through the almost teary session that would have been uncomfortable for everyone.

I had a great chat with his mum at the 21st as well. The nicest conversation we had had in 22 years, lol.

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