Andy & Al Portrait

The first thing you’ll notice about my dad is that he has an evolving nickname. Ever since I can remember, my siblings and I have always referred to him as Al. Then Al became Al Pal, then Big Al, Large Al, Largey, Big Large, Large Marshall, Sir Large-a-Lot…you get the gist of it. 

The second thing you’ll notice is that Al loves his Rugby League, quite a bit. I doubt there’s been a Bronco’s game, State of Origin match or Grand Final that he’s ever missed. I can just picture him watching a game on telly, yelling as he leaps up out of his easy chair, spilling his bowl of potato chips on the carpet.

I was sent to school at a catholic boys college in Brisbane and instantly took an interest in Rugby Union. Not only were you allowed to run around bashing into other students for an hour and a half every week, it was actively encouraged. There wasn’t a game that dad didn’t drive me to and then spend the entire eighty minutes keenly watching our team run around the field. One of my fondest memories was knowing that dad was on the sidelines at every match, jumping up and down every time I got my hands on the ball. That’s the other thing you’ll notice about him is that he’s incredibly generous with the time he devotes to his family.

I moved out of home when I was eighteen and went travelling overseas for a few years not long after, it would be the last time I would ever get to live in the same city as Al. I would only get to see him once a year at Christmas time unfortunately. These days I live in Melbourne and I speak to Dad once a week on the phone and spend a large majority of the conversation covering all things rugby. You could say it’s what we bond best over. 

Al and I have lead very different lives as adults. He spent most of his working life in the aluminium industry and bringing up his three children, devoted to making sure we all led comfortable and secure lives. I on the other hand have never been married, I don’t have any kids and I never bought a house. Most of my adult life has been spent travelling around with too much time devoted to goofing off in band venues, art galleries and skate parks. I’ve worked so many different kinds of jobs that I have trouble remembering them all. None of that has ever stopped dad from taking an interest in anything I’ve ever decided to do with my life and he’s only ever supported me every step of the way.

Dad’s lifelong ambition has been to buy a caravan and travel around Australia on an endless summer vacation. He’s only been talking about doing it for the last fifteen years and our family all breathed a big sigh of relief when he finally bought one a few years ago after he retired. It seems like he can never spend enough time in that thing. I’m sure he now considers it his home, and his house in Brisbane is just where he stores all of his belongings until he gets home from another caravanning adventure. 

A couple of years ago our family was hit with some pretty devastating news, my step mum was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. It was around this time that I was in between jobs, I had always wanted to join dad and Rosalie on one of their caravanning trips and now was the perfect opportunity. I realised that the brain tumour may be terminal and this might be the last chance I would ever get to spend some quality time with her. The three of us drove down from Mudgee in New South Wales to Victor Harbor in South Australia, spending a month to take in all the stops in between. It was the longest time I had ever spent together with Dad since I had moved out of home as a teenager.

Rosalie battled on for two more years and was finally admitted to palliative care in June this year. I was lucky enough to be able to make the trip up to Brisbane and visit her before she finally passed away a week later. It was heartbreaking to watch her struggle to survive like that and I was devastated to see such a strong willed and independent woman so helpless and unable to fight to stay alive any longer. If it was hard for me to witness, then I can’t even imagine what it was like for dad to have to go through. It’s something that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

I ended up spending a month up there with dad after the funeral. Having remembered how eager dad had always been over the years to offer up his time to me in the past, it was the least I could do for him. If there was only one positive thing to ever come out of such a terrible turn of events, it would have to be that I got to spend a large amount of quality time with dad and revisit the place of my childhood. I visited a lot of old family friends and relatives that I hadn’t seen since I was a child. It reminded me of what a wonderful childhood I had, and I have my dad to thank for that.

Al then decided to visit his interstate friends and family on another caravanning tour. He drove from Brisbane to Adelaide and stopped along the way to spend two weeks in Melbourne with me. All up the trip took two months and it allowed him the time and space to contemplate his future and what life might have in store.
I’m getting used to having dad around these days, hopefully it will be a routine we can continue to keep in the future.

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