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All The Important Questions

by Peter Walker

Peter Walker reflects on being a father and a son.

Have you ever wondered what you would ask someone who has long since passed away, but who also has the answers to some of your most significant questions?

Those questions that, had they been answered sooner, might have totally changed the direction of your life.

Dave, my father, passed away in 1991. I don’t remember much of the funeral, not because of grief, but rather because of a practised indifference.

I had begun to make some breakthroughs in a quest for my own emotional and spiritual identity, but I was a long way off from recognising the hole in my life that the absence of this man in the casket would create (and had already created even while he was alive).

Over the years, questions have come up that only Dave could have answered. Sometimes silly, flippant questions; sometimes deeply profound (for me) soul defining questions. My mother and sister have given me some important information about Dave, and some wonderful insights into his life and personality. But all that is hearsay at best. I needed it first person, from the horses mouth, so to speak.

I’ve often wondered what I would ask or say to Dave if I ever got the chance in this life to talk to him one more time. And I figured that, just in case we work out a way to talk to the dead (in a more specific way than so-called mediums and crackpots “talk to the dead”), I’d better be prepared.

Wouldn’t it be a double tragedy if I did get the opportunity to have one more beer with the old man and I hadn’t thought about what I wanted to say.

So, imagine a smoky bar somewhere, Dave’s rushing off to a meeting somewhere else, but I’ve got him for one last chance, and I’m not going to pull any punches. After cautious, but perhaps emotional greetings, the inquisition begins.

What did manhood mean to you? I know what it means in pop-culture and the movies; I know what it means to many feminists and women; and I know what it means to many psychologists, the family court, the IRD, my mother, my partner, and I even know now what it means to me.

But I really would like to know what being a man meant to you. How did your father model manhood to you? How was being a man different to your generation than it is to mine?

What were your dreams? I know anecdotally, and I even suspect from my own experience, that you either didn’t have any, or didn’t achieve them.

Surely it wasn’t your dream to die young, relatively pennyless, and alone. What, more than anything else in the universe would you want to do and be if you had your time over again? Did you secretly want to be world snooker champion? Or a race car driver? A fireman? Do you genuinely feel you achieved your absolute highest potential? If not, why not? What stopped you? Was it something I did?

Did you love me? I don’t remember you ever telling me you did.

How did you feel the day you moved out of home? I know how I felt, and I’ve often wondered if you felt as gutted as I did. Was our infrequent contact after that because it was too painful and difficult for you? Or did you just not care?

If you had known the smoking and drinking would eventually kill you, would you have stopped? Wasn’t the first heart attack enough of a warning?

What kind of music did you love? What was you favourite movie? Who was the actress you fantasised about? How would you describe the perfect woman?

Did you ever smack me, or discipline me in any way?

Were you as hard on Steve as mum says you were? Why? How do you think that has shaped who Steve is today? Would he and I be closer brothers if you hadn’t left?

What really happened between you and mum? I’ve heard her side, but I know now that there are always two sides to every story.

Was family important to you? I don’t remember your parents. Were they good to you? Did they love you? Did we ever have happy family gatherings together, like at Christmas or on birthdays?

Did you ever read to me at bed-time? Sing me silly songs, or recite funny poetry before I went to sleep?

How would your life be different if you had the chance to do it all again? What would you do and not do? What mistakes would you avoid making again? How would you be a different father? How would you be a different man?

I have no doubt that I will hear the answers to these questions one day.

Unfortunately, it will be a tad late to make a profound difference for me in this life. But perhaps it’s not too late for me to answer these questions for my sons, assuming that in their futures similar questions will plague them if I squander the opportunities I have now to answer them.

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