Daughter of the disappeared

King LearIt is a sad fact of life that children sometimes disappear. So do parents, of course — still, by the time you are 55, you expect your parents to stay put until the Grim Reaper comes scything. My father, however, is missing. At least to me he is, although he lives somewhere in Melbourne — I just cannot discover where.

Dad will be 88 next birthday, and, according to the little trickle of information I do have, has a much impaired memory. Although I'm told he does remember me, his eldest child. I think now that he went missing, in a very real sense, soon after the death of my mother. My parents had known each other for over 53 years, and had been married for 50. My mother died not long after their Golden Wedding.

Five weeks after the funeral, the meats scarcely being cold, Dad met the woman who would become his second wife. His focus then turned away from his offspring, and became fixed on the new woman and her large family. I remember thinking what an irony it was that his favourite play was King Lear, but he had clearly forgotten it, for he protested that his children were not as happy about the match as his wife's eloquent offspring were.

I pointed out to him that we were indeed happy he had started a new life; we, however, were still stuck with our old ones. I also asked him to think about the fact that his wife had been widowed 15 years when they met. Time counts: there is a great difference between 15 years and five weeks.

Time really got the bit between its teeth more than seven years ago, when I flew out from Greece at a day's notice: it was almost certain that Dad was dying after an operation for cancer and two heart attacks. But he didn't die; he just died to me. After brain injury brought on by hypoxia, he became convinced that all I wanted was to lock him in a nursing home, throw away the key, and then make off with his money and property.

The coolness over the phone and face-to-face was almost more than I could bear. My attempts to communicate the way we used to ended in failure, every one. And so I found myself teetering, about to fall into an abyss of grief caused by this complicated bereavement: mourning the living is often worse than mourning the dead. And that it should have come to this. That my father, who was also my teacher, should prefer me to stay away.

It was as if his paternal emotions had been kidnapped. Malign influences had seeped into the cracks that brain damage had caused, and in his darkened mind had flowered, in the manner of the belladonna deadly nightshade, into a rich and poisonous paranoia. Some essential coding that had previously enabled him to combat these influences had gone missing. As he himself had disappeared.

Late last year I thought my luck had turned, for Dad fetched up in a respite care place where an old friend also happened to be. Get in touch, urged John. He says he wants to see you.

I had already planned a trip Down Under, and so wrote an innocuous card care of John. I did not say I was coming. Yet, a few days after my arrival, Dad was spirited away to an unknown destination, and the person who has his power of attorney turned a deaf ear to my entreaties to be able to see my father for almost certainly the last time. A court order established Dad's address, but I was not permitted to know it.

Since then he has been spirited away again. And try as I might, there seems to be no way I can find him, even though in my present despair, all I want to know is that he is being well cared for.

Once long ago, when I was an uncomplicated schoolgirl leading a straightforward life of study, singing, sport and church attendance, I ran a race. I was a good sprinter, and often won in competition, but on this occasion, running in a championship, I burst through the finishing tape almost into my waiting father's arms.

Somebody took a photo. Like my father, though, all the photos have been lost. Fortunately the image is still safely stored in my head: two short, dark, intense people joined by blood and in a close embrace.

But now, in Australia, blood counts for nothing, and I have been forced to give up long-distance running.

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 28 years. She has had eight books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances

Topic tags: gillian bouras, searching for father, melbourne, king lear



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Existing comments

haunting. elegant. graceful. harrowing. and the spin at the end, into the race -- that's a master stroke from a very fine writer. wow.

Brian Doyle | 10 June 2009  

'mourning the living is often worse than mourning the dead' ... Oh yes, Gillian. I feel your pain. But his spirit will love you forever.

glen avard | 10 June 2009  

A heart-breaking tale, Gillian. I feel I know you a little through your ES pieces and I'd just like to offer whatever comfort the sympathy of a stranger can give. Thank you for sharing your story - I hope we can share our love with you.

Joe Castley | 10 June 2009  

I am touched by all these comments, and am very grateful for them. Thank you.

Life is exceedingly strange, as we know. I wrote this piece some weeks ago; in the last 48 hours, very unexpectedly, I have received news of my father, who is in reasonable health and being well cared-for. And I now have a specific address! What I will do with this information, I do not know as yet, but I am, of course, very relieved.

Thank you again for your generosity and support.

Gillian Bouras | 10 June 2009  

Gillian I can relate to your article, but in my case there are two main differences. Firstly what separates me from my parent is the ever widening gap of Alzheimer's disease and secondly, it's my Mum who's been 'spirited away' right in front of me, before my very eyes and I'm only 37, she's 75.

Lovely article. I hope you get a happy resolution with your Dad.

Fond regards
Fiona Pirie

Fiona Pirie | 10 June 2009  

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