We moved to Australia in 1975 when I was three. (It's my understanding that he wanted to be part of Gough Whitlam's vision for a new Australia, but he got thrown out of office later that year.) My dad was in his early 40s then but he started a new life for him and his family and then set to work with the vigour of a man half his age. After working all day as a carpenter he would build our home brick by brick, with his own two hands.
My dad loved to make things. I remember building a birdhouse with him, and my mother joked that it must have been a very expensive birdhouse for the number of hours we both put into it, but it was a labour of love. I never did pick up his knack for making things with my hands.
One thing I did pick up from him was his love of animals. Even in his twilight years he loved feeding the birds and the possums around the house. He tamed some of the possums enough that he could tentatively pet them. I know you shouldn’t do that, but I wasn’t going to deny him the pleasure he got from hand feeding them. In my moments of whimsy, I like to imagine the possums around the house got together and gave him a marsupial memorial. Between the food and the possum houses he built for them (which are still in use today) they owe it to him.
He also taught me to respect rats. He made a humane live rat trap, and I saw a rat escape from it once, by squeezing through a hole the size of its head. It gave me the willies at the time, but it showed me how determined rats are to live. He also told me a story (which I strongly suspect to be apocryphal) of how rats steal chicken eggs: One lies on its back and holds the egg with all four legs while the other drags his friend by the tail.
I always loved going to the flea market with him on Sundays. We were looking for different things when we got there so we always went our separate ways and then would meet up in the middle and compare loot, but I stopped going when he didn’t want to go anymore. It just wasn’t the same without him.
When he retired as a carpenter, he would sell firewood and pine cones as kindling. Not for the money, but because he loved cutting and bundling the wood. He built a stand with a locked box for the money that he carried on a wheelbarrow and I helped him write the signs for it. He collected the money in a jar and loved collating his takings on a scraps of paper.
He always found time for me. He built a flying fox for me in the back yard and would pull me up it. He was always happy to give me lifts before I got my driver's license. Even when the alzheimer’s took all that away from him, he still wanted to spend time with me around the house. He was never cold with me, but he was emotionally distant, never wanting to share his feelings. It was his way, and I learnt to be that way too. He was my father and I loved him. I’m glad I got to tell him that in the hospital before he passed away, but I wish I’d told him that more often when I still had the chance.