Each time I visit Continental Europe it’s a little jarring. I see my father everywhere in broad, squat, bronzed men. Sometimes I see him in Columbo or Terminator too but that’s another story.
Andrzej Jedrychowski passed away in August 2008. He’s not my biological father but raised me from the age of four, so it scarcely matters if he’s in my blood.
He was universally recognised as a top bloke. He wore a lot of muscle shirts.
Prior to arriving in my life he made quite an impact other places. Born in Paris at the close of WWII to a political Polish family, raised in privilege but with an ironclad work ethic. He served in the Polish Army, trained in Judo and competed for Poland when he wasn’t street fighting or being chased by guards over the Berlin wall and back.
He spent a year as a young man using a coffin for a bed. He said it was good for his back and made others uneasy. As a youth, with his widow’s peak and Eastern European features he bore resemblance to a young Dracula. Except he always had a tan.
He trained as a surgeon and immigrated to Australia in his 20’s where he learned to speak English from the television. His use of phrases, common to ’70’s Australian television ‘by and large’ never left him. He called all the women in his life Honeybunch and everyone else was an Arsehole.
He met my single mother in an operating theatre where she was a nurse, he took us out to the fanciest restaurants in Tweed Heads. No small feat.
My biological father, who had questioned me as soon as I could talk about any man my Mother saw, had a grudging respect for Andrzej. The pointless venom was directed toward my Mother in other ways but never was it directed at Andrew Jed. He changed his name, his accent remained.
Our lives changed dramatically with Andrew in them. Money was an obvious ingredient but it was also just a certain vigour in him. Life was louder, cruder and more exciting. He was unorthodox, sometimes wicked and a man’s man. He loved sport and beer and dirty jokes and his dogs. We went hunting and skiing, things I think my Mother had never even possibly considered pastimes before he arrived.
He had some arsehole friends though, always trying to sneak meat into my Mother’s vegetarian food, leering.
I went through an extended tomboy phase under his tutelage. I leaned to shoot a 22. rifle, how to argue, fight and drink. How to ski and swear. When I was thirteen he let me take confidential patient x-rays to boarding school to show my gobsmacked friends. They depicted the bowel of a man who had shoved a can of fly-spray into his rectum. It had gotten stuck, Andrew had been his surgeon.
He idolised Mel Brooks and Leslie Nielsen and had his own set of puerile jokes that he would trot out at inappropriate moments or any time he drank. During my teen years, this was frequent. It was a dark time for both Andrew and my Mother. I wasn’t home much, even during school holidays. Things were a bit of a mess but it makes a great deal more sense in hindsight.
Andrew’s diet wasn’t great. Lots of meat. Lots of beer. He developed diverticulitis and at that point retired to recover. One of many illnesses I wasn’t informed of until after treatment had been carried out and the outcome already known. He continued to drink.
During 2007, they discovered he had complete cirrhosis of the liver. He had unknowing contracted Hepatitis C from a patient during surgery long before they had begun screening for the virus and then he drank and drank and his liver turned to cancer.
The cancer ate him from the inside out.
By the time I arrived to say goodbye, having not returned to Australia in five years, he was more prune than man.
It makes me incredibly sad to write that but that’s how he looked. A shrivelled shell of what had been immense to me in so many ways. I always expected that he would live to be an incredibly robust 80 year old that does push ups everyday and then dies in a freak accident or has a sudden fatal heart attack. His death didn’t fit him.
The night he died, I had a terrible dream on the other side of the world from him and woke sobbing. I dreamt the same exact dream on the day of his funeral. I couldn’t attend due to grief and time and money but I expect he would have understood that. I’d seen him when it mattered. I didn’t need to see him in the ground. Besides, He’d always said that he wanted to be stuffed and put on the couch.
I miss him. I miss him when I tell someone to always read the instructions and I hear him in my voice.