Fathers and sons

I had lunch with my father yesterday. I hadn’t seen him for about six years and not spoken to him for about four, until recently. I didn’t know what to expect but was glad to be catching up with him again.

At my first sight of him, he was leaning on a walking cane. I’ve always been much bigger than him, but he seemed smaller again. He was still handsome, and there was plenty of black still among the grey hairs, but for the first time in memory, I thought him old. Fair enough, he is – by my reckoning 78. In my imagination, at least he seemed much different from when last I saw him. A lot can happen in five years.

We shook hands and talked as I led him to a cafe off to the side of the State Library. It was a cold, grey day – every day lately has been. I had to slow my pace to match his hobbling gait, looking back over my shoulder to check I wasn’t getting too far in front of him. I felt the awkwardness of being able-bodied with someone who isn’t. I slowed, paused, idled as if fearing my relative agility was an affront.

Over lunch, we caught up on all the things that have happened in the years between. He’s happily ensconced in Eltham, in a home he cherishes. He has his dogs and once or twice a week he’ll catch up socially with people he’d met through Probus. He’s up early every morning (5.30am), as always he has been, but he returns to bed with a cup of tea and stays there until about 9am catching up with the news on his tablet.

We didn’t always get on before, but he was always a force to be reckoned with. He had a keen mind and inquiring spirit. He still has that, though we look upon things from different perspectives. He was always someone on the go, as well. He was one of those people you can never imagine not working, and he achieved a lot professionally right up to Managing Director. Even at home, he always had something on the go. I can remember him working in the garden, or fixing something or other, or just cleaning the barbecue. He did everything with intent.

He told me he still worked in the garden, but in the same breath admitted it was the loss of mobility that hurt him most. He could only work for a little bit at a time, and a neighbour helped out with more strenuous activities. He lived at the end of a long, steep drive which he couldn’t navigate on foot. I listened, observing for myself, saddened that he could not be the man I remembered.

Later I realised this is probably a moment most men will experience. One day they look at their father and with idealised memories realise that man has gone. I’ve long been more physically robust than him, but he could hold his own. Now, though his mind is willing, his body is failing. And in the heart of that, there’s the chill reflection that ‘one day that will be me’.

He has arthritis and other ailments he didn’t elucidate. I suspect he’ll go on for years yet, but that the deterioration will continue. I can’t imagine him every losing his keen mind.

That’s always how we’ve engaged. It’s never, ever been a warm relationship. The best I can remember is when its been companionable, but then rarely. It’s mind to mind we’ve connected. We have different beliefs and perspectives, but similar attitudes and attributes. We might argue the point, but both sides of the argument will be lucid and considered, and each of us recognise that.

He asked about me, and absent an ulterior motive I was completely honest. This is what’s happened, this where I am, this is where I hope to get to. I admitted to him it had been a struggle and it was only just now that I felt like life might be returning to some minute semblance of what I used to consider normal. I guess in a way I was like him, accepting of what had happened knowing it couldn’t be changed. There was always the future, though – different for me though, than for him.

We spoke a little of my cousin and he filled in some of the gaps I didn’t know, or had known once and long forgotten. Suffice to say it’s a very tawdry tale that reflects poorly on most.

We left and I walked him to the tram stop to return home. Before I had the chance to speak, he said something along the lines of must do this again soon. I told him I was glad to have seen him again. We shook hands, and I let him go.

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