Wednesday, 30 December 2015

And When Did You Last See Your Father?

      The decision had been made. The family home of forty years was too big for a family now depleted to two seniors. It had to be sold; something smaller to accommodate slower moving bodies and aching limbs.  A decision like that was not difficult  to make. It was based purely on logic and ignored  emotion as it accepted   the gardens  were gaining the upper hand in the challenge laid down by mother nature four decades before. It also accepted  four bedrooms and two lounges  were now an over indulgence for two people for whom  greater satisfaction was now achieved in the mind rather than from material possessions. This was the easy aspect of the decision. 
     There was a harder side.  A side which involved the tangle of emotion that defied the logic. A side which lured a mother, now a grand mother, into a vacated room  to stand gazing at a wall, or  photograph to listen to a song on the radio that used to rock a cradle thirty years before. Also involved, the cloud of nostalgia which could  overwhelm a father, a grandfather, in the reclusive retreat  of his  workshop when ambushed by a set of kid’s roller skates, a thirty year old cricket bat with a split handle, or a peppered dartboard whose colours had faded  with time from prime.
     Four bedrooms and four sons, now gone, but still close on any day, be it at the end of a phone line, or the residue of a screech of brakes on the driveway which could erupt through the  doorway accompanied by a gaggle of grand children to turn the peace of a Sunday  afternoon into a blessing of disruption. Children who fill the house with laughter. Children who forever turn a house into a home.
     Too much land, too many rooms and an excess of furniture which had endured the years and become, part of the furniture? Definitely time to move on. Thus  it becomes, out with the old and in with the new. Yes, in a moment of strong resolve it has been  decided to be rid  of everything  when the move to the city apartment becomes imminent and under a cloud of resigned bravado the process begins. The home is sold and the move is on.
     In the weeks leading up to settlement the family home is the subject of a  startling transformation as items of furniture are claimed by kin and disposed of through various outlets such as garage sales and newspaper advertisements. The rooms  are slowly emptied of material possessions and  gradually each  adopts a hollow atmosphere, a sad echo.  Pictures vanish from walls and regular indentations in carpeted floors command attention where double beds  and treasured  lounge suites once stood. Through it all the patriarch clings firmly to the legend of his leather arm chair. Some things are sacred.
     With a couple of days to go to settlement  the move is already complete and the  new stepping stone to the future has been discriminately furnished with a selection from the latest ranges of bedroom, lounge and dining room suites. This has been a scathing  exercise with the  surrender of  each treasured item, a relic from the years, being a strong root  wrenched from  firm family soil. Yet, as the family moves away it is the family which holds everything together.
     After  three score years and ten of living, the every day lessons of family life have been well noted and more has been learned than was ever taught. The home is now empty with the exception of one remaining item which has been the focal point for the family throughout the years. One could be forgiven for thinking the television set claimed the pride of this place, but this was never to be the case and never would be in this household.
     The  dining room table of satin mahogany with its six chairs belies its forty years service. As the meeting place for a growing family at the beginning and end of each day the test of time has furnished satisfying results. Around this table  the problems of the world were resolved on a regular basis; the world being the birthright of  four sons  and their parents and their  circle of  fellowship. This is where problems were shared, openly discussed, problems were halved and boys were nurtured into men. The common mistakes of six lifetimes  were made and analysed by a family around this table. The delights of victories were celebrated by a family,  around this table. Births and birthdays, anniversaries and Christmases, each was ingrained into its polished timbers. Its fine grain had absorbed the laughter as well as the tears. 
     More learned than was ever taught -  by four sons often considered to be privileged to have the luxury of two parents as they moved into, through and out the other side of puberty with the opportunity to make the mistakes  made by all, while able to enjoy the discipline and guidance of those who cared. These were a father’s children, a mother’s brood.  This was their  family and the responsibility was theirs, not that of the state. To the one at the head of the table, one of two beings  who had formed a union forty eight years before, one who had moulded that union into a family of six,  the reasons for the decline in society, the increased crime rate, man’s inhumanity to man  became clearer each day.      
     Seventy years experience of observing the quality of family life deteriorating in the flesh pots of the twentieth century  had earned the old man an opinion; a voice in the wilderness There were insufficient dining room tables out there in a crumbling society which clutched reproachfully  at the hollow straws of social welfare.
     Nothing was more clear to a man who had run his own household under a set of rules which rewarded hard work and self respect while emphasising the importance of an individual taking full responsibility for ones actions. The media advertised the fact at every opportunity. There were too many one parent families and an inflammatory shortage of round-dinner-table conferences. There was  a strong reliance of a bottom heavy society on the handouts of a welfare state with latchkey children being reared in a TV dinner situation often in the absence of that one parent. There was a need for more voices in that wilderness out there.
     This is an opinion. An older man has earned it. The breakdown of the family unit sees boys becoming men at fourteen years of age when, having skipped important years of their youth, they reach out for  and indulge in the cake icing of adult hood. It sees girls involved in unplanned motherhood  at irresponsible early ages when  they themselves have not yet shed the golden husks of childhood. Any politician, or person in an influential position who observes this situation and elects to turn a cheek with a  politically correct excuse can bear a modicum of blame. But why lay blame? If one is to take full responsibility, one doesn’t lay blame. They assess a situation and set about correcting it. If we carry on doing what we are doing we get more of what we already have.
     The break down of the family unit; where does it begin, if at all? Many children born out of wedlock never get to know the discipline of the family dinner table. They never get to hear the words -  “Sit up straight – don’t speak will your mouth full – elbows off the table – wait for your mother to start eating.” All being torturous  disciplines that tend to disappear with the clip under the ear for leaving the soap in the water in the bathroom.  
     From these children  derive the second generation offspring to whom can never be passed in  natural progression the pride of a father reading a school report, or him watching from the touch line a son’s aspirations to achievement at sport.  From these children are formed the families of the twenty first century which resemble  jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing. A sad fact is the pictures will never be complete and many of those in most of those  pictures  will never really know  what those pieces are; and more pieces are easily  lost along the way.
     The flaking family unit : a child is born with the state willing to pick up the bill in the absence of a father, but the state cannot provide and is  not prepared to provide the one vital ingredient important to the  growth of that child; the father, seek him out, make him pay, let him love.  A more dedicated  mother could be heard to say, ‘that’s okay. We don’t need him. I can give my child everything it needs’, however, no one  asks  the child what it needs and if they were to it could never tell. Ask the same child  in twenty years and see what the answer would have been.
     In the case of  parents who have  progressed through the demolition machine of a broken marriage, proud people, responsible people who capitalise on the ludicrous situation of maternity leave  before returning  to full time employment, the break down continues, working away like rust.  Does anyone ask the child who is  dropped off at the crèche by mummy  for an eight hour stint on a regular, or irregular daily exercise,  how it feels about that? The weekly fee for the crèche could easily be half the earnings of mummy for the same period with the payment on the family car, (and in a complete marriage situation the second car), laying claim to a large chunk of the residue. With money not an issue, what is the true cost of this exercise? Ask the child. 
       Just another  chip of paint off the face of the family unit. Would mother rather be working, or at home teaching her daughter to laugh, play and sew, maybe bake a cake, watch her sleep? Ask the child who sees her mother for two hours in the morning and two hours at night, the child who builds a more than equal relationship with the dedicated crèche worker who capitalises on the child’s smiles and needs for eight of   a normal sixteen waking hour day. Some things are more equal than others.
     In the spiralling society of  the twenty first century the old man makes the analogy  of this age being like the cycle of a washing machine. Everything is programmed to work well and the cycle continues unless there is an overload, or an imbalance. When this happens, usually in the last phase of the cycle, everything stops. The signs were always there, yet were ignored. Imbalance?  Overload? Too much, too soon. Probably expecting too much, too soon of a well oiled machine that was designed to do a certain job.
     The signs are there today in a society which continues to  spiral, powered more by greed than need with the imbalance obvious to one who has lived three score years and ten. Time was once when the head of the family worked at his profession while his wife tended to the family home. She cooked the meals, cleaned the house and tended to the children; carried  children. The meals were shared around a communal table and a family was bonded by tradition. It was a tradition not to be scorned, nor to be smirked at. Circumstances altered   with wars and rumours of wars taking the men from the work force and calling the women up to the plate to fulfil tasks more commonly completed by their opposites. These were tasks at which most proved to be adept and were reluctant to relinquish when the tide of time turned.
     With women freed from their apron strings and firmly entrenched in the work force it could have been considered, should have been considered,  how the family unit would be affected. In all probability it was and was discounted,  because of circumstances. The evolution of more people anxious to own their own homes  presented a major factor. This, combined with the freedom with which  the  domestic motor vehicle was  offered to all who could afford, (and the many who could not), and the readily available hire purchase situation increased  the need for the fair sex to work  and converted  many households into two income families. Now desire to work could no longer be confused with the need to work and with the advent of the technical and cyber revolution standards of living  supposedly rose.
     On the surface it would appear the economy had turned to milk and honey, but at what price?  With manipulated statistics it could be shown at any time unemployment was up and unemployment was down. The difference between unemployed and registered unemployed can always be argued as names are transferred from one  list and placed on another for somebody’s benefit. Women selectively  came to fill  work positions  at a more competitive rate of remuneration normally considered  by men folk. As did after-school students  whose practice it was, and is, to hasten to take up posts at the checkouts of  local super markets and other such forms of income while their homework lay cosseted  in satchels in  staff rooms..
     Could it be the imbalance of society has become the norm and requires more attention more often? In an age where millions of dollars are spent daily on the promotion of technology  such as internet and mobile phones, how much communication is there? A hand held phone which fits into the palm and  takes a picture which can be transmitted around the world in seconds is the likely possession of  every other person you pass on the street, yet generally people do just that; pass  on the street with no attempt at communication.
     The mother of three who mans a supermarket checkout from 3 p.m. until midnight no longer does it because she wants to; she is there because she needs to be while her children  are hopefully at home; hopefully. Unsupervised children in a permissive society have an adult world at their finger tips. Multi-channel  television offering a choice between  Black Beauty and Black Emmanuelle doesn’t present much of a challenge to a growing mind. Permissive? Yes, most certainly in a climate where noble leaders have recently considered lowering the level of under age sex. How low can  we get? Are we about to find out in an environment where sex and nudity is no longer a segment of adult hood and is displayed blatantly in many television programmes and retail book outlets; establishing these stores as adult book shops? A choice between Harry Potter  and Harold Robins? You choose. Where, then is the increased quality of life and where does the break down of the family unit start? More importantly where will  it finish?
     The signs are always there The old man has learned much in his three score years and ten. He sees much that others don’t see and he has an opinion He knows the importance of eye contact with those with whom he encounters in every day life and of the  level, yet discreet  soul searching,  mind exposing eye contact he maintains with his offspring. It was never possible for him to always be there, yet he was always a template for them to  shape themselves against,  a yard stick for which they could reach, if he proved to be worthy. A yardstick? A traditional item that stands near and is forever available to keep things in proportion. It was one time made of steel. These days, if to be found it is usually constructed from cardboard, synthetic  materials, often timber. Many people have no use for it at all. They are not aware of the value. The best yardstick is of steel and yes, there is still plenty out there.
          The old man was always known to have an opinion. Most times it went out the door in the way his dining room table would, yet this never prevented  him from offering it to those prepared to listen; and those who many times chose not to listen. He offered it one day to the househusband whose daily constitutional was a jog along the waterfront. In minimal training gear and trainers he’d stopped for a breather on the sea wall. His wife was a legal executive who had returned to the workforce after an extended period of maternity leave. It was a fine arrangement. She earned much more than he had ever dreamed of earning and they were both happy for him to be ‘mother’ while she forged ahead with her career. It was a complete role reversal; an ideal domestic situation.
     Every day, wet, or fine, househusband Wayne covered the eight kilometre return trip along the waterfront with eight month old Wayne Junior  in the three wheeled baby buggy before him. The buggy was built like a world war two tank of tubular steel  with heavy duty  rubber wheels and canvas sides and top,  with  a clear plastic shield should bad weather prevail. The hood was complete with sun visor which was really an observation window for the parent for the child faced away in the direction the parent chose to go. 
      The old man queried the wisdom of the configuration of this chariot of good intention. He suggested  it might serve a better purpose if the child faced the parent that they could observe each other for the entire period of the run, not just at pit stops, and possibly share the bumps and pitfalls of the journey. Wayne shrugged off this idea saying it was fine the way it was. The child  could see where it was going and what did it matter where he had been?   He, the child, liked it that way and he, the father, could see him when ever he needed. It seemed at eight months Wayne junior knew better than the father.
     The run each day was usually completed in an hour and a half, sometimes two hours. There was no hurry. It was a fitness thing; bonding for father and son. Further suggested were the benefits of father and son facing each other. An hour and a half of eye contact could yield the harvest of a heart full  of priceless gurgles and smiles as opposed to a reunion at the end of that time.  The small amount of dribble that is known to emerge from a baby’s mouth could be removed the moment it appeared. and that belch of uncontrollable vomit could be  removed from the lapel before it had chance to harden and become a bigger problem later. Add to that the baby would feel more secure having full sight of the parent, seeing where they’d been together, knowing where they’d been instead of being forced to face the future alone, though knowing the parent was there; or was he? In the present situation Wayne junior would have no idea of where he was going, seemingly alone, and little idea of where he had been.
     Was it Lewis Carol who said,  “If you don’t know where you are going you may as well stay where you are”?  It wasn’t Harold Robins.
     If all fathers and sons could face each other on a regular basis it might well be the pools of vomit that must appear in family life can be dealt with at the time and not be allowed to develop into a bigger problem to involve others. Could it be a reversed configuration of a baby buggy is the thin edge of a wedge of insecurity?
     The nineteenth century artist W F Yeames produced a wonderful painting of the seventeenth century English civil war. It depicted a royalist child being confronted by Cromwell’s parliamentarians. It was the famous Blue Boy being asked, “and when did you last see your father?”
    Is it at all probable that if the same question were asked by our parliamentarians of the boys of today who have made a blue, on a regular basis, it would be a finger in the dyke of the family unit?
     “And when did you last see your father?”
     Better still, “and did you ever see your father?” God forbid it will be two hundred years before someone puts them in the picture.
     The old man has earned an opinion. That’s all it is;  a point of view.

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