My dad was raised during the Second World War, where “the sworn enemy” was the topic on everyone’s lips and the national mood was grim. People hungrily scoured the papers for War propaganda and cheered when Japanese forces were captured. Australian soldiers and their allies were worshipped as heroes and several of my dad’s family friends and relatives fought and died in protecting their country.
The strong emotions of this era left a big impact on my father. Even when the War ended and people returned to their normal lives, fear and distrust of the Japanese followed him into adulthood. I remember seeing signs of his prejudice when he would say to me “hurry up and eat your dinner before the Japs get here”, which is exactly what his own father said to him as a boy. And that’s how he remained, trapped in his memories, even as the world changed around him.
It was only a year ago, in the aftermath of a car crash, that his perception of the Japanese was turned upside-down. He had been sitting in his car at a shopping centre carpark when another car smashed into him from behind. Shocked and panicked about possible injury, my 77 year-old dad struggled out of his seat to lean against the car, legs shaking, scared and bewildered. He looked up to see a man running towards him, then grab him to steady him on his feet. With trembling hands my dad tried to write down the other driver’s details only to be stopped by a small Asian woman. With a gentle smile of understanding she extracted the pen from his fingers and copied down all the information my dad needed.
The care and kindness these complete strangers showed my dad left him feeling completely overwhelmed. As he finished his story he said to me “David, there are a bloody lot of kind people out there you know”. It’s amazing; that after so many years of trapped memories, it was this simple act that freed my father to accept people as the individuals they are.