How the Truth Was Better than Any Advice My Dad Could Have Given Me
Growing up, my Dad was the coolest man on earth. Bell-bottomed jeans, tight white cotton tees and a dense beard to match the decade. I didn’t see him often, nor even regularly, and in between, I pined for him. It felt like my first experience of unrequited love.
Sure, I know now that he loved me deeply but he was too scared of being a father and all the tied down, daily drudgery he believed it to entail - so starkly contrasting it was with the free love, folk music and anti-establishment fervour that was all around us. He was terrified of the weightiness of what was expected of him and thereby compelled to run from what a family represented, run from the two he loved the most — me and mum. It was a recipe for longterm heartbreak for us all.
Over the years, now married to his third wife, he became an older man. Sometimes now he is wiser. Certainly along the way he was more honest.
In the early years, each word he spoke was gospel. He would say let’s go camping, I would say that sounds wonderful and do my darndest to ignore the rain and the freezing cold weather to be the daughter he wanted. If he said something was great, I agreed, followed it wholeheartedly. He was a writer, so I thought I should write all the time because that must be the coolest thing in the world just like him. I have pages of painstakingly put together stories that make little or no sense, me trying to be clever and authorly, as a six-year-old.
The bubble lasted till I was about 16, hovered for a couple of years ambivalently and then burst spectacularly when at 18 he moved across the country with his second wife, abandoning me for a second time. Then the anger came.
A year or two and many loud arguments later we went for a walk. On the banks of a wide and languid river, we drew our stories in parallel pictographs with sticks on the sand. He gave me the truth, a panacea better than any advice. He drew the story of a young man in love, travelling the world with his beautiful wife. When his divine new baby girl was born, after they had returned home to Australia to settle, the sudden reckoning occurred. The ‘fun’ was over and the pressure was on to grow up and be a father and a husband. How he desperately wanted to, and how and why he could not. How, ever since, he had regretted not being able to father me on a daily basis. How much he had missed by being unable to stay with us.
I was able to see him with compassion and love again, human to human.
For me, it was the truth that set me free. I never needed advice from my imperfect father, I only ever needed his story.