Two weeks ago today it was with great sadness and the happiest of memories that I said goodbye to my Dad for the last time. Born Edward Michael Lennon in Dublin in 1941, to all of us, he was known simply as Eddie or, as many liked to call him, Big Ed. This said more about the stature of his personality than it did his physique. Dad wasn’t a big man and he wasn’t a loud man. He was one of those blokes who didn’t have to shout to be heard. He had presence.
To me he was just Dad, and I loved him dearly. Together we loved Hawthorn, from the first game he took me to (we narrowly defeated Fitzroy at VFL Park from memory) to the last we spoke of the mighty brown and gold some 35 years later.
Cancer is unrelenting and unforgiving. What’s more, it lacks subtlety. It doesn’t mess about. But neither did Dad, so when things were looking grim health-wise, I think he decided for himself he didn’t want to linger. When he knew the time had come and after he said goodbye to my Mum, to me and to my sister Martine, Dad left the world on his own terms, as he did with everything in life. I admire him for that.
In his book Loose Men Everywhere John Harms envies the likes of people like me. He fantasises about a life lived by those of us who were lucky enough to grow up during the 1970s and ‘80s under the protective blanket of men like Leigh Matthews, Gary Ayers, Chris Langford and John Kennedy Sr. Men, who for children of the brown and gold, upheld the proper order of things, something Stan Alves once referred to in Hawthorn as a culture of success.
Harms struggles with what was until recent years, his regular pain and disappointment of being a Geelong supporter, the expectation of having no expectation at all, and the knowledge that football in September was something others more fortunate enjoyed.
In 1980s suburban Melbourne kids like me could sleep well at night, knowing the world was safe. Success was the natural order. The eternal suffering of Geelong supporters, Saints fans and the Footscray faithful were given little if any thought. In fact, growing up not a stone’s throw from Waverley, I wasn’t even sure Footscray was a real place!
Some people believe they choose their footy team while others will tell you we are each bestowed the club we follow, through the beliefs of our fathers and their fathers before them. While I’m from the latter school of thought, I certainly don’t feel it was my birth right to follow the Hawks. Sure, I follow the brown and gold because my Dad did, for that and that reason alone. But, despite being witness to eight of Hawthorn’s ten premierships (I was conceived the year of their second) I’ve never taken my football-loving circumstance for granted. My Dad made sure of that.
Two weeks ago I sat with my ailing father in Room 29 of the Alfred Hospital, looking over the oval of Wesley College where a few kids were playing kick-to-kick. It was just a day before he left us all for another place. We talked about a lot of things. On my way to the hospital I picked him up a couple of beers as requested, which he nurtured through a straw. The doctor said it wouldn’t kill him.
I knew he didn’t have long (even less than I knew at the time) but he loved talking footy (well, Hawthorn) so I asked him to remind me about when and why he became a Hawthorn supporter. As he savoured each drop of the amber stuff, Dad drew breath to tell me my footballing fate was as much about sheer luck as anything. In fact, that’s all it was.
Unlike me, Dad wasn’t born into footy. He migrated here from Dublin with Mum in 1969. Following my parents’ arrival at Essendon Airport (Tullamarine wasn’t open then), Mum and Dad did stints renting in St Kilda and Springvale before buying their first home in Wantirna South in 1971, a fateful year.
Dad told me it was in 1971 when he was introduced to footy and that’s when he became a Hawthorn supporter. As a result, I was destined to be a Hawk, my Mum and my sister too, and now my three kids are as well. So while he wasn’t born into it, he certainly started something.
As he told it, Dad’s first footy match was in Round 4 of 1971 at Moorabbin. He’d been brought along to the match by a mate from work who was a Saints supporter. St Kilda were playing Hawthorn and this bloke thought he’d introduce my Dad to footy but more importantly, to ‘Cowboy’ Kevin Neale’s Saints.
The plan apparently was for Dad to arrive at the game a neutral and interested novice but to leave Moorabbin barracking for St Kilda. Thankfully, it didn’t work out that way, and after watching the match Dad acted on what would be a more fortunate fate. He chose Hawthorn. The reason for this was pretty simple. A bloke from Glenorchy by the name of Peter Hudson booted seven goals for the Hawks that afternoon, helping his team (and now Dad’s) home to a comfortable 58 point victory.
Right up until his passing Dad would still marvel at Huddo’s flat punts and his uncanny ability to read the play. I know he’s not alone. In the mid-1990s we went to a Hawthorn Family Day together where we watched a goal kicking competition between Peter Hudson, Paul Hudson and Jason Dunstall. Each was required to have a shot from three awkward angles at about 30 meters out. Only Hudson senior slotted all three through the big sticks. Marvellous.
Dad had a thing for full-forwards (who doesn’t?). I remember when he gave me a job cleaning his factory once a week after school and I used to laugh at the life-size cardboard cut-out of Jason Dunstall taking pride of place in his office.
Dad and I used to go to the footy together, usually to VFL Park because it was so close to home and where Hawthorn eventually played their home games. I have many fond memories of the games we watched together and Dad’s idiosyncrasies such as his tendency to keep his eyes fixed on the ground in front of him while he listened intently on his transistor radio to the match unfolding just a few feet in front of us. “Dermie just got a goal,” he would yell moments after the rest of us had just watched Brereton’s kick sail between the posts and directly over our heads. Of course, if the Hawks were behind on the scoreboard, he’d switch the tranny off in the hope him not listening for a while would take some pressure off Michael Tuck and his men. I do the same thing today.
I have just as many memories of the regulation mad rush out the gate in an attempt to be first to the Falcon to beat the traffic out of Waverley’s monolithic car park. I remember the short-cuts home through Wheelers Hill, the post-match analysis and talk-back on the radio and the scarf flapping proudly in the wind by the rear window.
Of the many matches we enjoyed together, one that sticks out is the night we both marvelled at Dunstall’s 14 goals against the hapless Dogs at VFL Park in 1996. In more recent years, Lance Franklin brought Dad just as much joy as Dunstall and Hudson before him. When I watched Buddy boot 14 against North Melbourne down in Tassie earlier this year, I had my daughter Molly by my side. It will rate as one of my happiest days at the footy, not just for the spectacle itself but also for the memories of my own childhood, watching a near-unbeatable Hawthorn disposing of another also-ran with my Dad by my side. “C’mon Hawks,” he would yell every now and again, even if we were 40 points up.
Today, Molly does exactly the same thing. You see your parents in your kids in the simple things, the things that make you happiest. When I take Molly to the footy, she always makes me smile. I’ll always think of him.
When I was a kid we had a pool (or billiards) table at home. My mates would often come over on a Saturday afternoon, to listen to the footy and to play pool with Dad, thick cigar smoke wafting through the house, music playing and plenty of beers for everyone. We also loved him for that. What 17 year-old wouldn’t?
And while I beat Dad more than he did me, whether it was in pool or snooker, he would always remind me that he taught me everything I knew, which he did. Often, if Dad knew he couldn’t win a game of snooker, rather than prolong the inevitable, he would gallantly concede defeat.
And just a few weeks ago, playing a much grander game, Dad saw the writing on the wall and conceded defeat. But even when he was staring death in the face, as always, Dad was a gentleman.
To me Dad was like many other good Dads you come across in life. He taught me many things…important things, the principles we all live by or at least try our best to live by, like honesty, fairness, kindness, hard work and good humour. He encouraged me to do the right things in life, by myself and by others. He instilled in me the importance of a good education and to go to University, my sister too. And he couldn’t be prouder of us both. What’s more, we both knew it, and that’s important.
I spoke to a lot of people about my Dad these past few weeks. People we’d see every day and others we hadn’t seen or heard of for years. I even spoke to people from the other side of the world who I might have heard mentioned in the odd story or two. One of them was a typically Irish-named bloke called Terry Murphy, a childhood friend of my Dad’s. And while Terry was only too glad to tell me what a handy Gaelic footballer Eddie Lennon was as a lad, as a grown man he couldn’t kick a Sherrin to save himself!
But he did love footy. More than that, he loved the Hawthorn Football Club. And he passed that on to me, like he did so many good things.
I’ve got a pretty good feeling about Hawthorn’s chances against equal premiership favourites Collingwood this weekend, even without Dad’s favourite number 23 out on the paddock. Dad always said Hawthorn had the wood on the Pies. I tend to agree. More recently the two clubs are pretty evenly matched and the Hawks have won six of the past 10 matches against the Pies. Even without Buddy playing, the match should be a cracker. But like Dad, unless Hawthorn are at least 30 points up, I’ll be switching off the telly or the radio in an effort to personally influence the scoring in Hawthorn’s favour.
So, wherever he is this Saturday afternoon, I know Dad will be sure to have a cold beer in one hand and a cigar in the other, the TV blaring as Hawthorn romp home to yet another resounding victory. At least, that’s what I’d like to think.
I’ll miss you Dad. Go Hawks!