ALL THINGS MUST PASS

I’m sitting on the verandah railing of a rambling wooden guest house in hilly Warburton. Rich smells from the surrounding bush push against a pervading odour of serene decay. Once a retreat for Melbourne’s genteel, now ghosts whisper along the wooden balconies and sigh like puffs of dust when morose teenagers throw themselves onto faded sofas.

One of those teenagers is me. Despite the chill in the air, I prefer the verandah to the communal lounge. The dim light and musty carpets of the interior depress me but more importantly, I stand a greater chance of glimpsing Kirsten by lurking on this semi-sheltered thoroughfare. Not that I’ll speak to her if she wanders past. For starters, she’ll be with one or more girls and thus surrounded by an impenetrable field of femaleness that my wistful glances simply fade from like breath on glass.

It is day three of this Year 10 German camp. The time has passed slowly, and quickly. Soon we’ll be packing and taking a bus back to school. And I haven’t managed a single interaction with Kirsten in either Deutsch or English. No wonder I’m morose. No wonder I’m sitting, shivering just a little in the damp Winter air, hoping for one more chance to not talk to a girl who probably hasn’t even noticed my intense, meaningful glances. 

I did try. Yesterday morning I ordered Speck und Spiegelei in a voice loud enough to carry to her end of the table. There was a titter, but I don’t know who. This morning, in an act of heart-tingling bravery, I approach her group and looking more-or-less straight at her, or at least her toast, I said Kafee? with an upward inflection that surely demonstrated my passion. Surely.

Back against the solid verandah upright, one leg is crooked nonchalantly on the ledge while the other dangles over the garden, I’m gazing poetically into the middle distance and wondering how long I can stay in this position. Sounds of my room-mate packing are a reminder of time passing, of opportunities fading. He smuggled in a small transistor and has turned it up a bit louder this morning, reasoning that he can scarcely be sent home early at this stage of proceedings. I reach down into the garden and pluck a daisy. The radio starts playing George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, the strummed guitar and plaintive melody fills me with something, but I don’t know what. I really want to see you, really want to be with you. Frowning, I pluck a petal. It takes so long, my Lord. Another petal flutters onto the weathered boards. She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not. Yeah, yeah, yeah. A tiny snowstorm of teardrop shaped petals. Kirsten appears at the end of the verandah, walks the uneven boards to her door, three before mine. She fumbles with the handle, but doesn’t look up. 

Really want to see you, really want to see you.

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The music theme of this post continues at Vinyl Connection

LITTLE BOY BLUE AND THE MAN ON THE MOON

Over recent days I’ve read a number of dad-related posts and wondered about the huge range of father experiences out there. It got me thinking about one of my favourite songs on fatherhood, Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle”.

When you coming home Dad I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then.

Playing the song again just now, I cry at the end. Again. It occurred to me, my son was just like me. An emotional surge part loss, part relief. Half my life has been spent trying to un-knot the smokey ropes of paternal control, with mixed success. Half a life spent in therapy, seeking a space to unpack, the trust to grow, the acceptance to heal… with mixed success. If development can be measured in dollar terms, this journeyman has spent a small fortune trying to avoid the conclusion the son is just like the father, only to reach a point of middle-aged resignation. I’ll always be part him, part me. More of the latter is the goal, now. Less furious demands for total eradication of the paternal legacy, the ‘him’.

“My son turned ten just the other day.

He said “Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play.

Can you teach me to throw?” I said “Not today

I got a lot to do.” He said “That’s OK”

And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed, 

And said “I’m gonna be like him, yeah,

You know I’m gonna be like him.”

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And what would my son say of his father? What will he say to his friends, his lover, his own child? He was born, child of older parents, four years after my father died. Does it seem strange to him that there are so few stories of his unknown grandpa? Maybe you don’t miss what you never had. Like affection, trust, warmth. Yeah, right.

Well he came from college just the other day

So much like a man I just had to say

“Son, I’m proud of you can you sit for a while?”

He shook his head and said with a smile

“What I’d really like dad is to borrow the car keys

See you later. Can I have them please?”

I miss it. Or what I imagine it is. Warmth, trust, connection. And when Harry Chapin reminds me in four verses how brief the parenting lifetime really is, it focuses my attention very sharply indeed on enjoying each hour I have to observe, hug, play with and occasionally admonish this child, this individual, this precious human I’ve been gifted. Not given to keep, but to nurture as best I can with my clumsy insights and wrinkled heart.

When I lived in Germany for a year, I painstakingly translated a poster in the train carriage of my daily commute.

“When they’re young, give them roots

As they grow, give them wings”

Neatly put; wonderfully true, in an aspirational way. But as my boy bounds towards teenage-hood I want to shout, Slow down! What’s the rush? The anticipated grief of his launching into his own life fills me with such wonder and pain it feels as if my chest is being wrenched open with a pneumatic jack.

We went to a giant hardware store on the weekend, just for light globes and gardening gloves, this boy’s Daddy doesn’t do DIY. While I was trying to work out which globes were dimmable (dim being the operative word), he wandered to the next aisle to look at the signs. I went on to grab something else from another part of the store and was gone longer than anticipated, by me and by him. When I went back he looked scared. The big twelve-year-old was a little boy again, where’s my Daddy? I checked: are you OK? He nodded, I felt guilty. As we walked towards the checkout I thought, a good parent would check the child has a plan for such circumstances; what would you do? Where would you go if you were uncertain? But then he reached out and took my hand, and all my words vanished.

So did at least one heart-wrinkle.

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This is the first new content at Lonely Keyboards. Hope you can join me for what is sure to be a varied journey. The above post connects to my other blog, Vinyl Connection, via a simultaneous post on the album Verities and Balderdash by Harry Chapin.