Sunday, 24 November 2013

Dreams of dead fathers

This is a photo of Peter da Silva, my father, not long before he was admitted to a care facility due to Alzheimer's disease, which was a stage of his life that I, personally, found relaxing in his company. He became spontaneously affectionate, instead of stiff and cold, and he stopped saying the hurtful words that usually comprised his remarks to me. He died almost two years ago, in March 2011, and I was relieved that he did.

Strangely, I am not ashamed to say this. This is partly because he has not completely left me and I still submit to dad-comes-back-to-life dreams on a regular basis. They are not pleasant. I even thought he was walking silently in my room one night when I had had a few too many glasses of wine. Silent and reproachful he stalked past the foot of my bed in the penumbra. I do not think all sons have dreams like this of their fathers.

I was a remarkably obedient young child. Because my brother - two years older than me - was the family tear-away, I sought peace at all costs and raised voices alarmed and upset me. I was oil on the family's troubled waters. I did what I was asked to do, and more: I tried to anticipate what others wanted and catered for their requirements before they could even be voiced. I was the family's philosopher, seeking common accord while ignoring my own needs and desires. I was cautious, fretful, not bold. When it came time to choosing subjects in the final years of school, I followed my father's guidance. I dropped art and continued with French when class times clashed. Upon entering university I continued in the same form and studied Italian to please him. I did not take a year off before first year. I studied hard and completed the degree.

Oddly, it was years before I stopped caring what my father thought of me. I wasn't so much the philosopher as the one suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Out of university I moved listlessly from job to job. I even dropped out of the workforce voluntarily for a time, and got my kicks in a share house in Newtown. I made friends who were also seekers of truth. I was not the family philosopher, I was the suppressed radical. That arts degree started to make more and more sense but even so around the age of 30 I married and had my first child.

I never settled into routine work. I was always impatient, too creative, unhappy and it showed. It wasn't until I had a breakdown due to mental illness, and recovered from that, that I realised something important about myself: I was different from others and I had better get used to it. The obedient child was a sham. I was creative, headstrong, enamoured of my own opinions. My father, who did nothing to help me in the dark years following the mortal crash, fell away more and more in terms of relevance. His own mental illness - the Alzheimer's - was nothing more than a suitable coda for a life spent in overbearing dominance relative to those who he professed to love. The love was nothing more than a figleaf covering his need to manipulate and use others to his own ends. His success - he began life in utter penury and ended it in material comfort - was nothing more than a product of the attention those close to him devoted to his convenience; he converted domestic affection into worldly gain, like an alchemist. Having lost my own family, I knew how critical domestic fulfillment is to a busy man like dad.

In the end he had a few mourners at his funeral and a son whose bad dreams have now morphed into a desecration of an alarming kind. I do not think I will ever be entirely rid of the man, though he long ago lost me.

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