Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Going through dad's records

This is a photo of dad up here on the estuary on an overcast day and I presume that it was mum who took the photo. They moved up here in the late 90s, probably 1999, and dad continued to correspond with people all over the world after they had relocated. He was admitted to a nursing home in May 2009 and he died there in March 2011 from Alzheimer's disease and health complications stemming from it and from nerve damage stemming from a broken neck (when he was 16). My mother moved from their apartment to a ground floor apartment some time in that year and she took with her a lot of papers and personal records he had accumulated over the years. It is now my job to go through those records and to throw away what is inessential and keep what still has value for me.

I spent a couple of hours at mum's apartment this morning shredding dad's old correspondence, mainly stuff he wrote to and received from people I do not remember. But those were the 1990s, when he and mum were travelling around the world going to places - all of which resembled the Sunshine Coast, where he (and I) ended up - and meeting with people whose company he enjoyed enough to continue a conversation after he and mum had returned to live finally in Australia. It was also the decade in which I had my collapse from psychosis, part of a disease that dad did not react to in a very, let's say, charitable fashion.

So the records I am now going through bring back a quantity of memories I do not savour. I am facing things I have mostly relegated to the past, to a place where they can be overlooked, where they can be ignored as unsightly and irrelevant to the broader sweep of my personal history. We live inside an arc of meaning and we choose which things attain prominence, and which are put aside where they can acquire the lineaments of ignominy. At least there are some things, like my father's signal inability to accept my mental illness, that do not deserve to be remembered in any detail, that deserve to be left untouched on some unreachable shelf in memory's magazine.

So I am working through a lot of things that mentally drain me. I do not think that it was my father's intention to leave so many pointers to such unattractive memories. I do not know why he left such a vast quantity of records. He also wrote a 150-page memoir. Perhaps, like the memoir, the paper records I am gradually disassembling were intended to draw the attention of a biographer. Would someone be interested in writing the life story of a poor-boy-made-good, the son of an impoverished migrant - and illegal immigrant from Africa - who succeeded in building a life of "substance" in Australia in the 50s and 60s and beyond?

Somehow I doubt it, but that doesn't make my job any easier. This morning I generated six bags of shredded paper which I chucked down the garbage chute in my building. Tomorrow more will follow. And the next day too. I shall be shredding dad's personal effects for some days to come.

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