Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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May’s father, a white man who abandons the family long before Mum’s suicide. At first, May remembers her father as an ideal parent who played with her patiently, taught her to fish, and repaired her bike. When he sends her a postcard after years without contact, she decides to leave her unsatisfactory home with Aunty in search of him. However, when May finally comes across him, he’s a cheering spectator at a brutal prizefight. The violent context of this encounter forces May to remember the violent tendencies he exhibited during her childhood. Far from being a responsible parent, he was addicted to marijuana and abused Mum. While revisiting these memories is painful, the experience allows May to move past her father and come to terms with his abandonment. Her disillusionment with Dad also causes May to become more connected and committed to her Aboriginal heritage.

Dad Quotes in Swallow the Air

The Swallow the Air quotes below are all either spoken by Dad or refer to Dad. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Queensland Press edition of Swallow the Air published in 2006.
7. To Run Quotes

If you could be any fruit what would you be? I would be the mango that breaks off the stem into my dad’s fingers, the apple of his eye before I slide into the picking bag.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Dad
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
8. Territory Quotes

My old man isn’t though; his family are from the First Fleet and everything. Rich folk they were, fancy folk from England.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Dad, Pete
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

A jawbone crunches under a slice of bare knuckles. Bloodied eyeballs throw blank expressions. Mouths fling spittle streamers about the dirt red ring. Frantic, finger-bitten punches claw tangled in the shiny skin.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Dad, Pete
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

I remembered now, when that anger face became his always face and the world ceased to be real, to be able to be understood, so I had left it behind. I couldn’t remember the endings to the memories of him. But here they were laid bare—the bones of him that I had hidden.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Dad
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

The screams must have been so deafening, the river of tears so overflowing that the current could only steal her. The flood breaking so high, that she had to leave us behind. We couldn’t swim either.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Mum, Dad
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Swallow the Air LitChart as a printable PDF.
Swallow the Air PDF

Dad Character Timeline in Swallow the Air

The timeline below shows where the character Dad appears in Swallow the Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
5. Bushfire
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Around this time, May receives a postcard from her Dad. She puts it in her pocket and rides to the quarry at the foot of... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
In his brief postcard, Dad apologizes for being out of contact for so long and informs May that he’s picking... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
To May, it feels as though Dad has never left and is sitting beside her. She remembers eating watermelon with him when... (full context)
7. To Run
Family Theme Icon
...situation to improve, May “[takes] the mango into my mouth” and decides to search for Dad. Aunty can’t appreciate the postcard as May does; she is too consumed by alcoholism. If... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
The opium causes May’s memories to replay like distorted movies. She remembers being with Dad in the garden, except that he’s crying as he shovels dirt and blood is spilling... (full context)
8. Territory
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...guess by her skin color. May tells him that Mum was Aboriginal, but lies that Dad is descended from “fancy folk from England.” (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Suddenly, May recognizes that one of the people “watching the men bleed faces” is Dad. She says that some things are impossible to forget, and that she will never forget... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Dad’s angry face reminds May of all his angry moments in the past. She remembers standing... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...it seems to May that Mum was “a beaten person,” unable to stand up to Dad or even scream at him. All her pent-up rage must have come out the day... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Finally, having truly remembered Dad, May can “let him go.” She walks back to the truck and waits for Pete,... (full context)