I’m back in Melbourne after a few days in Sydney staying with my dad. My father must be one of the few people in Australia who has no home wi-fi network set up. That means I was pretty well offline the whole time I was up there – a disturbing concept in this day and age. I wrote while I was up there, but couldn’t post.
I’m publishing the pieces I wrote in a single post here, presented chronologically. I should add that since writing the last of these entries – some time on Saturday I think – there is a fair amount of significance that has transpired. You’ll have to wait for that.
My father’s hair – Friday December 20
I’m in Sydney now. I left a hot and windy Melbourne to catch a plane up here to catch up with dad primarily, but others too. We touched down a little after 6pm, and as I do every time I arrive made my way out to the curb outside the terminal for dad to pick me up.
I was tired. I still wore the suit I had to the interview earlier in the day, the tie loosened. I felt windblown and dried out. I leaned against a pole at the curb with my bags by my feet and looked out for dad.
At first I didn’t recognise him. I was looking out for him but even then didn’t twig that the man flashing his lights at me was my father. My first impressions, before I recognised him, was that of an older person with fluffy grey hair. Up close he did not seem so different but for his hair, which had really thrown me.
My dad has always been a handsome man. Unlike me he has dark hair that over the years has become salt and pepper. I grew up with people making comments about his good looks – which he always seemed indifferent to – and a manner which seemed similarly attractive.
He remains good-looking, but the hair seemed a great oddity. Imagine Albert Einstein for a moment, those tufts of hair to either side of his face. Dad has a full head of hair still, and rather than tufts his hair formed wings – seemingly brushed out, or perhaps been allowed to dry that way without being combed first (another oddity – my father is a fastidious man).
Back at the house I changed my clothes, we opened the first of several bottles of wine, and settled down to talk.
I’m sure I’ve written many a time about the complex relationship I have with my father. It’s not something I want to re-hash now. We’re not close, and never have been. Though he has said plenty in support of me I can’t recall ever a word of praise. That used to worry me, but I’m well past that now. He favours my sister, always has, even though we have an intellectual connection they do not. Perhaps that’s been the problem.
That was the case last night. We talked of all manner of things, things concerning us directly, and things outside of us. By and large we are in agreement, which always surprises me. In my memory I feel we are often at loggerheads, but the reality is on neutral ground we generally find consensus (I reckon he still thinks I have an attitude problem). Predictably it was only politics where we disagreed.
Through the night I felt the passing of years. I get up here, and to this place, about every 18 months on average. When you return to a familiar place at spaced intervals you observe the things that have changed. The first of those things was dad’s hair, which shocked me so much initially. Then there were a plethora of smaller things.
At one point I caught a glimpse of his life. He’s widowed now, and naturally I remember many a time being here when his wife was alive and we shared meals and laughter. There are many simple memories I can recall of good times the tree of us. That has passed. He lives with two black poodles, George and Jimmy, which he adores. They’re great dogs and over the years I’ve grown fond of them myself. Jimmy is the social one who would often sleep on my bed. George was the stern, proud dog, wary of people. It took years of repeated visits for me to wear him down and gain his affection.
George is dying. When I heard this first several nights ago I didn’t want to know. The death of a pet is a terrible thing. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the dread day that will happen to Rigby. So – don’t tell me.
But I’m here now and it’s not something we can avoid and so we speak of it. The dogs are dad’s closest companions – only a pet owner can understand that. He spoke of how, when Sue was dying, they would come and comfort him. There were tears in his eyes as he spoke of it, and I found myself choking up to – not just for him, but for me too.
I’ll put on record here and now, with the two years I’ve endured, that Rigby has made it so much easier to go on with his love and affection. Without that it would have been a bleak and miserable tale of woe. It would be the end of me if I were to lose him now.
I understood then as dad spoke. He won’t be replaced, though Jimmy will be bereft at the loss of his constant companion. He said that he was getting too old to get another dog, and it was then I sensed the end of times.
It saddens me, though I guess this is how life is. Slowly things are removed, or get lost along the journey, until there is very little, then nothing. There was a time when I would visit and there were two healthy dogs (two generations of poodles now), there was dad with normal hair and his wife younger than he and always very welcoming. Soon there will be just dad and Jimmy. Time passes. Everything dwindles to a vanishing point that gets closer every year.
What to do?
On the plane up from Melbourne wearing the suit I had to the interview and with a particularly lovely silk tie loosened at my neck I had a beer and read the in-flight magazine and listened to my iPod. I felt jaded.
In large part that was because of the interview. Occasionally interviews are an invigorating experience, but that was not the case on this occasion. I’d struggled to the venue in Melbourne Docklands through 40 degree heat. On arrival I discovered that the interview was to be conducted by video-conference, which is a very unsatisfactory way of managing things like this.
I sat in a darkened room not clearly visible to those on the other end. From my end they looked a little out of focus on the screen, and there seemed a slight delay in transmission. Unlike a regular face-to-face interview there was no opportunity to impart a physical presence, nor was it possible to get a sense of the other person through their physical gestures and idiosyncrasies. On top of that it’s not possible to pick up the physical cues when you’re peering dimly at someone on a screen. They reckon something like 90% of communication is non-verbal (I’m a sceptic), but in a scenario like this most of the non-verbal communication is lost in transmission.
The interview itself seemed irregular. There was not a single question about my experience as listed on my CV. Nor where there any formal opportunities to express something of who I am. Most of the questions were behavioural, scenario based. There was no HR person there, which explains perhaps the slightly unprofessional method.
In terms of the interview itself I got the impression that they were looking for a very particular type of person, a person I’m not. I’m used to working with CFO’s and CEO’s. I’m autonomous, even free wheeling. I’m confident, like to take the lead, and love to use my initiative. Though there is the prospect of leadership in the role, it is working within a highly structured team where I would be reporting, somehow, to three different people. They want a round peg for a round hole, which is fair enough, but I feel the constraints of that.
As happens occasionally I found myself minimising the size of me to fit into the space. I hate that. I wanted to express something of who I am, and what I can do. I want to expand, not contract.
I met a woman the other week briefly when I was in one of my moods, wittily outrageous and outspoken, careless of what others might think. I soared on the flights of my rhetoric, taking delight in the riff I was on. Afterwards she described me as ‘dangerously charismatic’. I’m not, but the point is that I would have aspirations to be that, if occasionally. The idea of dimming myself, of squeezing myself into a small box made for me seems absolutely wrong.
This is why I felt jaded yesterday. Is this what I must do? Is that the reality now? Perhaps it is, I thought, but it sat badly in me.
I plugged in my iPod and listened to my latest audiobook, the classic The Guns of August by Barbra Tuchman. I’m really enjoying it, but in light of yesterday’s events it made me wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Occasionally I’ve wondered if I could have made my career in academia. That was never really an option back in the day because I was such a ratbag, rebellious student. There are many aspects of my personality tailor-made for the corporate career I fell into – the cut and thrust, the challenge of puzzling things out and making things happen, the competition, and so on. It suits that part of me that wants to achieve much.
But that is also true of academia, and there are many more traits in suited to such a career – curiosity, a love of learning and thought, the desire to express myself, etc. Such a career may have spoken to those parts of me that now largely exist in shadow. The thought of researching myriad fascinating subjects, on expounding on them, writing of them, seemed in that moment something wonderful.
This is the road I’m on, however. For now. These are the things I need to contemplate going into 2014. I’m not about to become an academic, but there are other options that perhaps I should consider if I mean to happy.
For now I understand I need to normalise my life. I need it operate to a steady beat for a change. I know that for all my belly aching and existential confusion that if I need to put myself in a box for a while to get back on track, then so be it.
Doing the rounds – Saturday, December 21
It’s a breezy Saturday morning in Sydney after a windy night. Dad lives somewhere between the airport and the city, and not too far distant from the beach. On a hot day like yesterday – 40 degrees in the western suburbs – the sea breeze drops the temperature here by about 6-7 degrees.
Despite the threat of a hot day yesterday I pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and took the bus into the city. As you would expect a few days before Christmas the city was bustling with people. It was warm, but not hot, and certainly not unpleasant. It was like sitting in a warm bath.
I had no plans for my visit into town, and no money to do much with anyway. I simply thought to walk the streets I know relatively well by now, to visit familiar places and to just get out.
I covered a lot of ground in the few hours I was there. Inevitably I returned to some of my favourite places – Martin Place, the Strand arcade, QVB. I had lunch in the MLC Centre, after earlier finding a groovy arcade off George Street filled with Asian restaurants. Thirsty, indulgent and in another city I felt inclined towards a cocktail mid-afternoon, expense be damned. I went searching for a bar I’d been to on an earlier visit around Martin Place, but couldn’t retrace my steps. I made do with a juice.
I returned on a bus full of locals with their shopping. I sat listening to my book and peering out the window. In Surry Hills we stopped by Kepos Street, which reminded me that Dad had lived there once a dozen years ago with his wife, and my Aunt, in a house opposite that which the present Sydney Lord Mayor lived. I remember cooking Beef Wellington there for them (making Beef Wellington for them became a short-lived tradition – I’ve not made it for years now).
In a half hour or so I’ll be catching up with Becky and her new husband. They’re picking me up and taking out to brunch somewhere locally. Tomorrow I’m visiting one of my oldest friends in the world, Ralph, out in Wahroonga for a barbecue.
I could write a lot more, and perhaps I will someday. Suffice for now to say that dad and I live very different lives. Though we have things in common there are many more that we don’t. That comes down to personality. He lives a quiet life I don’t know that I could ever manage, but it works for him.
PS The news is that it looks like my erstwhile home has now been let out. It’s a relief, and it vindicates my decision to leave early – but it’s relief tinged with sadness.