I called Rod to discuss parental relationships. He started the conversation with a lesson on alkalising the gut to fight bad bacteria and increase our overall health and wellbeing. I was 100% on board but wondered why he was so intent on delivering the diet sermon instead of talking about his Dad, Greg Turnbull. Turns out this was a sensitive subject and skirting the real story meant buying some more time to eloquently convey the beauty and ugliness of his father and their relationship together.
Rod’s upbringing was no normal state of affairs, his Dad was an unfit male role model, until he was nearly passed, in his early 80’s.
Falling in love with a young English girl during combat in World War II was Greg’s first big mistake. Rod's mother was 19 and ready to take on the world and she agreed, following his repatriation to Australia, to meet him in Melbourne. She arrived by ship to a city lacking the colour and vibrancy of London, she was a Vaudeville performer. She felt incredibly isolated, moreso after starting a family. Greg eventually had her committed and although she was lucky to negotiate her departure to the Motherland, she lost her son in the process. Rod was old enough to acknowledge her abandonment but her choices were limited, as was the rights of women in the 50's.
I borrow a beautiful quote from a recent radio interview, “we can choose the moment we want to remember people by”. This history is not Rod’s favoured memory of his life with his Dad.
Greg was now a single dad with no clue on how to connect with his only son. They went through the motions until Rod was old enough to pave his own path. They reconnected some years later while Rod lived overseas through letter writing and it was how Rod started to get to know him. Letters were ideal communication for someone emotionally immature. Greg never talked about Rod's mother, not in the letters nor decades later when their relationship finally blossomed.
Sadly, soon after their reconnection, he started to shuffle, he couldn't hold his hand steady to write a note. He was dreadfully embarrassed by his inability to coordinate his movements with his thoughts but that is what Parkinson’s disease does best, disconnect our nervous system from our thinking. In the 5 years of decline he shared a library worth of knowledge about navigation, flight paths, travel, world wars, impressionist art and golf. He didn't show love, he shared unbridled curiosity and an inherent enthusiasm for the world. Rod had finally found himself a mentor, his Dad excelled at teaching. Rod is an immersive student too and this is his chosen moment to remember his father.
In their final years together, they managed to reach a critical forgiveness and mutual understanding for each other, something rare between any father and son, and yet another beautiful moment to remember their life together.
- Rod's story, as told to Nat Power
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