Monday, March 20, 2006

At Peregian Beach

Dad is looking good but he is in the zone. I've always thought, as a rough approximation, that 60 on is the zone for dying. The years begin in which if you die, it's no big surprise. Before then, you feel that the person died young, was robbed, it's just not right. But from 60 on, it becomes fitting.

Nothing brings home to me more that life is temporary than knowing my parents will die. They are a fixed point in my life and always have been. I know it is mundane to say so, because of course they have always been part of it, but it's the sort of truism that only strikes home from time to time, and when it does, you feel already bereft.

It is a tragedy for us that we know we will die. It sometimes crushes you into a tiny cube, knowing that everything has a limit. Better to be a cat, unaware, unfeeling, uncaring.

I love my dad. I always have. Not for anything he's done or been to me but just because. I do not know how it would be possible not to love him. I can't imagine what he could do that would make me stop. He's done some shit things. He's a difficult man to know, to be with, sometimes.

When I think about my dad, I can't help thinking about myself, because I think about how he was with me and how I am with my kids. He was not a great dad. He didn't have a clue and he still doesn't. I am not a great dad either but I still have time and I am never leaving them in doubt that I love them. That was a mistake my dad made that I won't repeat.

My dad was away a lot when I was a kid. Or, I should say, it felt like a lot. I'm not sure how much of the time he actually was away. It was up to six months at a stretch sometimes. (He was not a career criminal but a sailor; still, they are similar in their way, both man's worlds in which men find a way to cut themselves off from having to deal honestly with their emotions and, in particular, how they feel about women.) I don't think that was a good thing but I'm not sure it did any damage. It has led me to want to be an enduring presence in my children's lives, which is not easy, because I sometimes just want to sit in my cave for hours, untouched by the world. I think about his being away a lot these days because I am not sure I can stay married and if I don't, I do not know how I can be here. It's a desolate, cruel choice: to have to consider whether I can live in a place that makes me unhappy so that I can be near my children. I do not want to be one of those men who disappear from their children's lives. How can you bear that? But when I know how close I am getting to the zone, how can I bear living in a place that is so empty of opportunity for me, so deeply unattractive?

Life does that to you. You are never wholly the captain of your own ship. The life in which that would be possible would be worse for me or would require me to be someone else. You have to negotiate with what there is, not what you wish there was. Age just makes the negotiations more urgent, the outcome more important (it feels that way, even though it surely isn't true) and the stakes higher (again, they seem that way, even though they probably do not change: a life is a life -- but now I say that, I have to think, well, how do I explain the sorrow I feel when I see a fucked-up life? The waste that I feel it is when someone is enslaved, hurt, crippled, unable to cope? How do I explain that feeling? Because I know I feel it. Am I just feeling it to create a route to feeling sorry for myself? Because if I can empathise with broken lives, and convince myself I have a broken life too, then I can empathise with myself? The worst outcome of my life has been how self-absorbed I am. It makes it entirely impossible to unravel, to spread out, to allow life to enter my dead core.).

We were talking, me and my dad, about the Greeks. He is studying for a masters in Classics at the Open University. He is saying that he must write an assignment on Thucydides' narratology. It's a long time since I read the History of the Pelopennesian War and I certainly can't remember the details, but Dad is telling me how speeches made by Alcibiades and Nicias early in the book prefigure the text that describes the events of the war. Nicias, in particular, is made to look prescient. Thucydides is subtle enough never to have anyone, least of all Nicias, say "that Nicias was right", but the book yells it out. We talk for a bit about the Greek way of war and how history is represented in films. We haven't talked like this for years.

I am struck by the thought that we might never again, my dad and I, talk like this. He is not a talker and we are rarely together. I am thinking, I want back the times we fought, the times he hated me and I hated him. I want back the hours that we were not big enough men to save from destruction. And I know that I need to love my boy fiercely, enough that he will not have a moment that he does not know, with absolute, crystalline certainty, that I love him with the same undying, unquestionable love that I have for my dad, and he in turn, my son, will have for me.

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