My father was an interesting man.
At the age of 11, he was sent to a fishing village, somewhere on the coast of Victoria. He was sent there to become “grounded” as he seemed to have difficulties fitting in with society and was prone to strangeness. He returned to his mother, brother and sister around the age of 13, to help out since his father was missing.
Not long after this, a drunk driver, a youth with rich parents, ran over his mother and sister. They died. My father never drank alcohol. His brother and he were placed in the care of his father, who had very poor parenting skills. Sometimes they would eat like kings, sometimes they would skip meals. It all depended on the horses, or which ever other bet his father had won or lost on.
My father and his brother got up to a lot of mischief. Stunts like filling up bags full of water and dropping them onto the street from the top of the apartment building they lived in, onto the cars below, or taking a car to pieces, carrying it piece by piece into their apartment and then putting it back together, then starting it inside the building, only to take it apart again and put it back outside so that there was no evidence it was ever there. Without an active, participating father, they got up to all sorts.
My mother tells me he felt responsible for his younger brother and so got a job to pay for his brothers schooling. His brother tells me it was not the case, and that my father did not fit in well at school so thought he would try working instead. As far as I can ascertain, my father never kept a job for more than a year, anywhere, at anytime during his life.
He was dating a lady when he met my mother. His lady instantly disliked my mother and predicted that my father and she would end up together. She was right, however it took about another six years before they re-met, started dating and eventually ended up marrying and having kids – my brother and then myself.
My father was a classical, stereotypical, sixties hippie. That is, he took one heck of a lot of drugs, hated work and just wanted to know why the world could not just run on love, man. My mother told me that it was the drugs the messed his mind up, so I grew up fearing mind altering drugs and what they could do to me. Later I learned about his witnessing the death of his mother and sister. Many years later, I learned about his retreat to the fishing village. This leads me to conclude that his mind was already pretty messed up to begin with. Yet I still fear mind altering substances. It is amazing what fears our parents can instill in us. Losing control of my mind is the only thing I truly fear.
During my gestation, my mother hurt her back. At this point in time, according to my mother, my father was changing jobs, again, going out and partying with mates (that is, doping up and talking philosophy) and then would come home and play with my brother. This meant that all the home chores were my mothers duty, that my brother would only sleep an average of four hours a day and my father was quite unreasonable about taking part in being a responsible parent and husband. Small wonder based on his fathers role modelling. However I have heard a very different version from my fathers brothers family. Still, this was the version I grew up with, so it is the version that shaped my life. Who knows what the truth really is.
Not long after I was born, my mother left my father and returned to her mothers house. My brother blamed me for this. More about that in a later post.
I visited my father occasionally, (I believe it was every couple of weeks), and according to my mother, she would pick us up in atrocious states. She defines this is sometimes half dressed in some of the clothes we arrived in, but wearing nothing else, hungry, sleep deprived and sometimes forgotten. Again, my fathers brothers family tells a different story, but again, this was the story I grew up with.
I was also told by my mother that my brother was my fathers favourite child and I was just “put up with”. I found a different version many years later, yet my mother still tells this view.
When I was three and a half, my mother moved us to the other side of the country. I would visit my father once every year or so, but received correspondence from him in the form of cassette tapes and letters. My brother would have to read me the letters because I could not read them.
After an argument with my brother, he refused to read to me one of the letters. I took this letter to my mother to read to me and she was quite shocked at the content. She called my father up and told him that if he could not write nice letters to us, then he shouldn’t write any letters. Very shortly after that, we moved house and he was not told where we moved to. Remember, we were on the other side of the country from him.
My father disappeared when I was eight. I discovered many years later that he deteriorated badly not long after we disappeared. It may be that he was only just holding on before that, or it may have been coincidental timing. He was living with his father from the time my mother left him to the time he disappeared (about 7 years).
He and his father had an argument. It went something along the lines of this. His father asked him for some contribution to living with him. My father said that he did not believe in supporting the capitalist system and so would not do so. His father pointed out that it was because he was paying the bills for my father that he was able to live there without having to work or receive government support and at the least my father could help tidy up around the place. My father was upset with this and decided to try to live out his dream of living an artists life in Sydney. He left and no one heard from him for about 15 years.
Some time around 1996 a journalist did a piece on a hobo living in Sydney. This was my father and was the first news we had of him still being alive. The journalist had tracked down his father and brother and asked questions. My father believed that he had a separated wife and three children.
My mother aborted a child she was carrying when she left my father, so this may have been a child he was counting. Or he may have been messing with the journalist, or just plain delusional. Who knows?
Anyway, according to the journalist, he was collecting circuit boards from electronic devices and lived in a tent. He would occasionally burn the tent down trying to stay warm.
A few years later, at the end of 1998, I received news that my father was dead. He had been killed by someone near where he slept in the park. Because my father, in his current incarnation, was known by the police as a peaceful man, they knew that his death was unprovoked and so they investigated quite hard. It turns out he was the second victim of the star light killer, who is believed to have five murders attributed to him. My father was known as the umbrella man and was living under a pseudonym, which made finding us quite difficult.
My father was called the umbrella man because of his solution to his housing problem. He had given up on tents and had constructed, from found materials, a shack on the beach near the botanical gardens in Sydney. His shack was demolished by the counsel as unfit for human habitation and he went back to sleeping on park benches. This caused inconvenience when it rained, so he began collecting umbrellas. He had a spot in Domain Garden near the Robert Burns statue, under some bushes, where he stored his stuff and slept the night. He would erect umbrellas in the bush, such that the wind could not blow them away and the rain would fall off them and around him. This kept him dry and somewhat warm.
I went to Sydney to learn about my fathers later life. He never did work for money, or accept any government payment. He did not beg for cash. He would go to soup kitchens and accept food from them, but always turned up early to help set up, stayed late to help clean up and would take some bread away with him for later. He would also accept unfinished meals or mistake meals (you know the standard “that isn’t what I ordered” meal?) from restaurants near Domain Park. He was known as a peaceful man. Most people I met said I looked and acted just like him. An uncanny resemblance.
I met up with his father, who was dying of prostate cancer. His father at first mistook me for my father and apologised for arguing with me. I accepted his apology. Later, he realised that I was not my father and talked to me as myself.
I met my fathers brother and his family for the first time that I remember. I had met with them many times before I moved across the country, but I could not remember these times. It was the first time that I didn’t feel alone or completely alien that I can ever recall. It rocked me. It is not possible to describe this strange feeling of knowing there is a place that I can feel accepted and understood. It is a pity they forgot who I am in their misconstrued memories of my side of the family. That hurt and again it is impossible to describe that feeling either. I was again alone, but this time I knew that people existed who might understand me, yet refused to do so rather than that no one existed who could.
Sometimes it is better not to know that paradise exists, than to know it exists but you are barred from it.
So, that is my father in a quick nutshell.