Monday, 23 May 2011


My husband Dave remembers sitting in class one day when he was about ten years old. Everybody had to make a father's day card. He made one for his mums boyfriend, but it felt stupid so he scrunched it up. Dumb card.

Dave spent a lot of time in boys homes as a kid. The local coppers deemed him "uncontrollable." He tells us funny stories of SOAP ON! SOAP OFF! Underneath the funny stories is a wealth of pain. He never knew his father, who left Dave and his two older brothers with their mother, when Dave was just a baby. Dave's mother raised the boys herself, working nights sorting mail at the huge postal exchange in Redfern.

By the time I met him in 1999 ... Dave had lived the life of ten men. He was 33, I was 27. (I had lived the life of ten women. Snap!)

We hooked up. We had a baby. Dave was in the middle of building his dream home for us back in 2003 ... one morning, out of the blue, I asked him if I could find his father. He laughed, and said sure. We thought he would have passed away years before. My own father had died in 1984 from chronic alcoholism, and my stepfather of eleven years killed himself in 1988. There was carnage everywhere ... I needed to know if our son Max had at least one grandfather out there somewhere.

                                            Dave and Max, 2002

I pushed Max in the pram up to our local library, and searched for all of the F. Riley's in Australia. There were dozens. I printed off 166 phone numbers, walked back home, and told Dave I was going to start calling them. He was out in the sunshine, washing his car with his daughter - laughing at me and my crazy idea. I pointed to my printed pages.

"Mate, check it out. There's even an F.G.E. Riley in Punchbowl. I'll call him first."

Dave's fathers name was Frederick George Ernest Riley. I dialled the number, and as soon as that guy said hello, I knew I had found Dave's dad. I shit my pants, and did what I always do in high pressure situations - lied.

"Oh yes good morning, I'm calling to see if you're interested in getting cable television installed?"

F.G.E. Riley laughed. A laugh that was the exact replica of Dave's older brother. "Oh no love - I live in a housing commission flat. I can't afford cable TV!"

I thanked him anyway and hung up. Dave could see me from outside, he had this strange look on his face and I mouthed to him through the window. "I found your dad."

Dave was livid. "What the hell did you do that for! Bloody hell - what did he say? Aww, don't even tell me. I don't wanna know."

We were both so shocked. Nobody had known where Fred had gone. We thought he had moved up to Queensland. But he didn't. He was in PUNCHBOWL, Sydney. Just over an hour's drive from us.

(Many years have passed, since I printed out those pages. It always struck me as odd, that Fred had put all of his initials on his telephone account. I think he wanted to be found.)

Dave calmed down a bit, and I told him that I had to go back inside and call back, to tell Fred exactly who I was and why I was ringing.

"Fine - but I don't want to talk to him."

I rang back and told Fred that I was sorry to disturb him again, but I wasn't really selling cable television.That I was trying to find my husbands father, and my husbands name was Dave Riley. There was this hugest silence. In that silence, I thought - if he hangs up, I will just pretend to keep talking and go back out and tell Dave it was a false alarm and it wasn't him at all.

(And I would have travelled down to Punchbowl to punch Fred in the nose.)

Finally he spoke, audibly shocked. "MY boy Dave?"

I said yes, his boy Dave. I then spent the next fifteen minutes telling a complete stranger who his three sons had grown up to be, what they did for a living, and the names and ages of all of his grandchildren. How sad is that? People live the saddest lives, sometimes.

Eventually I got off the phone. I couldn't promise him that Dave would call. The whole thing was so random and sudden. I looked at all the other Riley's in Australia - first phone call, man. POW.

Dave was feeling a huge amount of emotions. He was giddy. He got on the phone and rang his friends, and his brothers, and his brothers friends.

I went into our bedroom, and sobbed into my pillow. Like, really huge sobs that heaved me. I didn't know why I was crying, until I realised that all the excitement and adrenaline I got caught up in ... was Dave's. He got to decide whether he wanted to see his father or not. I didn't have that luxury of choice. I would love to see my dead dads again. Would I hug them or slap them, or would I just walk away? Leave them pining for ME for a change. I don't know. I'll never know.

That day was a big day.


Dave ended up calling his dad, and chatting on the phone. They arranged to meet - I was still living vicariously through him. I kissed him, wished him well, sent him on his way.

Hours later, he came back home. I flew out to the driveway to greet him. "How was it hon? How'd you go? What did he look like?"

Dave was careful with his choice of words. His dad was living in a dark flat in a seedy part of town. His only company was his pet budgie, Bluey.

"I think .... I think I got my drive from my mum."

Why did Fred not try to find his sons? I don't know. To my eternal frustration, Dave never asked him. I so would have. I would have asked him a ton of really inappropriate things. He would have answered - people often do.

To this day, Dave still talks with awe about how I found his dad for him. I love it. It's like, I'm the hero. When I turn sixty, I plan on opening a private detective agency.

Fred Riley died less than two years after meeting Dave. On the way to the funeral a bird flew into our windscreen. During the funeral we were ushered to sit at the front of the room. People gasped when they saw Dave - the likeness is uncanny. They looked like they had seen a ghost. Max was just 2, the only grandchild there to see him off.

At one point, Max looked at the coffin, looked at me, and said, "MUM - IS FRED IN THAT BOX?"

It was a Shakespearean moment, giving everybody the laugh they needed after the sombre sad.


I watch Dave soap Rocco up in the shower, laughing at washing Mr. Stinky down the drain. I watch Dave build a cubby house with Max, for Max .. and I watch him play soccer with Tim, punching and ankle-tapping each other out of the way.

He is a beautiful man with a huge heart. None of Dave's boys would ever scrunch up their father's day cards.


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