This is not a sob story.
Thirty-two years ago today my father died. I was twelve and dry-eyed .. how can you cry over somebody you never knew? He drank himself to death and is buried at Cooma Cemetery. I visited once when I was newly-sober and laid down on his grave like Madonna did in one of her video clips except it was her mother. So strange to not know a parent. He was from Glasgow in Scotland and came to Australia to work on the Snowy River Mountains Scheme. It says on my birth certificate that he was an engineer, in later years he worked at IBM because he was some kind of incredibly intelligent person. He was banking on a son, so when I was born he went on a huge bender for three days and didn't visit me. I think ... I was in some kind of humidicrib at the time for breathing issues so the details are a little hazy.
His favourite song was Mr Bojangles, he was likened to a young Roger Moore, and he was good at tennis. That's about all I know. Somewhere in my memory is stored the first four years of my life which were probably mostly lived in fear because he was a violent alcoholic. My grandmother told me he'd drink the vanilla essence from her pantry after his marriage imploded. His name was William Barrie. Apparently he served in the Red Berets .. I don't even know what that means. A paratrooper, landing in places like Cypress so I guess he was in the war? Don't know which one. I wonder if he had an actual red beret.
So I'm writing all this down right now incredibly detached and there's even a voice at the back of my head saying "fuck him" which isn't very nice but he wasn't very nice, apparently. He didn't like me, I'd go so far as to say he hated the sight of me because although I look exactly like him complete with red red hair, I wasn't his son. Just another daughter. After I was a born he had a vasectomy and as I'm growing up trying to put some pieces together because we all like to know where we come from, the more it dawned on me that he just really quite detested me and didn't want to know me. At all.
So maybe this is the source of pain, the fracture in my life that all other hurts splintered off from. I don't know. There's still wars in the world, there's so much happening every day and we all share shit on facebook but it's just overload now. Yes, the world is fucked but how do we fix it? Probably not by writing a piece about my dead father who I hate because he hated me first but jeez he was a giver - I got all his genes, his looks, his alcoholism, his dark and stormy moods which is now known as "Bipolar." I always swore I'd never drink and I didn't .. until I hit nineteen and then drinking drank me. Ask a woman who drank herself stupid throughout her twenties and she'll have a few stories to tell. Back in the day I'd be so drunk, stumbling home in the dark by myself and shout up to the sky "PROUD? I MAY NOT BE THE BOY YOU WANTED BUT I BET I COULD DRINNK YOU UNDER THE TABLE."
Four years after he died my stepdad killed himself and then all this other stuff and then recovery and rehabs and pregnancy and babies and joy and love and PEACE and marriage but then cancer, postpartum depression, remission, relapse, remission, recovery, second stepfather dies, my brother dies, psychiatric situations, separation, psychosis, breakdown, etcetera and so forth which brings us to right now this very night when I was sitting in a meeting and somebody was sharing and then asked what the date was and I said "22nd August" and thought fuck, this is the date my dad died. I don't know his birthday but I know his deathday, it got seared into my memory that time in year seven I read the coroners report on his death which was so long and boring but I was struck how it said "Died around 22nd August." He died alone in his bed in a flat in Batemans Bay and wasn't discovered for a while so the coroner could only estimate.
This is not a sob story but after the meeting I stopped off at the shops to buy some milk and UGH Fathers Day is coming up and I just wince at it, always have. Except I don't just wince I go up to the Fathers Day card display and rub salt into long-forgotten wounds by opening the cards to read the shitty inscriptions. I say shitty because they're not applicable to me. Obviously I'm not the only one who has father issues but as I drove away tonight, Beyonce's Daddy Lessons came on the radio and I CRIED because the lyrics aren't applicable to me but then I realised shit - they are.
"Came into this world
Daddy's little girl
and daddy made a soldier out of me."
Because he did make me a soldier. Perhaps his absence from my heart and life has shaped me more than anything. His lack of love and pure distaste for me has fuelled my rage and anger over the years until I eventually turned from a shy quiet girl with no voice into a woman who roars. Especially now, after spending the last three years in survival mode which is a really awful way to live. The rest of Bey's song is about how her dad liked his whiskey with his tea, and how he gave her a gun and warned her that if men like him come around then to just shoot. Hell of a lot of strippers and hookers out there who weren't warned about that shit is all I'm saying.
Bill died alone at the age of 47 from a brain bruise from falling over drunk too many times. I'm 44 - struggling on and off and on. Headed through the recovery train, the tracks he never took, and I'm telling you some days I want to drink. I want to drink so bad. Not to feel good or have a great time and a few wines because if I was a social drinker I'd get drunk every night. I want to drink to numb myself from pain and to not feel my feelings holy SHIT my therapist in 1998 told me flippantly "Oh for gods sake Eden you can't die from a feeling." Which is true - it just feels like it. I was saving up that year to buy a plane ticket to fly to Scotland to be with my people, discover Glasgow, meet relatives and cousins over there. I never made it and now, strangely, the sight of tartan kilts and the sound of bagpipes makes me cry. Years ago at the Sydney Writers Festival I got RAGING drunk with Irvine Welsh who fell in love with me and wanted me to fly back to Scotland with him the very next day. In front of the entire table of literary people I pull my passport out of my Doc Martin and told Irvine that my father was from Glasgow ... he then proceeds to stand up and do this drunken jig and shout at all of us:
"MYYYYY FATHER WAS FROM GLASGOW,
HE WAS A FUCKING CUNT."
People were shocked but laughed anyway and turned to look at me and I just laughed and asked, "How did you know?" Irvine said everybody from Glasgow was .. he begged me to get on the plane and I don't really know why I didn't. Imagine that.
Anyway so tonight I'm crying about this Bill guy who I never knew but I'm pretty sure the chasm in my heart created by his absence is so wide and big that I can't even see it so I never even knew it was there. Maybe this, his life and his death and his rejection of me started off all my shit .. the worthlessness, the crazy, the hounding in me to be heard. Especially now.
Whatever, really. It's just that tonight is the very first time in my life I wished he was alive, I wish I could go and see him and tell him my multitude of problems and he'd be kind. Really see the woman I have become, all the good parts and the bad. And he'd see his grandsons and teach them things and tell them about the Red Berets. I'm trying to work this out for my sons, too. Both of them never knew their genetic grandfathers and I really wish they did because it's nice to know the information and knowledge passed down of where you come from.
We're headed into September and more death days and more birthdays and remembrance days and what-if days and shitty days and glorious days. As one of my many counsellors used to say "Eden, it's all grits for the mill." And he didn't know why I laughed so hard until I explained to him that it was grist. I don't even know what grist is and I'm not even going to google it because I prefer grits, have heard they're quite tasty. Back in my day there was no google there was a full set of Encyclopaedia Britannica's up on the library shelf and you actually had to get out of your chair and search for the information you needed with your actual hands. These days we're utterly overwhelmed with information but seem to understand life less than ever.
I been to countries where none of this shit matters and people are trying to eke out enough from the land to just survive that day. There's awful things happening all over the world and it's scary and we're meant to look at this and raise awareness of that and not knowing my father is probably technically a really low-scale issue in the grand scheme of things. It's just that I've never allowed my mind to wander there until tonight. I think he passed his rage down onto me except it triplicated and I don't want it anymore, I'm stronger than him. But knowing that doesn't make it any easier. He just drank himself stupid and died, I'm fucking up all over the shop and getting help and in recovery trying to whack each problem down as it comes. It's hard as fuck. I'm spent. Which means there's a clearing coming up soon where I can rest again before the next pounding because sometimes? That's all life seems to be. A series of utter fucking poundings and different crosses that we have to bear. Until we die or reach enlightenment. Probably both.
Anyway thank god for Bono. It's good to know there's men out there who feel and love and care for their children, have a social conscience, and fight for worthy things. I'm a firm believer that if you miss out on something inherently needed in your life, you get something else down the road to make up for it. It's science karma. And it's just so generous of Bono for providing me with the soundtrack of my life to help me get though it. He's one of my true heroes. There's not many left.