Reading Dad's Journals

My beloved Dad kept journals for many years. He died in 2008. And now I have to read them…

Month: October, 2013

Five years since The Day

It was five years ago yesterday that I parked my car outside work, and noticed that my cousin Joanna had called me three times, and my uncle, her father, had rung twice. All within the last hour. Unusual. It’s a cliché, yet true: a sad mist of foreboding crept up around my ankles. I decided to wait until I’d taught my one-hour class before returning the calls… Half way through the session, the mist reached my stomach, and I began to feel sick. I can’t remember the last ten minutes; all I wanted to do was get outside into the fresh air, and call Jo.

Of course, by the time I did, mist had filled my throat, drowning my ears, making it difficult to breathe. Jo’s terrible, simple, trembling sentence, telling me that my Dad had suffered a massive heart attack while bushwalking, was barely audible. I almost didn’t hear the whisper…’ And he died.’

I’m leaving a blank here for all the stories I could fill in, but won’t.

Or can’t.

Not yet.

Perhaps never.

Yet always remembered.

But yesterday is five years since Lawrence died, and for once I didn’t cry. I wasn’t a complete sobbing, wracked mess like the first year. I wasn’t even worse, like the second. I wasn’t calmer, like the third. I wasn’t spiritual and special like the fourth. This year I was just, kind of, ‘normal’. I did the washing, made phonecalls, taught my class, and cooked lunch and dinner. I didn’t even have a solitary walk along the beach at sunset, my favourite communion.Image

[Dad’s ashes facing his last sunset on Kauai]

Yesterday felt like a day of evolution, or maturing somehow. A realisation that a process had been underway, whether I liked it or not, and that I was nearing the next phase- the simple fact of ‘getting on with life without Dad’.

The sweet smell of Essence of Russell

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I grew up in England from age 7-20. My reality was hugely influenced by the politics of Margaret Thatcher’s reign, including massive unemployment and youth disenfranchisement; read about it in one of my favourite posts HERE.

Comedian and actor Russell Brand is ten years younger than me, but with a similar experience it seems. Anyone who uses Facebook will surely have seen the link to his 10-minute interview by Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight?  PLEASE WATCH IT HERE.

The interview has inspired me to postpone my plans for today until I get this post done, as I cannot help but respond to the essential truth I hear and feel in what Russell is saying. We KNOW the real difference between wrong and right, and we must find the courage to accept it, then act on it, without excuse. Mr Brand articulates this perfectly, while acknowledging the path that led him to his sweet truth. I couldn’t help but reflect on my own political values, even though it’s Sunday, and I’d anticipated a lazy day avoiding housework, ignoring to-do lists, and perhaps only achieving a walk on the beach.

To elaborate: we have just had a federal election in Australia, where voting is compulsory. I knew the Liberal (Conservative) party was going to get in, as did we all. I cried all the way home from voting, knowing that my country and its marginalised citizens were shortly to be governed for at least three years, and possibly six, by uncaring, narrow minded, selfish bigots. Led by a sexist man who doesn’t believe in Climate Change. I cried on and off all day. So did many of my friends, according to their Facebook posts.

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Yet Russell hits it on the head, when asked by what authority he is entitled to talk about politics when he doesn’t even vote:

“I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity.”

He doesn’t vote, and never has, because he sees it as tacit agreement in the authority and worth of the political system he is being offered, and which he knows is wrong.

I know that people all around the world are fighting for the democratic right to vote, and that this argument is the main one used effectively by Australian friends who defeat my yearning to not vote. Of course I agree that everyone should be able to vote for the party they choose. Just as I agree that women should be able to vote, drive cars, wear whatever they want, and be paid the same wage as men for the same job. That children should be safe to go to school, and that everyone everywhere has access to fresh water, sewerage, electricity, food, healthcare, and employment.

But the majority of the Western world has all those things, and we’re STILL NOT CONTENTED. Massive inequities continue, all at the cost of the environment, and the poor. For example, I don’t understand how any American politician can vote against ‘Obamacare’; there’s a reason to never vote again right there. But it’s essential to understand that Russell and I are not commending political apathy. As citizens and consumers we each have tremendous power, and need to realize that.

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His interview has just given me renewed strength. Please watch it HERE if you haven’t already. As long as I obediently participate, I am validating our essentially flawed political system. As long as I accept that I am powerless to create the change I really want to see, and that the world really needs, I remain complicit in global destruction.

“You ask me what right do I have [to create a different political system]? I’ve taken the right. I don’t need the right from you. I don’t need the right from anybody. I’m taking it.”

Russell’s final words fired me up! He’s not calling for complete Anarchy. But he is calling for a revolution that prioritizes the environment, the redistribution of wealth, and the valuing of the disenfranchised. Whether you do it for your children, for refugees, for endangered animals and biodiversity, or for the memory of your grandmother, please join our Revolution.

19 October 1988

This week I decided I needed to get back on track reading Dad’s journals. Opened Diary 1 towards the beginning, and found this entry, with the words ‘Significant day’ circled in the margin:

 “19/10/88- Lying in bed for what seemed like an age, mind wouldn’t stop going over childhood memories, tears, sadness. Went to see J- [therapist], lots more tears as we talked about the same childhood memories, what home was like, what sort of relationship between parents… The universe is telling me ‘It’s enough!’; there have to be positive changes or I shall get sick, have an accident…”

Dad wrote that 25 years ago tomorrow. What incredible timing. And what fascinating yet difficult sentiments.

If I was asked to describe my personality challenges, I’d say that if I’m stressed, I lie in bed with my mind going round and round. I’d say that I cry easily. I’d admit that I constantly reflect on what I’m doing, and whether I’m happy and satisfied. And that if I’m not, I am likely to make a dramatic change- end a relationship/move house/change jobs. I think these qualities are all strengths and weaknesses of mine; the proverbial ‘double-edged sword’.

The coincidence of finding this entry in Dad’s journal, the month after I drove 3000kms across Australia to make positive changes in my personal life and career, astounds me.

It is hard to read of his pain and troubles, but I’m aware that perhaps I have learnt from his struggles? I’m sure many people who knew Lawrence would say he was a cheerful and positive person, perhaps annoyingly so sometimes! But over the years, he and I shared many sad feelings or experiences (as well as all the good stuff and giggles), and I don’t believe he fully resolved several important issues. Do we ever? It certainly isn’t easy. But the repercussions still influenced his behaviour and attitudes, including uncomfortable relationships with some close family.

His entry the next day closes with this:

“… More confirmation of what I’m already working out- that I come from a family where emotions and feelings were strictly taboo. Now I have to work out, with help, what that means to me!”

Dad, you’re English- it’s a national pastime, tabooing emotions. You’re also a man- you are culturally and genetically programmed to deny those pesky feelings of yours. With 25 more years of Western social evolution and psychological research, including the baby boomers’ obsession with ‘self-help’ books, I can categorically state that emotions are now very expressed, and very processed.

We have everything you need to know...

We have everything you need to know…

Shit still happens though. Parents remain poorly suited or stressed; children still learn negative reinforcement; gender stereotypes and inequalities perpetuate. But you did your work, and you died happy Dad, holidaying in Hawaii with your girlfriend. You took up multiple volunteer roles, and ballroom dancing. You shared many loving experiences with your immediate and extended family: you were the ‘glue’ that held us all together, with your fortnightly or monthly timetable of phone calls, relaying precious news, travel plans, and anniversaries, even across the globe.

I’m not saying you were perfect. I’m not saying you healed all your wounds. And I’m not saying you didn’t have more work to do. But perhaps there is always more? And maybe a key to peace within yourself is to acknowledge that you’ve done as much as you could with the skills, tools, and energy available to you? Some scars remain more vivid than others, but a healing process has still taken place. Even if it’s taken 25 years.

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