Pool room, Deer Park, 31 October 1982
Are you reelin’ in the years
Stowin’ away the time
Are you gatherin’ up the tears
Have you had enough of mine
The lyrics seem to tell the usual tale, a girl letting a guy down, but for me the Steely Dan classic Reelin’ In The Years is forever about another kind of loss.
I can still hear those jangling timeless chords filling up the pool room of our home in Deer Park. My father, Frank Soraghan, is playing billiards with my teenage brothers. He built the pool room himself. It’s his pride and joy, though it’s indescribably daggy, pine-lined and cheap-looking. But it’s a place, as Dad sees it, for the family to spend time together.
Dad was 46 years old at the time, and all about family. Though from five generations of sturdy Australian stock, he looked Italian or what’s also known as ‘Spanish Irish’. He had an olive complexion, swarthy, and was strongly built, compact.
Dad worked two jobs for most of his life; as well as his day job as a draftsman, he used to do a ‘milk run’ around the western suburbs. Later he cleaned offices in the early hours of the morning. That’s because there were four of us kids around by the time he turned 30.
We didn’t really see the other side of Dad, the young sportsman who excelled at both footy and cricket. But he did like to teach me, his daughter, how to execute the perfect stab pass in the backyard at home.
Dad had nicknames for us all. Mine was ‘Buglehead’. This was mysterious and never adequately explained.
While Reelin’ In The Years reminds me of Dad so much, he was definitely more of a Neil Diamond kind of guy. On Saturday mornings he always sang along loudly to Song Sung Blue on our tinny stereo: mortifying in the extreme to a teenage daughter full of her own pretensions, wallowing in self-important angst to the music of Joni Mitchell or James Taylor. I cringed to Neil’s lyrics:
Song sung blue
Weeping like a willow
Song sung blue
Sleeping on my pillow
Reelin’ In The Years haunts me because the morning after I watched Dad playing billiards with my brothers he suffered a massive heart attack.
My brother did CPR on him, somehow got him breathing again, and an ambulance was called. I didn’t live at home any more, and as I drove to Deer Park after I got the news, I was completely sure Dad, the indestructible giant of our family, would make a full recovery, albeit after a respectable period as an irascible patient. The words of a daughterly lecture were already being composed in my mind: ‘Time to slow down, Dad. Stop doing so much, look after yourself better.’
When I arrived, the ambulance was carrying him out, strapped to a gurney. The neighbours were gawking from across the road. I walked towards him as he was stretchered towards the ambulance. I was waiting for him to say: ‘This is all bloody embarrassing, Buglehead, and you’re not to worry.’
But Dad didn’t look at me at all.
My father died three weeks later. He didn’t regain consciousness again after his heart attack; the brain damage was too great. He did open his eyes sometimes, with a terrible, eerie slow gaze at nothing while he hovered, suspended, in the twilight between life and death.
So Dad didn’t live to see my son, his first grandchild, born eight weeks later, or the seven other grandchildren that came afterwards.
For many years afterwards I would dream about him in everyday situations. I would dream that I was pushing one of my three sons on a swing in the park, and he would be pushing another of them. He was just there, alongside me in the park. Only when I woke up did I feel the unbearable loss.
Recently I added Song Sung Blue to my iPod. After all, it’s got an irresistible melody, and maybe the lyrics aren’t quite as woeful as I thought.
Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know it, start to feeling good
You simply got no choice