Dad poems are one of a number of subsets of family poems relating to different members of the family. Many Australian poets have written dead dad poems, one of the most famous being Les Murray’s ‘The Last Hellos’ which begins ‘Don’t die, Dad – / but they die.’ Often the poet looks back over his dad’s life, as in Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s ‘A Triptych for My Father’ and Timoshenko Aslanides’ ‘Pyjamas’. For Rodney Hall, whose dad died when he was only six months old, it was more a matter of searching for any sign of him, as recorded in ‘Missing Person’.
Most Australian dad poems, however, involve childhood recollections of relationships with a dad. In ‘The Lesson’, for example, Katherine Gallagher remembers her father teaching her to ride a bicycle and his pleasure at her success. Rhyll McMaster in ‘Profiles of My Father’ recalls her dad jumping into the pool fully clothed to rescue her. A number of poems in John Jenkins’ Growing Up with Mr Menzies (2008) recall aspects of his dad, such as his skill at first aid, in ‘Bandages (Torn from Old Sheets)’ and, more comically, ‘Dad Says’, a list of all his dad’s favourite sayings. Stephen Kelen has also written many funny dad poems. ‘The House Spider’ describes his dad’s relationship with a persistent spider, while ‘Burning Off’ is about dad’s annual bonfire.
Some dad poems recall less pleasant aspects of the relationship of father and children. In ‘The Harbour Bridge’, Robert Adamson remembers his embarrassment when he drives into the city with his dad in their horse and sulky. Judith Rodriguez begins ‘Strop’ with the line ‘Dad was one for the old times’, the old times when children received regular beatings with a strap. In ‘Old Children’ Tom Shapcott examines the way in which relationships between father and children can remain problematic until the father dies. And in ‘Good Dads’, Dorothy Porter’s protagonist determines that he will be a better father to his daughter than his own father has been to him.