I have been asked not to publish this site. I have been told that my desire to honour Dennis is “beyond comprehension” because he was a “drunken wife beater,” who “abandoned his children,” and left them “with the clothes they stood up in.” I have been told that my finding Dennis is the reason for other family members’ mental health problems, which is ironic, because I have also been told that not knowing where Dennis went is the reason for those same family members’ mental health problems. *Shrugs*
I have been told that the information I have found out about who Dennis was, who my grandfather was, is not mine to share, and that sharing it will contribute to/ create/ worsen others mental health problems. I have been told that I shouldn’t have even shared the information I found with my father and his brother, because doing so will be too upsetting for them. That I should keep secrets about people’s pasts and paternity from them, in order not to cause them serious mental health problems. I am certain that there are things I’ve shared with my father that he did not share with his brother, although I don’t know the motivation for his silence.
I do not believe that my doing family history research and sharing my findings can cause somebody else to become mentally ill, unless they have serious issues already that they are not dealing with. I do not believe that telling the truth, as much of it as I know, from a place of love, should be read by anybody as a malicious act, or one deserving of opprobrium. I do not believe that attending a long dead family member’s memorial service, or helping organise a headstone for them, is a betrayal of anybody. Only somebody with serious, undealt with trauma would take this as a betrayal and respond with anger, like a hurt child. I do not think that the best thing to do with such people is to protect them from the truth, or to fail to act in accordance with my conscience, and honour my dead. They may act like children, but they are none such.
I acknowledge that the man who Dennis’ wife and his sons remember is a very different man from the one described by his family of origin, which is different again from the man who is remembered by his family in Tamborine Mountain. Outlining, analysing and hopefully explaining some of these discrepancies is a matter of urgency to me. I grew up in a house where secrets and lies were the currency, and I need to know the truth about my past – about my father’s past. I need to know it, and I need to tell it.
Why? And why now?
There are people who loved Dennis, who spent time with him, who want to know the truth about him, who want the gaps in their knowledge filled in. Nobody ever really knew all of him. His family didn’t know about his military record or his time in Tamborine Mountain. His friends in Tamborine Mountain didn’t know about his military experience or his early life. His military friends, I’m guessing, didn’t know much about his family life. My mission here is to gather everything that can be known about him, and to give the full picture. It is not a complete record, nor could ever be – and I would welcome input from anybody who feels they can add to it.
Dennis is the elephant in the room with the blind men trying to describe him. He’s an uncle full of fun, throwing his little sister in the air and letting her ride on his shoulders. He’s a drunken wife beater who abandoned his kids. He’s a man who left his family, but had an understandable reason to do so. He’s (possibly) a stowaway who escaped his chains in Sydney harbour. He’s a man who worked his way up from private to captain in the military police over the course of the war. He’s the jovial owner of a cafe, who drank in the bowls club and ate sausage rolls with ketchup on before stumbling home to bed. He’s a man who died alone in his cafe and was buried without a gravestone. All of these things are true, but none of them is the whole truth.
If you see something here that’s factually incorrect, I’d be glad if you point it out to me. I like being proved wrong – I want to know the truth, and I’ll regard anything you want to tell me as helping me step towards it. I’d be glad to be wrong about some of the things I believe – I loved my grandmother, and I don’t want to think she was capable of what I believe her to have done. She was tough, feisty, independent, indomitable even. She wasn’t built to break. Her Alzheimers broke my heart, and when she died in my arms it felt like a relief – she wasn’t suffering any more. I didn’t know then what I know now – I would give anything to ask her to her face if it is true.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying, if you have any further evidence/ testimony/ thoughts/ etc please do contact me and let me know. Just don’t say “I don’t accept it,” or “you shouldn’t talk about that” or “I don’t believe it of him/ her.” That’s your right, to believe what you want, but you not believing something, or not wanting it to be published, is not going to make me take anything down. I’m done with failing to speak my truth or act in accordance with my conscience, in order to protect the lie that I am responsible for the mental health of others unless I put up and shut up.
Part of the splintered, dysfunctional nature of my extended family is due to the intergenerational trauma caused by the very events discussed on this blog. The intention is to be honest about those traumas, to get them in the light, to see them for what they are. If any of my father’s generation do ever want to process their trauma, get in touch with who they are, deal with their issues, look at the truth of their broken childhoods, stand in the truth, move on, then it is my intention to produce a blog that will help them.
It is also my intention, if I am ever approached by them in this spirit, to welcome them with open arms. I know what it is to have broken everything and everybody around me, by my own shortsightedness, self-centeredness, dishonesty, madness, malice, ignorance and failure. I know what it is to look around at the chaos I’ve created and the people I’ve destroyed, and to have to start again “with worn out tools.” I know what it is to look at a person who loves me, with tears in their eyes that I have put there, and to turn my back on them. I do not stand in judgement on anybody who has lived through trauma, caused trauma in their own turn, and then makes a choice to live differently. Those are my people, they are my tribe. I would give anything to have the family I grew up in well, and happy, and fulfilled, and in my life – but I am no longer willing to sacrifice myself, or the truth, to chase that impossible dream.
Understanding these inter-generational traumas is key for me to understanding my own past, my own difficulties, my own pain. I need to do this, to avoid passing the pain onto my children. They are more important than the feelings of the generation before. Telling the truth in a public way is central to that – I am breaking the rules of secrecy and silence, and standing in the light.
So I’m going to do the right thing. I’m going to publish and be damned, and everybody else can do and say what they want. I’m done with other people’s secrets and other people’s lies.