The Last Time I Saw My Father
I am who I am because of my father.
Early on, it was evident that we shared common interests – common connections.
He instilled in me a love of the theatre. I joined him on stage in amateur productions from the age of nine. Playing the lead role in high school plays was a highlight for me and a source of great pride for him. I have always attributed my acting ability to my father’s influence.
My musical taste was inspired by his choices – Beethoven, Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein. I learned early in life that I had musical talent and was encouraged to play instruments and sing in a variety of choirs. My capacity to find comfort in the strum of a guitar or escape into the world of song was due to his doggedness.
He knew the importance of a good education, having graduated from medical school later in life. A university degree was always going to be essential for my development. He showed me that with a goal, commitment and persistence, you can surprise even yourself with your achievements.
I followed in his military footsteps – he was an RAF pilot during the Second World War who suffered life-threatening injuries when his plane crash-landed in the Mediterranean Sea. He spent seven months in a Moroccan hospital. I became a Lieutenant in the Army Reserve, and I came to understand that finding a cause greater than self will give you a purposeful life. I also learned that through determination and resilience, you can overcome any of life’s physical and emotional scars.
Later, I became a helicopter pilot and felt the freedom that he would have known as the bonds of earth slipped away. I learned that, as a pilot, you have to be in control, that the fate of yourself and others lie in your hands. You have the power to shape your, and their, destiny.
Louise Ryan was born within the sound of the York Minster bells in 1958 and can trace her lineage back to William the Conqueror. She emigrated to Australia in 1967, landing in Melbourne on St Patrick’s Day. As a child, she thought all new arrivals were greeted by hordes of people, dressed in green and waving shamrocks. A studious child who loved to sing and act, she found the world of make-believe to be a safe, magical place. After finishing school, she auditioned for NIDA and is still waiting for them to call back. She had a successful career in human resources but recently decided there are more important things than climbing the corporate ladder. Louise is a writer who lives on the Sunshine Coast with her husband.
Looking back, I know that it was my father’s actions and his passions that lay the foundations for my future – for the woman I was to become. You might say that he was grooming me.
In fact, he ‘groomed’ me from the age of eight. From that time onwards, he and I shared a terrible secret. Sometimes it was a secret of the daylight – but mostly it was a secret of the dark. Night after night, year after year, the secret was persistently and consistently reinforced.
For all my childhood years, the secret was kept. And because of my expertise as a ‘secret keeper’, it continued its buried existence long into adulthood.
My acting talent became an essential skill and my capacity to find joy in creative pursuits, a catalyst for resilience. I possess a determination to succeed in the face of great adversity and a resolve to shape my own destiny…
Three years ago, on the final day of my treatment for breast cancer, and eighteen years after I had severed all contact with my father, I received a letter from him. It was not quite an apology, but it was an acknowledgment of what he had done. I agonized over how to respond and eventually I decided to go and visit him.
I sat at my father’s bedside, a grown woman, beyond his reach. He was a shrivelled old man in his nineties, at the end of his life. I did not come to forgive my father. But that is what I did.
It was the first time I had seen him in nearly two decades and the last time I would ever see him.
He died ten weeks later.
Now I am close to finishing my memoir, His Daughter Remembers, in which I finally grieve the loss of my childhood and celebrate the woman I became, in spite of my father.
Joanne Fedler Media blog joins the global women’s campaign, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which starts from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) up to Human Rights Day (10th December). We would love you to share these stories on social media (using the hashtags: #OrangeUrWorld #OrangeTheWorld #HearMeToo #EndVAW), with your girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends and sisters.
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Things Without a Name
(10th Year Anniversary Edition)
by Joanne Fedler
At 34, Faith has given up on love. Her cleavage is disappointing, her best friend is clinically depressed and her younger sister is getting breast implants as an engagement present. She used to think about falling in love, but that was a long time ago. Having heard one too many love-gone-wrong stories from the other side of her desk, Faith is worn thin by her work as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. Then one night, an odd twist of fate brings her to a suburban veterinary clinic where she wrings out years of unshed tears. It is a night that will slowly change the way she sees herself and begin the unearthing of long-buried family secrets so she can forgive herself for something she doesn’t remember, but that has shaped her into the woman she is today. Faith will finally understand what she has always needed to know: that before you can save others, you have to save yourself.
Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough
A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler
In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.