KEEP SHINING, DAD
BY CORINNA FERNANDEZ
Our family of four was the firm foundation on which I built myself. To my luck,
I was blessed with two caring and loving parents and a very supportive older sister.
Dad was a sergeant in the Victoria Police Force. He worked in offices all around Melbourne with his final years in the Operational Response Unit in Melbourne CBD. My friends and even my cousins were terrified of Dad because he looked stern. Very few people knew Dad as well as “his three ladies” knew him.
Deep down he was a pussycat.
Dad grew up in Chennai, India and immigrated to Australia when he was in his late twenties. Dad and Mum had a “Romeo-and-Juliet-like” relationship with their families standing on Montague-Capulet grounds despite these circumstances, they were married in 1987. Dad worked, from the bottom up, as a Target salesman and even a tram conductor. He served as a Prison Officer (where one day, he accidentally locked himself up in a cell with a criminal and laughed about it later) before joining the Force.
My older sister was born in 1993 and four years later, I was born. We did not, by any means, have a luxurious childhood. No. But we did have the loveliest childhood. We were financially tight, as Dad and Mum wanted us to study at a private school, so we made the most of the little things. We weren’t above visiting thrift shops (where Dad would scour the book section for the Personal Development books he loved so much). He’d say, “People don’t realise what they’re giving away.” Dad and Mum also took us regularly to the local library where Dad would sit glued to an armchair, reading the newspaper. Who knew newspapers were so page-turning?!
In 2009, Mum and Dad took us to India for the first time. Dad hadn’t been back to India for 20 years. Seeing Dad in his home country was such an honour. To see his humble living quarters made me realise how hard my Dad had worked to attain a better standard of living. He worked relentlessly and without complaint. We’d start the day solid over breakfast at our hotel. Dad would rave about “Indian coffee” sweetened with jagerry and would eat masala dosa without hesitating. I’ve never seen my Dad so relaxed and enjoying food. Usually, food was a chore for Dad. But in India, it was a pleasure and it lit Dad up like a Chinese floating paper lantern.
My sister, Chantelle, would playfully tease him and call him a “Chennai Boy,” He’d laugh and tease Chanty right back. We shared many laughs together on that trip. I even celebrated my twelfth birthday and had a surprise party with some relatives there. Dad, after I cut the cake and blew out the candles, grabbed the nearest balloons and started chasing us, children, around the restaurant. Chantelle took the brunt of the attack.
When Chantelle turned eighteen years old, she convinced Mum and Dad to throw her a huge birthday bash. It was not like the average eighteenth party in the backyard at home. We rented out the local community hall and hired caterers and a DJ. True to his badge, Dad set up “Adults” and “Children” drink stations. Much to Chan’s disappointment, there would be no underage drinking at a party held by Dad. But Dad wasn’t ruining the vibes. Quite the contrary. Dad loved being around Chanty’s and my school and church friends. He even attempted dancing as the DJ started working his magic. He was shining so brightly that night. My happiest moment was when Dad delivered his speech and toast to Chantelle. Dad spoke confidently and even made the sober youngsters laugh.
As we all well know, life has ups and downs. We struggled for even a morsel of happiness with my diagnosis of an eating disorder at the end of 2014. Over a decade, we argued and had many unsuccessful family outings, but we never gave up. Our family of four was going to pull through.
In 2020, Dad received a serious diagnosis of his own. He had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease and hadn’t a long time left with us. Six months. Despite the shock diagnosis, Mum and Dad insisted I continue with my university studies, and they didn’t even allow Chantelle to take time off work. Dad spent most of those six months in hospital. Closer to the end, Mum was inspired to renew her wedding vows with Dad. Without consulting him, she organised it and we all turned up at the hospital with wide, knowing smiles. At first, there was much confusion as Dad didn’t know what was happening. However, when he learnt that it was a renewal of vows ceremony, he lit up again. At that moment, I never realised that would be the last time I witnessed my Dad in his element. He genuinely recited the prayers and vows and wore his wedding ring with pride. He was one in a million. Truly.
Dad passed away on the morning of June 7, 2021. A light, in me, went out that day. But Dad’s eternal light and the memories we had of him guided us through the next years. He’s been gone for two years now. But the memory of him lives on.
Keep shining, Dad.