Tuesday, September 01, 2009

That's Me Trying

As the year approaches Father’s Day, a day I have always resented because it fell so close to (and occasionally on) my birthday, and I had no reason that I could see to celebrate it, I thought I would reopen this blog with a post that is intensely personal. You know, just because why the fuck not?

And as with everything in my life - good, bad, indifferent - this story starts with genre television.

Sort of.

When I first got a copy of “Has Been” by William Shatner, I was so excited to hear his collaboration with great musicians, and also to enjoy the delicious ridiculousness of his performance.

What I didn’t really expect was to become such a fan of (most) of the album - so much so that at least two or three of the songs from the album are still always in a playlist for my iPod (now an iPhone, which, best.toy.ever).

There was always one song that I found that I couldn’t listen to at all, though. The first time I heard it I found myself really angry, and the second time I heard it (an accidental experience whilst unpacking in a hostel somewhere in New Zealand, where I couldn’t hit the skip button due to my cd player being stuck under a pile of dirty clothes) I sobbed for a unknown period of time, sitting on the floor of an unknown room, alone in an unknown but wonderful country.

And it wasn’t just because of Bill’s overblown performance, either.

That’s Me Trying

"I got your address from the phone book at the library/
Wandered in, looked you up and you were there/
Weird that you've been living, maybe, 2 miles away for the best part of 20 years/
You must be, what, in your early forties now/
If I remember/
You were born in June or was it May?/
Eisenhower was the president although it may have been JFK/
Years of silence/
Not enough, who could blame us giving up?/
Above the quiet there's a buzz/
That's me trying/
You still working in that store on Ventura?/
You still going with--no, that's not fair/
I know I haven't been the very best of dads/
I'll hold my hand up there/
The reason that I'm writing is that I'd like for us to meet/
Get a little daughter dad action going soon/
We can put things behind us/
Eat some pizza, drink some beer/
You still see your sister?/
Bring her, too/
Years of silence, not enough/
Who could blame us giving up?/
Above the quiet there's a buzz/
That's me trying/
But I don't want to talk about any of that bad stuff/
Why I missed out on your wedding and your high school graduation/
I'd like to explain, but I can't/
So let's keep things neutral/
Stick to topics that won't bug us/
How 'bout this?/
Let's choose a book and we'll read it before we meet/
Then we can sit down at a restaurant/
Have a look at the menu and talk about it while we eat/
See, if we never had a problem/
Then that's what life would be like/
So let's just pretend that the past didn't happen/
I don't really like thrillers/
I don't want to know if I've got grandchildren/
No need to tell me where I went wrong/
I don't want to know what happened in your thirties/
You wanna try 'Cold Mountain'?/
Or is that too long?/
Years of silence, not enough/
Who could blame us giving up?/
Above the quiet there's a buzz/
That's me trying/
I'm trying"

2009 marked almost 17 years since I had last seen or spoken to my father. We had been separate most of my childhood, with gaps of months or years between seeing each other. I was so angry at him at the time, so fixated on the fact that every time I looked in the mirror all I saw was his face and none of my mother’s, and so disappointed that he was so absent in my life. Thus when we reconnected briefly when I was 16, and he offered to be part of my life again, it was the last thing that I wanted and I told him as much.

(Years of silence, not enough/Who could blame us giving up?)

Over the intervening years I thought about him and occasionally poked at the psychological wound of his absence, and upon being introduced to the internet found myself trying to find him somewhere out there in cyberspace - and when I did find a mention of him, shutting down the browser so fast that it was nothing but a blur.

However, some time in the last couple of years, a shift occurred within me - partly due to becoming an aunt, partly from the simple act of growing up, partly due to wanting to know where the hell I come from and what it is that makes me Leigh and a need to fill in some of the blanks of my history.

Thus there were the tentative first steps of contacting that side of my family, clandestine meetings with my aunt and cousins and their husbands and their children, being introduced to my grandfather for the first time in my living memory.

After about a year of this dance I decided that I didn’t like it, it didn’t have a beat that I dug and that avoiding the actual issue was getting silly, so I got his email address from my aunt, sat down and sent him an email.

(The reason that I'm writing is that I'd like for us to meet/Get a little daughter dad action going soon)

Then, somewhat overcome by my actions, I turned off my computer and went to bed.

In the morning, during my breakfast routine (which is staring at a computer screen - kind of sad given that is my daily routine also, but…addicted to the internet, ‘kay? Judge me not) I found myself looking at a response from him. After a deep breath, I opened it and found that it was a joyous welcoming excited email, everything that I had, in my secret heart, not expected to receive.

In that moment the anger I had felt for so much of my life dissipated like fog in the sun.

Suddenly there were emails, and then a phone conversation and I discovered that I quite like my father, and we get on very well.

(So let's keep things neutral/Stick to topics that won't bug us)

He’s been veg*n for many years and that’s somewhere we really connected - it’s such a joy to share that view of the world, not to have to explain the whys and wherefores of such a major part of my life.

The timing seemed to be very right, because it turned out that he was coming to Sydney soon after we first spoke and so we arranged to have dinner.

I had been told for years by my mother that I shared characteristics with him, and my aunt had stared at me the first time we met when I was an adult, stopping me occasionally to point out what I was doing that was his gesture or tone, so I was really on the lookout for that when he and I met for dinner.

Holy shit. Years of looking in the mirror and seeing his dimly remembered face in my face had not prepared for the way we move our hands, for the pauses in our sentences, for the faces that we pull, for the sharing of so many of our mannerisms, and I found joy and pride in that which we share. We are all made up of those who made us, and if I share so much with Bharti, I share just as much with Anne, and am incredibly thankful for having had such odd and highly individual people be the source of my genetic material.

Bharti and I speak every Sunday evening now. It’s been really freeing for me and it’s a gift that he is so willing now to be part of my life and let me be part of his.

Sometimes I’m a little saddened that I didn’t do this earlier, but on the other hand, the timing is right when the timing is right, so this time was the right time.

Oh, and he reads this blog, so *waves* hi, Bharti!! Talk to you on Sunday!

Happy Father’s Day!

(See, if we never had a problem/ Then that's what life would be like/ Easy/ Uncomplicated/ Cool)

Reading your blog was a very emotional experience for me. I have also resented Father's Day for a long time - my father died in 1994 - I can never really remember which day father day is on. But when you describe dimly remembering your father's face and not being prepared for how similar you are, it's an experience I'm a little jealous of - I often find myself wondering when people say I'm like him - just how similar we might be, how I might be shocked like you if we could meet and talk.

Recently my mother said to me (in a moment of anger because we've been feuding) that my father would be ashamed of me because he felt "the role of the mother was sacred" I realised I can never really argue that - I will never be able to have her or other family members' tone of authority in knowing him. It's a kind of power they can hold over me.

What I'm trying to say is - it IS really important, knowing where you come from, even in ways that seem silly or little to others, and I'm really glad you've got this opportunity and are making the most of it. Kudos to you both.
Thank you. I miss my dad too.
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