I recall this quote from an interview with Bruce Springsteen that I must have read some 20 years ago. This quote sure has stuck with me. My parents were like the furniture. Springsteen had a point, and perhaps a universal one. Basically, in a nutshell, the olds would sit in front of the teevee, not saying a word, and i'd sit there too, in front of the teevee in that gloomy front room, numb and silent. Sometimes mum would cover my eyes if boobies or bums came on the screen (this was the seventies??!) This ghastly situation remained like this for a number of years, from about the age of 7 to 12, where i'd be the mute, restless and anxious boy silently and subconsciously wondering what the fuck was going on.
Mum was inherently sweet, yet she was negative and anxiously caring, communicating silently through narcy vibes. Dad was chipper when he got home from his daily dose of hard-yards at the St Peters brickyard - of which he'd later graduate to driving a truck for telecom - until he would whiz off the pub shortly after coming home at which he'd remain for hours on end, always for at least 2 hours, and often up to four hours or more.
Sometimes he'd sit and watch cartoons with me. I recall he liked Tom and Jerry. But what he seemed to like most of all was his time at the pub. He had mates everywhere. Everyone was his mate. For a Calabrese Italian he was far more of an ozzie than a wog, more of a Bob Hawke type character than say, most other Italian men you could care to think of. His was an impressive stature, he was well-built and handsome with a thick-set mop of curly hair that never thinned, possessing a natural intelligence and nobility and a musicality of which I've inherited. Dad loved opera and had a great voice, a strong, rich baritone. By outside appearances, my father was the visual and celebral tower of manly strength. It took my dad many years to finally beat himself to the ground, it was tragic, though in my opinion, inevitable.
Charing Cross, Waverley. Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. In the 60's & 70's it was not the fashionable end of the East and the village contained many milk-bars, pizza parlours, hardware stores, fish'n'chips shops, and pubs. To this day there are 2 pubs, a club, and a drive in bottle-o. The locality is a drinker's dream, in other words.
Every night when Dad came home from the pub he sat down to eat. Mum always prepared his meal, it was usually a big grind of steak with a few soggy vegetables. He would then get up from his meat and go to sit on his lounge chair upon which mum get up, pick up the plate and clean it, all of which was done in silence. Then the two of them would sit in silence in front of the television. They never talked unless they went out, or had people over. Every night my dad would be inebriated by alcohol, by the amber fluid. He said he used to drink 6 schooners of beer a night. I suspect that toward the end of his life his intake of the amber piss increased substantially. Every morning without fail he'd cough up loads of black gunk into the wash-basin, the result of copiously heavy smoking. When you grow up with that, you kind of think it's very normal, however unsettling it all actually is.
It was dreadful growing up in a household like that. There was no communication, no affection, no bonding whatsoever. I was a depressed child. School was terrible, worse than home because I sensed the teachers didn't like me at all. To them I was probably a smelly, kooky wog-child that just needed bypassing. Little do they know how much of a maestro i've become, unless they google me, and I'm sure they wouldn't bother (they don't have memories as good as me). I wonder how many of my teachers could write songs and record them and play all the instruments and mix and produce them. I wondered how many of them wrote blogs??? They probably wrote children's books back then, or at least, songs to make up the Patsy Biscoe songbook.
My sister and brother, both a generation older than me, left home as soon as they could. By the age of 7 onward I was on my own with these strange fucks of parents, more like grandparents than parents really. Sure they loved me and for that I am very grateful, but they damn sure had strange ways of expressing that. Dad could be, and often was, horribly gruff and he could be a mean prick, a hurtful sod. Mum unfortunately played the role of the passive-aggressive bystander, making sure I didn't "upset" my father. My siblings tell me of my father's anger and constant yelling. Thankfully I didn't grow up with this but I did grow up to see a powerful and intelligent man, a man with artistic and musical leanings, destroy himself slowly and surely with cigarettes and alcohol.
Sometimes late at night when it was he and I my Dad would tell me stories of growing up in Cinquefronde in Calabria, and of his own father, my grandfather, who was a brutal and selfish man who gave his first-born son, my father, absolute hell. My father was verbally and physically abused throughout his childhood, until my grandfather was sent away to Sardinia during the war for allegiance to communism. His punishment was to remain mute throughout the period of encampment, speaking was forbidden. When my grandfather was released in 1945 my dad ran away from home. He spent four years up and down Italy living with other relatives and working, until he migrated to Australia in 1949 upon which he settled in North Queensland for some time cutting sugar cane and making friends with the local aboriginies. My father had many fond recollections of this time. His greatest strength was his ability to make friends easy, for people to like him. He packed out the church at his funeral. I was proud of that. And he returned to Italy only once again, in 1971 where he reunited with his parents and probably partook in some unfinished business of which I know nothing about.
My late teens were a fun and explosive time where I discovered sex, drinking, and the joy of playing in bands. Yet as 1989 turned into 1990 a shadow seemed to cast itself on me and my family. We entered a global recession, for starters. My dear sister - my one ally in the family - had moved to the blue mountains so I barely saw her and my brother was stuck in a hellish marriage in a town in the Southern Highlands that was notorious for the number of male suicides and mass-murderers that used the nearby national park to chop heads. Closer to home my dad's drinking seemed to escalate. He was now lawn bowling on Sundays, so he'd rise early, eat a biscuit, and leave the house before anyone else was up. He'd make it home in the late afternoon, totally sloshed and sauced on the grog, barely able to walk in a crooked line. He started to piss in the bathroom leaving the door open, our bathroom being a kitchen knock-off given that it's a Victorian/Edwardian terrace. He'd piss everywhere. I'd often go in afterward and clean up this boozy nicotine-stenched piss that was all over and around the toilet bowl. Nothing was said, nothing was ever said. I'd begun learning piano at this point and had retreated into my own world that didn't have to deal with what or who I was living with, or any conception of my own impending adulthood. I just soaked in the music, wondering how it was all going to end...
A couple of months before my dad became sick he'd thrown a party while my mum was away. I really enjoyed that because we had a good time together. Mind you, he'd had a few beers by then so it was a boozy good time, rather than a good bonding session with my dad, which I've never experienced. My dad finally succumbed to illness, needing a colostomy bag, until the final prognosis became evident, that of pancreatic cancer. In mentioning this to a local astrologer his sotto voce words to me were that he "held onto too much pain and hurt himself".
My dad's absence has affected my entire life. At 39 I still have mixed emotions about fatherhood. I feel strangely ungrown-up in many ways. When I meet dads, particularly dads of women I'm dating, I often feel melancholy and a little depressed. It's at those times I've longed for a dad I could love and bond with, or at least, sit easy and enjoy myself with.
When I was 23 a Scorpio girl at my work who I went out with for a short time told me I had a "fatherless energy", and she cited her ex and other people like me who'd lost their fathers. This girl's dad taught me history at Uni a couple of years before. She looked like a lizard and her tongue was even quicker and the sting in her tail was horribly severe.
I can't help having that "fatherless energy". I never had parents, only grandparents, figuratively. My only saving grace was my sister who is 16 years older than me and who treated me like a genuine human being from day one. She herself is a pioneer, a liberal spirit who had to wade through the quagmire of a horrid and murky generational past of ignorance, brutality, misogyny head on. Not our parents necessarily, but moreso their parents and their parents, revealing itself in the guise of our parent's unhappiness, their "stuckness", their generational pain.
I am thankful for all my dad has given me. He did the best he could for me given his pain and conditioning. He made sure I received the education he never had and he was proud of my academic achievements. He instilled in me some basic principles that have generally kept me satisfied, "you got food on the table, drink, a roof on your head, that's all that matters". I know that he loved me. He may have had a funny way of showing it but I do know that he loved me. For that I'm forever grateful.