On my Facebook timeline this morning I found a wonderful new Australian ad in favour (I presume) of same-sex marriage. It’s very Aussie in both setting and tone. There’s a family barbecue on a Sunny day in the backyard, it’s the father’s birthday. In the background there’s a Hills Hoist with the washing on it, including a dangling bra.
At the end of the table is the son, and next to him is the man who is clearly his boyfriend – clear to everyone but his parents. His father is a typical robust Aussie bloke, garrulous and genial and perhaps stuck in his ways. His mum is the doting, perhaps slightly oblivious type, kind and compassionate. Lunch is served and everyone goes about pouring great splurges of barbecue sauce on their meal. It’s at this point the son stands up to say something.
He is clearly nervous. He searches for the words, but instead of the prepared speech he admits he likes tomato sauce. His father laughs uncertainly, not sure what to make of it, but the son forges on: “No dad, I’m a tomato sauce man. Always have been.”
The family sits back. The truth dawns on them. The father charges inside. Then he comes out again straight for his son, “dad” his daughter calls to him as if to forestall something ugly, but instead the father wraps his arms around his son in acceptance. Let’s get on with it, he says, looks like we’ve got something to celebrate. The son turns to his partner and kisses him on the lips. In a final, very lovely touch, the grandmother pipes up, “you know in 1964 I tried tomato sauce…”
It’s a beautiful ad. It’s the best sort of advertising really because while there is a serious sentiment it’s done with an authentic humour, and with people and in a setting everyone can relate too. How can you not support the union of two people who love each other?
I was deeply moved by it. I re-posted it to my timeline then went about my business. Out walking Rigby it re-surfaced in me in an unexpected way. I always find it fascinating how the mind beavers away at things in the background it thinks important. It made me think of my father.
I don’t have a relationship with my father, but recently I was given cause to consider him on hearing of Donna’s mum’s illness. One day my father will pass away and it seemed sad to me that he could go without some semblance of reconciliation between us. But then that simple ad put another perspective on the situation.
I was most moved by the father’s generous and forthright acceptance of his son’s homosexuality in the ad. It was as if to say it doesn’t matter your sexual preference you’re my son and I’ll always love you. That’s as it should be of course – yet it was the word ‘acceptance’ that resonated in my head as I walked the dog. Looking back I realised that I couldn’t ever remember a time when I felt my father accepted me for what I am.
It seems unusual in all the obvious ways. He never had the challenge of dealing with conflicted sexuality. By the standards of the time I was straight and true. I was responsible too, and intelligent, and if I was a little rebellious then it was within normal range. I grew up tall and strong and relatively handsome. By most accounts I am still a ‘good type’, but dad never saw that, or it was never good enough for him.
One of my gentle regrets is all the affection and fatherly love I missed out on. I see other father’s with their sons and feel envy, though not bitterness. I wish it had been different, and feel distantly aggrieved that I was not treated more fairly – as I see it – but then it’s in the past and done with.
I see now that my father never saw me truly. Though I didn’t understand it there was always a reserve with him towards me. I have no doubt he loved me in his own way, but it was skewed by expectations and judgement long delivered. It was not that I could never doing anything right – it was just that he could never acknowledge when I did. I can’t recall a single word of praise from him. When I did things he saw as wrong he would let me know. It was as if he judged me by different standards, and saw me through some skewed perspective. I was not the man he saw me as, and it was no end of frustration to me.
It was explained by the event that led to this breach between us – when he admitted that he blamed me for his break-up with my mother. That was astounding, but made sense of a lot of things in hindsight. For all this time he harboured that seed of resentment towards me, and it coloured entirely his view of me. It felt like a betrayal to me. Even if it was true (and it wasn’t), it was unreasonable. I was just a young boy. And from then to now it soured our relationship – but it was in the past.
I don’t harbour grudges. It’s easier and healthier just to get on with things. I couldn’t care less if I never see my sister again, but despite our issues I see my father as a better person than she is. I’ve made my peace with what happened between us, and in fact the reconciliation is in his hands. I’ve made the gesture, conditional on acceptance of what happened – I don’t want it swept under the carpet, and think it’s important for both of us to acknowledge the truth of it and move on. That he refused to do.
Unless something drastic happens in the near future I’m sure we’ll find a way to re-connect, and I hope we do. Shit happens. It shouldn’t be forgotten, but it shouldn’t cripple you either. And I don’t want to leave like this before the end comes. Strange, as I was walking back from my shopping I found a text message from him minutes before. “Happy birthday,” it read, typically curt, but some gesture made. I replied to thank him.