Finding Father by Bruce Costello

Anne dreams of her father and becomes determined to find him; by Bruce Costello.

Anne opened her eyes and groaned. Saturday. The spring sun was streaming through the curtains.

What on earth have I been dreaming about? she thought, as a scene from childhood sprang into her mind.

'Wakey wakey, Darling. Out of beddy-byes. Breakfast! Remember, you're helping me plant the garden today!'

'Daddy, can I plant the sunflowers, like I did last year?'

'Course you can! You were so good at it.'

'Yeh!' She jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen.

Anne brushed aside the twenty year old memory and the feelings that surrounded it. She pulled the bedclothes around her head.

"I've no idea where your father is," her mother had said the day before when they met for coffee. "Why this sudden urge to see him?"

Anne's partner brought her breakfast in bed.

"Thank you," she said, quietly.

How could any man love her if her own father didn't?

Her father's name was not on the Electoral Roll. An internet search proved fruitless, and the name Donaldson appeared six hundred and thirty three times in New Zealand phone books.

A friend suggested she put it to the genealogy experts on Trade Me's message board. They loved a good challenge. By evening she was on the phone to a West Coast number.

"You're after Jack Donaldson, you say..." the voice at the other end said. "Born in Caversham?"


"Jack Norman Donaldson?"

"Yes! Do you know him?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"I'm trying to find my father."

A full minute passed in silence.

A week later, Anne set out on her first major trip since getting her driver's license. The challenging five hundred and fifty kilometre journey included crossing the Southern Alps.

Her mouth was dry as she drove through the Otira Gorge with its bush-clad mountains towering above the little Mazda, thunder rolling, wind howling, rain so heavy the windscreen wipers could barely cope. Rocks bounced off the road in front of her.

Finally emerging unscathed on the other side, she stopped in a rest area amid native bush with its alluring aroma of damp decay and lush green growth. The sun shone from a cloudless sky.

Boisterous kākā were socialising nearby, chattering and gossiping. They twirled playfully around her with amusing antics and raucous voices. She held up a sandwich. A greeny brown bundle of feathers swooped down to grab it, flashing orange and scarlet under its outstretched wings.

Arriving in Greymouth at dusk, she found a bed in a boarding house and lay down exhausted. Soon she was in the middle of a dream, sitting on a tree stump covered with moss. Cold dampness oozed through her panties onto her skin. She cried out and her father appeared, pushing his way through dense, tangled bush. He carried her to a little meadow beside a stream where sunlight filtered through foliage, and a huge sunflower towered, its head a glowing yellow, smiling down through clouds.

Together they climbed the giant flower as high as they could go.

Next morning, still tired, she drove to the address she'd been given. It was an old cottage with a rusting roof and broken weatherboards. Stepping around a pile of coal by the gate, she walked up the path. A man came to the door wearing ripped jeans and a battered bush shirt. He was unshaven, completely bald, and had two front teeth missing.

He held out his hand and she took it, shyly.

"You've grown up," he said.

"It happens," replied Anne. "I was eight when you saw me last."

"I'll show you around before we go inside," her father said.

Rotting logs bordered the track leading into the bush behind the cottage.

"If I stopped cutting the bush back, it wouldn't be long before the house disappeared under it."

"You're kidding."

"Not far from here, I came across an old logging locomotive that had been swallowed up by Old Man's Beard, as the creeper's called."

Walking deeper into the bush, they came to a small clearing beside a creek. There was a bench seat made from macrocarpa branches, tied together with flax. Close-by was a rusting drum full of empty whiskey bottles.

"I come here to do my thinking," said Father, sitting down and patting the space beside him.

A little grey warbler flew down from a supplejack vine, flitted about, and hovered in front of them, staring at their silent faces.

Anne leaned forward, hands grasping the edge of the seat, and turned to look at her father.

"It's been twenty years since I saw you," she said. "I needed to see you again."

He smiled sadly at her. "Let's go back to the cottage."

"Where do I start?" Her father cleared his throat and stared into his cup of tea. "Perhaps when I got the sack." He shuffled in his chair, gazed across at Anne and continued. "The boss was nice about it. Much as I value your work, Jack, he said, we can't have a lawyer working here who's a compulsive gambler. Well, somehow I did manage to give up gambling, but I replaced it with drinking, which was the last straw for your long-suffering mother."

"I can imagine," said Anne, shaking her head.

"Your mother was a good woman, but she'd had as much as she could take. I want you to leave, she said, and stay away from Anne. She'll be better off without you in her life. That's when I came over here to live. I've been doing casual work on farms and in the forestry but I've mainly been on the dole. And drinking. Guess your mother was right. I'm just a weak person." He fell silent, then after a few minutes asked: "Can you imagine what it's like for a father to lose his only daughter, who'd been the centre of his life?"

"No," Anne replied. "But I'd like you tell me."

A year passed before Anne visited her father again. The cottage had been painted white and sunflowers nodded their heads against gleaming weatherboards.

Her father opened the door, smiling broadly. The gaps in his teeth had gone. He was dressed in a sports shirt and tidy pair of jeans.

"Meet Annette," Anne said, holding out the bundle in her arms.

"What a wee beaut!" said her father, his eyes wide. "She's got those looks from her mother!"

He gazed at the baby for a while, and then turned to Anne.

"It was meeting you again, and then hearing you were pregnant made me sober up. I haven't touched a drop for eleven months."

"Just as well, Dad, or I wouldn't have risked bringing her all this way to meet you."

"I knew that. It was just the incentive I needed."

"I hoped it would be."

"Look," her father said, pointing to a red and yellow rocking horse in the hallway. "When you rang to say you were having a baby, I made that. I've got time and energy to spare now, so I've taken up woodwork. My logging trucks sell like hotcakes at the market! Anyway, come in, I'll put the kettle on."

Anne smiled. "There's someone else I'd like you to meet first."

"Your husband came, too?"

"Take a look."

Her father stepped out onto the sunlit porch.

"Hullo, Jack," said his ex-wife, quietly extending a hand.


  1. This moved me hugely. It was so well written from start to finish, not one word was extraneous, and the powerful descriptions drew me into compelling physical landscapes that I do not know, but which sprang alive for me. The emotional landscape was dynamic and utterly credible, expressed with sensitivity and gentle under-telling to allow it to flourish. Very many thanks,

  2. Nicely done. Very descriptive without overdoing it and I really liked the twist at the end.

  3. Very well written, and very nice twist at the end. I love the dream sequence where she climbs the giant sunflower with her father, and I could see how it related back to the time they planted sunflowers together.

  4. Thanks, folks. Your comments mean a lot.

  5. Well told and I loved the descriptions which placed your story solidly in NZ. A positive tale of hope and a new beginning. Keep writing!

  6. I agree. It could have fallen flat on its face … too easy, too "pat" or predictable … but it is none of those things. This is an excellent story.

  7. Every happy family is the same, and every unhappy family is different. This shows that lives are a combination of joy and pain.

    In other news, we in the US have our abandoned houses eaten by Himalayan blackberry. I've never been, but I've been told that NZ resembles Oregon a lot.

    1. "Every happy family is the same, and every unhappy family is different" - I see you are a Tolstoy admirer, as I am.

  8. Yes, economy and beautiful images--and that twist.

  9. Hi Bruce, I can only agree with the previous comments, this was an enjoyable read that held my attention.

    James McEwan

  10. Thanks for your sweet story. I liked it because it ended on an up note. It gives us hope that things have come full circle between the characters and healing is taking place. The dialog was spot on!

  11. Thanks for those comments, folks. Feedback matters a lot

  12. How very ironic.....lost fathers. Grown daughters, new families. Ex wife.

  13. Bruce Costello’s short fiction is a little gem. A compact narrative, with nothing wasted and a complete, cogent story told. The ending was charming, with an endearing message: it is sometimes possible to go home again. Nicely done, Bruce!