wings and things

My dad’s birthday

Today would have been my dad’s 94th birthday if he had lived. He died when my brothers and I were teenagers so he never saw any of our children who nevertheless know him as Granddad. My mother was only 43. Dad was only 57 and died in Intensive Care at the local hospital. He had been admitted having suffered two heart attacks and was recovering when he suffered a third fatal one. The shock and grief of that day is something I will never forget especially as I was on the other side of Australia at the time, in Sydney.

The following portrait was done of a photo taken of Dad a couple of years before he died. We all have the photo and the portrait and my youngest brother even has it tattooed on one of his arms.


Herbert Henry Brinsley Lane, who went by the name of Brinsley but was most often called Brin, was a tall, well-built man who had a presence. He was known for his eloquence and his strong silence, was not particularly gregarious, but very compassionate and generous. His love for my mother is the lens through which I remember my childhood.

He had a Charlie Chaplin way of standing which, as a child, I tried to imitate, and a habit of talking to himself when trying to figure anything out. A strict father, he taught us all manner of manners, especially table manners! But he was a gentle giant.

A radio announcer and high school teacher at Sydney Grammar School, Dad made the extraordinary decision in his early 40s to embark on chiropractic studies and thus began our travels – first to Canada (I was 8) where he completed his chiropractic degree, then to Papua New Guinnea (I was 12) to work as a chiropractor on a mission in the highlands, then to Western Australia (I was 15) where he set up a practice. He was a wonderful chiropractor and if patients couldn’t pay, he would accept milk or apples as payment.

Not long before he died, I was on the phone to him about how much I hated the college I was at in Sydney and, despite being a godly man he told me to come home and to tell the college people to “go to buggery!” Those were his last words to me, unforgettable in the way they still make me laugh, and cry, in that I didn’t make it home in time to see him alive for the last time. At the time of the phone-call, there was no indication that he was ill.

In my writing room, I often look up to my right at the portrait of my father and, underneath, a more recent one done of my mother.


Significantly, Dad approved of Anthony when nobody else did, including Anthony! After all, I was eighteen and Ants was 41. After Dad died, I went back to work for Anthony’s mother, Gar, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I often feel the presence of my dad: when I am having lunch with my mother; at family get-togethers; in the nursing home with Anthony; during moments of hysterical laughter with Ming; during those unexpected moments of intense grief; and when I accidentally speak with my mouth full. Sometimes I imagine that Dad is there/here with me/with us, smiling proudly.

Happy birthday, Dad.