The quirks of family


It’s a tiresome subject, but I have some updates on my cousin, as well as an unexpected development to come out of it.

I made the mistake last Thursday contacting my cousin to see how he was settling into Melbourne. I thought twice, even thrice, before doing so. He’s done nothing to endear himself to me in the short time I’ve known him. He’s graceless and rude and with a mighty chip on his shoulder. I’ve not said a cross word to him yet he’s walked out on me once, told me to fuck-off on another occasion, and otherwise imputed that I had benefitted at his expense. Basically, I don’t like him. On top of that he’s a manipulative opportunist and I was afraid he would seek to take advantage of any contact.

I contacted him nonetheless, setting all that to one side. The family connection means nothing to me, but I’m sympathetic to anyone less well off. And, I figured, I’d only seen him at his worse, at the bottom of the curve so to speak. It seemed unfair to judge him on that. He was entitled to get another go.

Unfortunately he was true to form. I started off bright and friendly. As always, he responded within seconds. He didn’t answer my question, instead launching directly into an interrogation of his own. Did you know what happened with our grandparents will? Did you get an inheritance? Where do you work? What do you do? What are your qualifications? What’s your office address? Are you on Newstart? Why does your side of the family have money when my side doesn’t? Where do live? What’s your address?

I should note that some of these questions were repeated 3-4 times, and came rapid-fire, before I had a chance to properly answer – even had I been inclined to. They came, one after another, until there was a line of them scrolling down the page.

At first I was patient, looking to answer appropriately. I was suspicious though, and soon his interrogative tone began to piss me off. I refused to answer the contentious questions for fear of further inflaming the situation, and because I felt no need to explain or justify. I let him go on until he petered out.

Throughout this I had the fear that if I gave him too much information it would be used against me. I was sure had I given my address he’d have shown up on my doorstep. Likewise, I was fearful of him turning up to work and either demanding to see me or making accusations against me. There was in his tone something hostile and resentful. It’s clear he believes we – being my side of the family – have derived some magical benefit denied to him. It makes him angry and sneering. Amid all his tendencies he’s also narcissistic and superior.

Once he’d subsided I quietly muted him. I had made up my mind that in time, once things had settled, that I would block him.

Then a friend of mine – the friend he had cottoned onto – asked if I’d seen his most recent Facebook posts. I hadn’t, and when I went to check found that he’d unfriended. I quietly rejoiced at that. He’d saved me the trouble.

In the meantime he’d posted a scathing take-down of his mother that ran to paragraphs. My friend sent me screen-prints and they were nasty. Regardless of truth they’re not the sort of thing that should be shared on a social media site for every friend and family member to read – but then I’m old school.

The next day my friend contacted me again telling me that my cousins sister had responded to his posts very eloquently. He sent me copies of those too. In them she basically refuted everything he’d claimed, adding that he had been abusing their mother for years, to the point she was afraid of him. There was reference to constant demands for money, among other more ambiguous, troubling references. It was quite compelling, and his response feeble. And he unfriended her as well as me.

So, that’s where I’m at with him – better off in a different orbit altogether.

But then there’s something else that came out of this episode. People often say things happen for a reason, but mostly it’s a case of applying a retrospective interpretation to explain a fortuitous happenstance. Sometimes it’s an easy thing to do.

When my cousin threatened suicide I contacted my father. He didn’t answer but responded with a message. That was our first communication for about four years. Having called him his number was now on my recently dialled list and on Wednesday the week following my bum inadvertently called him again. I caught it before he answered and disconnected. Awks!

That afternoon I was in a meeting when my phone rang. It was my father returning my call and leaving a message.

That left me in a quandary. I couldn’t ignore him, but nor could I tell him I hadn’t intended to call him – that would be too rude. I called him late in the day and explained that I’d been calling to update him on the situation with my cousin. We talked for about ten minutes beyond that when he explained his lifestyle – busy and unusually social. Maybe he’s mellowed. At the end of the call, unsure what to say, I said “catch up soon,” as you do. And having said I knew I had to do it.

Long story short we’re having lunch on Friday. Let’s see what happens.

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Mulling it over


On Friday, as I prepared to head out for lunch, I contemplated dropping in on my dad. I haven’t seen or spoken to my father for about three years I reckon, maybe longer. I haven’t missed him much and even when we were talking we didn’t have much of a relationship. I don’t miss him, but I miss that functional relationship. It can feel pretty solitary when there’s no family network to lean upon.

Funnily enough, I was heading out to have lunch with a branch of the family I rarely see, my aunt and uncle and my cousins. They’re all decent, sensible people, unpretentious in every way. Growing up they were the modest wing of the family while we were glam – social, ambitious, striving, curious and challenging. I was very much of my family, but I found theirs almost an antidote to the occasional complexity of life on my side of the fence. It was lovely to see them again and it was a fine lunch.

The lunch venue was about ten minutes from where dad lived, though where exactly I didn’t know. I searched for him but couldn’t isolate him from the rest so never visited. Perhaps it was for the best – a friend tells me turning up on his doorstep like that might not have been the best idea. I’m not sure I agree – in ways I think it might have been the best way. And anyway, you can’t give up being ballsy.

So I didn’t visit him and mulled it over on the weekend. I didn’t seek a reconciliation as such, but I was conscious that he was getting older and anything was possible. I didn’t want to be the man who missed the important moments because of some petty dispute.

I wrote an email to him in which I expressed some of this:

We’ve had our differences but there’s nothing either of us can change or undo and I don’t waste my time thinking otherwise. Fact of the matter is we’ve never really been in each other’s lives, which is why this separation has been seamless – for me, at least.
I hope you’re well and healthy. Regardless of how we left it, I don’t wish for anything but good stuff for you. That’s what I wanted you to know. I don’t want you to think I’m bitter or angry. I’m none of that. Life’s much too interesting – and challenging – to be looking backwards.
I don’t know what I expected from this. There were times I have been bitter knowing what I was deprived of. Then I was disappointed that he didn’t fight harder to save our relationship. I think he was scared, so unlike the man I knew. As I said, there’s a time for being ballsy.
These now are no more than very gentle regrets. As I express, none of it can be changed now and perhaps that’s all I needed to say. I don’t think I could ever be close to him but I’m perfectly capable of being friendly and supportive.
So I sent my email and about nine hours later it came back to me, undeliverable. That was strange given I had sent it to an email address attached to his domain, and address I’d used before. So I tried another address with less hope and this too bounced back.
That’s where it stands. I can take it as the world telling me to give it away or I can try to source a current email address. That too I will mull over.

Kindness and grace


The girls from the shop want to take me out for dinner – that is, the girls from the massage shop I sold out of four years ago. It was such an intense period of my life that it comes as a surprise that it was so long ago. Most of the girls from then have dispersed since, and many of them are back home in Thailand now. There’s a few still here though, and they’re the people I was closest to back then. I don’t see them a lot, but I probably catch up with them 2-3 times a year – which is surprising in itself given the time passed, and very gratifying.

This is what I know about Thais. They’re loyal and hard-working. The best of them are reliable and will bend over backwards to help. They’re famous for being gracious and friendly, but they’re also honest and uncomplaining. There’s no way I could have survived my time as a massage shop proprietor except with the active support of my staff, and the fact I got out of it by the skin of my teeth is thanks to their efforts. I’ll always be grateful to them, which is why I can’t do enough to help them when they need it.

That’s the other side of the Thai character. They want to shout me dinner because I’ve helped them out with this or that over the last year and they want to do the right thing and acknowledge it.

In my mind, there’s no need for it, but it’s gracious of me to accept it, so I do. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to contact me in the morning wanting to go out in the evening. That would work for me a lot easier when I was younger. These days I want more notice, particularly because of Rigby.

Right now I don’t know if I’m going out for dinner tonight or not. Whether it’s tonight or another time I look forward to seeing them again. In the toughest of times, they were people I could rely upon and were a rare friendly presence in my life. When I look back at that period of my life seems incredibly hard, and very grim. I don’t know how I survived it but know I wouldn’t have without the small acts of kindness and support from my friends and the girls in the shop.

With the fam


I had my niece and nephew come into the city on Friday to have lunch with me. We went to TGIF and each had a burger.

I saw my nephew a couple of months ago, but I hadn’t seen my niece since before Christmas, and as she’d forgotten her Facebook login, exchanged no messages either.

My nephew was as I remembered him, tall and lean, but my niece had grown appreciably. She’s tall for her age now, and will likely be a tall woman.

We had a fine time as I plied them with questions and discovered unlikely facts about them. My niece, for example, was excited by watching some gaming robotics convention over the weekend, and has aspirations to become a game designer, if not a gamer.

My nephew has the mandatory desire to become a rapper, and demonstrated an impressive knowledge of the genre. He prefers the old stuff, 2pac, and Notorious B.I.G. If not a rapper he’d happily be a game designer also, but will probably do media studies and follow up with something in that area.

After lunch we went back to the office and they oohed and aahed at the views over the city. Kids always love that stuff.

I waved goodbye to them and back in the office people were quick to comment on how strong the family resemblance was. Later that day I got lovely messages from both of them thanking me for lunch. When I told S to keep in touch and that we must catch up again next school holidays she said she couldn’t wait. Nice to hear.

Earthbound Cheeseboy


Sitting on the couch last night at about 7.30 when Rigby started barking and dancing around the front door. A moment later there came a knock. I opened the door to find Cheeseboy standing there, not unusual generally except that he was supposed to have flown out to Singapore with his family earlier in the day.

I asked him questions then plied him with the wine he demanded as he explained to me that everything was on schedule right up to the moment he arrived at the check-in counter. There he was told he wouldn’t be able to board because his passport was due to expire in less than three months. After some agitated conversation it was decided that his family would fly on while he stayed behind to try and sort things out.

I was not surprised. The three month thing is reasonably well known, and in fact 10 years back when a few of us were flying out to Bali for a holiday JV was turned away from the airport for the same reason. Fortunately, being an Aussie, he was able to organise an express passport replacement and join us later in the day. That’s not so easy for a Dutchie.

Cheeseboy in fact flew up to Sydney last week and visited the consulate to organise a new passport. Unfortunately it takes 3 weeks to deliver.

So last night Cheeseboy drowned his sorrows with first one bottle of wine, then a second, before starting on the third. We had a platter of cheese, then a delivery of pizza. Finally we sat down and watched the Peter Sellers classic, The Party.

Cheeseboy is not one of those people who do solitude well, but it’s unlikely he’ll make it to Singapore now, and is planning to go back to work tomorrow. I expect I’ll be seeing a fair bit more of him in the coming days but, as he has a sore head today, with less wine consumed.

The good stuff


I got another message yesterday from my old massage shop manager wanting my help. A couple of weeks ago I went with her to the cop shop to report a possible fraud. When that didn’t work I ran VCAT to see what her options were. Responding to their advice I put her onto somewhere else. I also went with her to her school in the city to explain that she may not be able to pay her fees because of this fraud. Yesterday she wanted me to come with her to confront the fraudster (it’s a complicated situation).

This was not in my plans and was an inconvenience. I’d have preferred 24 hours’ notice, but fortunately I wasn’t otherwise busy. Throughout the day she messaged me seeking assistance in the preparation of a legal letter of demand. At 5.30 I met her on tram 19 heading to Brunswick.

With us was Pat, another of my old staff. She was a very capable masseuse, and an intelligent, reliable employee. She now works in a kitchen in Hawksburn, following her passion – “better than massage”, as she said.

The tram was crowded and I sat there wishing I was going the other way. Halfway there Jeep got a message informing her that the other party wouldn’t be there, not until eight. I rolled my eyes internally, but we went on. We got off the tram in Brunswick and walked a short distance to a Thai restaurant, where they conversed in Thai with the mother of the other party. She confirmed that her daughter wouldn’t be in until 8.

I couldn’t hang around till then, and nor could Jeep, who had to work. Pat decided she could and after some pfaffing around I caught an Uber with Jeep. She was heading to Mentone to work and offered to give me a lift.

From what I gather Pat has come to some agreement with the other girl, which is good news if true. Though it’s not always convenient I’m happy to help. I think a lot of these girls, and am grateful for the support they gave me at a time of need. Jeep doesn’t always show her appreciation. She’s curt to the point of being abrupt often, taking it for granted that I’ll help and just hanging up more often than not once she’s communicated what she has to. I take it as one of her quirks, and am more amused than offended. But then she surprises me.

Late last night she sent me a message to update me and to thank me for helping her. No problems I told her, happy to help. She didn’t leave it at that though. In a very un-Jeep-like manner, she exclaimed that I was a “very good boy.” She said if there was anything she could do for me I had only to ask. She said I was like “a superman. Help me when everyone else can’t.”

From Jeep, that’s high praise, and I’m thrilled. It’s all karma, and this is the good stuff.

Unlikely encounters


A little after lunch yesterday one of my colleagues came up to me at my desk and asked if he could have a word with me. When I assented he indicated he wanted to speak privately, pointing to an unoccupied meeting room. I was mystified, but followed.

This is one of the guys I sat down with a few weeks ago and shared my story with. Like everyone his reaction was positive, and he was fascinated. Now he wanted to speak to me.

We sat down and the first question he asked was if I’d noticed any change him lately. I muttered that he seemed pretty stressed, but that had been seemingly building for a while. He nodded his head, then launched into his story.

It’s a very unlikely, shocking tale of how Friday he unexpectedly received a call saying his sister had suffered a cardiac arrest and was unlikely to survive. He rushed to be by her side, but she soon passed away. This was a huge shock to the whole family, including her two young children – but more shocks were to come.

That night the husband of the deceased woman received a call from the police. They expressed their commiserations at the death of his wife, but had questions they needed answers to. He was distraught, he said, can we talk another time? They would not relent though, and at 12.30 that night there was a knock on the door and half a dozen detectives marched in. They took the husband with them and held for questioning for 24 hours.

The family looked on, bewildered and not knowing what to think. My friend seemed in a state of shock, withdrawn and tenuous, his eyes blinking with the strain.

I didn’t know what to say to him. His sister had just died and it appeared her husband was a suspect for a potential murder. It’s hard to take in, and take it in he couldn’t.

He explained he was trying to be strong for the kids, but I warned him that he had to look after himself as well. He had come to me because I had shared with him, and so I shared with him again some of the hard won lessons of my experiences. You’re stronger than you think, I told him, but be careful that you’re not too strong for your own good. Let it out I said. Grieve. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed.

I was surprised he was even at work in the circumstances, but then I know for some people the illusion of normality is what they need, and to be actively doing something. He had told only one other person and I suggested he should share it with his team leader – a lovely, compassionate man.

About an hour later my phone rang. I’d sent an email to the head of finance, knowing he was on leave. Evidently he was checking his emails and decided to call me.

We’re fellow travellers. Our connection is that he’s championing a technology which I’m hoping to ride the coat-tails of. We’re both frustrated with how business is done in this place, and we both like and respect the other. Still, I was surprised.

The first thing he told me was that he was on post-operative leave. With little prompting he explained he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December, and had his prostate removed the week before last. Clearly his condition had been deemed serious but, he explained, it would be another year before he knew if he was in the clear. His mood was philosophical, but with a melancholy edge. You hear these stories, he said, about other men. He paused. This time I’m that man, he said.

Though we discussed the subject of my email it seemed pale in comparison to the real world situation he was facing. Just as everything diminished in importance at hearing the story of my friend’s sister. It was one of those days.

I had a sense of wonder last night. I felt extra sensitive, and as if I had tapped into a reality I’d only known in passing before. Donna rang, and as I told her the story she said it was all because I had opened myself up. It was good, she said. The world recognises those who open themselves to it, and from here on in I had to be ready for it. I nodded my head.

I’ve always been sensitive. I’ve always read people well and sensed their state of mind. I’ve always wished the best for most people, and had my heart warmed at their hopes and happiness. Most of it has been from a closed position though. Now I’ve opened up, and it’s as if I can feel it on my raw flesh.