Dad had always wanted a family, and in the end he had a few. His first marriage in 1952 produced a daughter, Camilla, and a son, John. In 1962, after divorcing his first wife, Margaret, he married my mum and they had my sister, Jeni, in 1964. Four years later I was born. After they divorced in 1971, there was Lisa, a beautiful Hungarian waitress Dad had met when she was working in a fancy hotel bar, and who was married to him for ten years. and for a short period – three years, between 1982 and 1985 – there was just Dad and me.
Sarah Bryden-Brown recounts her life with her father from her childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Their relationship follows a rocky path through John Bryden-Brown’s three marriages and career challenges. For three years, the two lived together in dysfunctional almost-harmony. Then he decides, for reasons mostly unknown to Sarah, to move from Sydney to Queensland to start over. Following his death, Sarah is bequeathed her father’s large wooden chest, which holds ‘most of his secrets’. It is three years before she is ready to open the chest and examine the man who was her father. In doing so, she comes to a better understanding of John Bryden-Brown as a father and as a man.
We only get one go at childhood. It should be a time of love, laughter and learning. But it isn’t always like that. For many, childhood is a bewildering place, and only in hindsight do some of the reasons become evident. In Dad and Me the reader is invited into the revisiting of an imperfect childhood. There is love, but is it enough? Sarah Bryden-Brown doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of her early life, but in her examination of the contents of her father’s chest she is able to bring some balance to her understanding of her father. This is an intensely personal and sometimes difficult story, but its candour and clarity offer opportunities for others who seek understanding.
Dad and Me, by Sarah Bryden-Brown
Harper Collins Publishers 2007
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