Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Transit of Venus and other Animals

It’s a bit of a funny day today.
Venus is crossing in front of the sun, looking like a pimple on the star’s face. It’s something that won’t happen again in our lifetime – the next Transit of Venus scheduled for 2117. Captain Cook came to the Southern Ocean to witness the Transit of Venus back in the 1700s – he bumped into Australia while he was at it.

Fortuitous things can happen under this planetary alignment. Then again, great things can happen on any day.

June sixth of any year is a bit strange for me.

My funny day stems from the fact that if my father was alive, he’d be turning 71 today – and I tend to mark his birthday each year with a bit of contemplation.

I’ve stopped wishing that I had a better relationship with my father, just as I’ve pretty much given up on having six-pack abs or a puppy. It’s one of those things that I’ve grown up to accept. Dad and I didn’t get on when he was alive. He’s not here anymore. It’s a relationship that can never be mended. I can, however, mend my relationship with myself and how I view the relationship. With my father being dead for over 15 years now, it’s something that I look on as fact that I’m never going to have the father I wanted and needed rather than pondering the what ifs.

Of course, it would be wonderful to have a brilliant relationship with my family – in particular my father, but it never was and it never will be. I was neither a Mummy’s girl or a Daddy’s girl growing up, my sister the clear favourite in the family. I don’t remember sharing much with Dad. The only bits of advice I remember him imparting on me were not to tease men as it would only get me into trouble and that dropping French at university would be the worst thing I could ever do – the fact I hated how they taught the subject back then didn’t seem to matter (nor the fact I’m still reasonably fluent in the language.) I can’t remember having deep and meaningful conversations, nor can I remember him ever talking with me other than to berate me or put me down. I was known as ‘Fatso’ for most of my childhood as a term of endearment. I know he taught me to drive, ride a bike and tie my shoelaces. He was pretty good at trigonometry (though I was better) and he was pretty useless at fixing things, which is probably why I can wield a Philips Head screwdriver or an Ikea Allen key with the best of them.

I know he was upset when I moved to England, not being able to comprehend why I needed to get away and find myself, nor having any understanding of how the treatment he’d dished out over the years had killed my psyche. He came around to my mother’s place where I was staying the night before I was due to fly out. We barely said two words to each other. I know he was crying when he boarded the plane. I was not to retunr to Australia until well after he was dead. When my parents divorced about a year after I arrived in England, I refused to speak to him for two years. There are some things you don’t do and make my mother cry is one of them. I think it was also a start of the healing process for me too. My final escape. The family irreparably broken, I had nothing to go back to – and it’s something I’ve never had the pleasure of knowing – what it is like to be in an conflicted family that isn’t attached to angst.

Strangely, when I was told of his death some six years after arriving in England – knowing it was on the cards in the weeks before he died, my first reaction was that I knew could return to Australia safely without fear of reprisals.

Such were the depth of my feelings. I lived illegally for six years in the UK, such was my determination not to go back. It seems now to be a rather extreme move, but at the time, it was all that I could think of to stay sane. And whole. And away from this person who imparted such pain at the time.

Having an illegal status in England meant that I didn’t make my father’s funeral (nor my sister’s wedding three weeks before that – facts my sister, Affectionately known as Manhands brings up now and then) I’ve been to his ‘grave’ once. A plaque in a columbarium in a seaside suburb in Adelaide. My only response to this was to tell my sister that under no circumstances, when I died was I to go into ‘that f*cking wall’. I’d leave instructions for my ashes, but I’ll haunt them through the ages if they had the audacity to put me there.

Age, therapy and the knowledge that time goes on have softened me over the years.

I look back with kindness and compassion now. I know that he wasn’t a well man – contracting rheumatic fever as baby, he was told he had a bad heart murmur at 16, just as he’d been selected for the state football squad. He had his first heart surgery at 21 and a mitral valve replacement at 36, one of the first in Australia. The second operation was when everything changed. He nearly died from the experience and he came back a very different man – not the father I remember from a young child. He audibly ticked, the old-style mitral valve replacement of the day looked like a champagne cork on the x-rays. It was a disconcerting noise for many. I often thought of him as the Mad Hatter, ticking away the time, forever late for something.

Most remember my father as a jovial man, quick with a joke and a smile. I know my favourite cousin has always said that she loved my father for being a bit of a ratbag element in her life, so different from her own, stern puritanical father with whom she had some difficulties with.

The thing I look back and thing about now, when I think about my dad, is the waste of potential. I often think of him in the way ee cummings looks at Uncle Sol (see below). On reading Steve Toltz’s ‘A Fraction of the Whole’, I saw a heap of my father – too much in places it was scarily realistic (another in my book group had a similar reaction to the book) My father, on the way to being a sports star, a good scholar with a quick wit and a good mind – a baby boomer with the world at his feet, just gave up. It’s sad - but it was his journey, not mine.

I could have taken on the role of the victim. I did for years. Maybe this was my lesson. Blood may be thicker than water, but family curses can be stopped. It’s not about what happened, but your relationship with what happened.

Somehow, fortunately, I’m not known as the woman with ’daddy issues’ (though I’ve had to work my way through the myriad of unsuitable men over the years). I didn’t end up a rampant slut. I don’t hate men – for the most part, I rather like them, but I'll admit my relationship with my father in the past has had its consequences on my relationships with men in the past - being very reticent to get close to them for fear of being hurt.

Now, I just see myself as the daughter of one who was very conflicted and rather flawed.

Then again, aren’t we all?

The sixth of June will come and go every year, but this year, I still find it interesting that this Transit of Venus is happening today.

There is a lot of good omens about to be focussed upon. The rest is silence.

nobody loses all the time  (ee cummings)

i had an uncle named
Sol who was a born failure and
nearly everybody said he should have gone
into vaudeville perhaps because my Uncle Sol could
sing McCann He Was A Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself which
may or may not account for the fact that my Uncle
Sol indulged in that possibly most inexcusable
of all to use a highfalootin phrase
luxuries that is or to
wit farming and beit needlessly
my Uncle Sol's farm
failed because the chickens
ate the vegetables so
my Uncle Sol had a
chicken farm till the
skunks ate the chickens when
my Uncle Sol
had a skunk farm but
the skunks caught cold and
died so
my Uncle Sol imitated the
skunks in a subtle manner
or by drowning himself in the watertank
but somebody who'd given my Unde Sol a Victor
Victrola and records while he lived presented to
him upon the auspicious occasion of his decease a
scrumptious not to mention splendiferous funeral with
tall boys in black gloves and flowers and everything and
i remember we all cried like the Missouri
when my Uncle Sol's coffin lurched because
somebody pressed a button
(and down went
my Uncle
and started a worm farm)


Kath said...

Sad but lovely bit to reveal to us, Pand.

You're right, we're all flawed. In his own screwed up way, he probably thought that he was being a better parent than the ones he had...

"family curses can be stopped. It’s not about what happened, but your relationship with what happened" Love Chunks would agree entirely.

The Elephant's Child said...

My relationship with both of my parents was difficult. Both of them gave me and my siblings what they believed was right. Sadly, they were very wrong and my psyche like yours suffered.
These days I have adopted the attitude that while I may or may not have contributed to the place in which I find myself, it is my choice and my responsibility how I move from there.