Social contracts and sanity

Humans are social animals. To be social animals means being part of a cooperative crowd, relying on the group for safety, sustenance and providing back to the society in some meaningful way.

Our sense of identify is both tied up with defining ourselves comparatively with the crowd and individually as not the crowd. Adolescence sees this in it’s strongest form – the urge to not be defined as our parents, yet trying to find a group that we feel we belong to.

Part of this belonging to a group involves give and take. We give to the group and we take from the group. This is the reciprocation contract. If I give to you, then you will give back to me. There is the more altruistic contract which has become the pay it forward contract. When I give to you, you will give back to someone king of like me in a situation kind of like this one. The closeness of this “kind of” is quite variable and can more easily be seen as passing on good deeds. It is a rare individual who receives nothing but bad deeds and passes on nothing but good deeds.

We fall down miserably when we are removed from those who we feel we belong to. This can happen for a number of reasons: we realise we don’t belong to them, we move geographically or philosophically away from them, they don’t feel we belong to them and the group becomes dangerous, in someway, to our wellbeing.

Groups do more than hold us up when we fall down, they do more than provide the bits of sustenance that we  can not provide ourselves – they help us stay sane. Sanity, in this definition, is knowing how our own personal view of the world compares to the consensus of the group we most commonly interact with. A groups view of the world can significantly deviate from groups around them, and then the lack of “sanity” applies to the group, rather than the individual. 

Consider a member of some kind of subculture who believes any radical thought – lets say invisible fairies are running the world. Because the individual belongs to a group of people who believe the same thing, they are just all deluded. If an individual thinks this outside of a group, the person is called insane.

This suggests that a way of finding sanity is to find others who see the world you do.

Now the thought that invisible fairies are running the world seems pretty ridiculous to most people. Lets substitute the words “invisible fairies” to “supreme being” and it becomes less odd. Call that “supreme being” the devil and it goes to more odd. Call it “God” and it becomes less odd. The idea is the same, but the group you align to when you change the invisible something somehow changes the sanity level of the group. More insane if there are less numbers, more insane if there are more numbers.

Groups can be seen as islands in a sea of people. As you depart your views from the group you are most closely aligned with, you enter a “no mans land” between the groups, leaving islands and sailing on the sea. This is your most perilous time as you are quite lost without fixed points to steer yourself with. If you sail far enough away from the islands of groups such that you can no longer navigate by their beliefs, you can be lost in the sea of insanity, until you but up against a new island of people who see the world as you do.

You can lead a horse to water…

You know the old saw about the horse?

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”

It is a good saying when thinking about aiding someone else in their personal evolution.

We often think we know the best water, the best source and the best way to drink. That may be true for us, and it may even be true for someone else, but if you push them to do it your way, then they don’t own that process and have a fair chance of rebelling against your rules, your system and your truth. So instead, consider this new variant of the saw:

“You can lead a horse to water, but trying to make it drink is a foolish waste of energy”

This reminds you to let the horse drink if it is thirsty, in it’s way, at it’s time. It also reminds you not to be foolish or waste your strength trying to make the horse do it your way.

Now consider this variant:

“You can’t make the horse drink, but you can lead it to water”

This variant takes out your own powerlessness, which decreases your frustration in the circumstance where the horse doesn’t want to drink. You don’t have to make it drink, but you can lead it to the water.

“The horse can drink when it wants to, and you can point out where there is water”

The power in this variant is two fold. You acknowledge that the horse has choice to do or not, as it sees fit. It also demonstrates that you are only showing a way, but acknowledging there are other sources, and thus different ways.

See what works for you.

Diagnosis vs Formulation

I went to an autoelectrician the other day to get the headlights for my car fixed. He suggested that it was probably the headlight switch in the colum, but wasn’t going to commit to that without checking it out. He also said it could be a fuse, the relay, wiring, a problem with the Earth and a few other possibilities. After looking at it, he gave a positive diagnosis of a damaged switch. He said I might be able to get a second hand one, or I might be able to purchase it first hand from the manufacturer (I have an old car, kind of like me).

I asked him how he knew and he said he tested the inputs and outputs of the switch and could definately say that the switch was not relaying the proper information. This was his test that validated his diagnosis, which was one of the probable expected diagnosies he had formulated in our initial discussion.

Similarly I went to a doctor (general practitioner) with a really sore throught a few years ago. He listened to my symptoms, took a look at my throat and told me I had tonsillitis. He proscribed some antibiotics specific to this kind of infection as my treatment. I asked him how he knew I had tonsillitis and he described the way to tell inflamed tonsils and the low likelihood of it being anything else. I asked him if there was any actual test he could perform to be certain and he offered to take a sample and have a lab test it. This would prove, conclusively, that I had tonsillitis. 

I went to see a psychiatrist many years ago. He listened to my list of symptoms and told me I had cyclothymia. I asked how he knew and he said I fitted enough of the profile of cyclothymia for him to diagnose it as such. I asked if there as any test he could perform to make sure and he said there was not and pointed out that mental health diagnoses do not work that way. He prescribed medication to fix it. I looked up the medication and it’s primary side effect is that if you don’t have cyclothymia before taking the medication, you probably will after taking it. Not a good selling point. I went back to the psychiatrist and asked for another option.

What gets me is, how can they call it a diagnosis when there is no test to actually prove conclusively that their opinion is correct? Isn’t that a formulation, not a diagnosis?

For example, schizophrenia has an interesting diagnostic criteria. The combinations that this “diagnosis” can demonstrate are huge, the causes are varied. You only have to display two of five major categories, each major category has multiple sub categories which you only need one in to make that category count. What conclusive test is there? No blood test, no scan, no reflex or pain test. Nothing.

Schizophrenia is not an isolated mental illness in this respect. Consider borderline personality disorder. It’s diagnostic criteria are also quite strange. One must demonstrate five of a possible nine symptoms for an extended period of time. Again, there is no actual test. 

This blog does not preclude the possibility that either of these, or many other labels, actually exist. The formulation of these theories for a person quite often give added insight for the practitioner to look for specific indicators, history factors and give guidance for proposed treatment and recovery plans. What I object to is the use of the word “diagnosis” without an actual test. Giving such authoritative chronic diagnoses limits people to believing that they are stuck with this illness for the remainder of their lives and thus cannot get better, lessen their symptoms and get back to leading a worthwhile life.

You can change your behaviours. You can thrive.

Dynamic Focus

When facilitating a person towards recovery, the dynamic created between yourself and the person you are assisting has some important components. It is well known that the quality of the dynamic between people is incredibly important in building trust. With trust, one can be a support, a source of worth while information and someone to confide in. If this dynamic is not built well, there is no point in having any answers, methods, skills or knowledge about health. Without trust, it counts for naught.

It is also important to note that once you have trust, you have to have the rest of the skills too, otherwise you are like someone selling the front of the microwave, without the oven part.

To begin building trust, you must prove your ability to listen to another.

Basic listening skills are well documented, and it is redundant for me to go into this here (unless people request it of course – and you can request things for me to explore in the comment section below).

So here is a more advanced concept. The focus of where you listen shifts as the relationship develops. If you imagine yourself and the person you are facilitating facing each other. If the focus is only on the other person, way over there, then you are much like an impartial scientist, observing their experiment. There is no warmth, no care, not you. If the focus is all on you, then who are you there for?

To begin with, the focus should be closer to the other person than yourself. This shows that you have great interest in the other person, and you recognise their higher level of need. However the focus is not just on them, else the other person will only feel scrutinised and you will seem cold.

To build a level of warmth and humanity into your discussion, include some aspects of your life in the conversation. There are somethings that are not appropriate to discuss, and some things you may not want to discuss. Know these boundaries before you begin the conversation, and go by feel as your conversations become more complex. For example, I often tell people I have a child, a partner, have difficulties with my life and so on. Ensure your focus does not shift to being on you. You are telling the person you are facilitating towards recovery this information for a reason. You must develop the meta mind such that you can observe the conversation and ensure you keep that focus more over there than here.

As the relationship develops and the other person needs less help, the focus can shift closer to the mid-point between you. As the focus approaches the middle, it is now important to recognise that your role as facilitator is nearing an end. What you do next depends on if you are in a paid position, a peer or a friend.

Moving through anger

Emotions can exist in three states. Basic, secondary and complex.

When anger is basic, it simply states that your boundaries have been crossed. When it is secondary, it usually means you don’t know how to respond to other emotions, so you feel out of control. Anger is then used to regain your perceived loss of power such that you can feel in control again.

When anger is complex, it’s source is hard to grasp, often leaving you guilty/shamed that you feel angry or you find yourself trapped in your anger. For example, you may be angry that a loved one has passed on, leaving you in a mess. You feel guilty that you are angry at the deceased, which complicates your ability to do anything about your situation. In this scenario, what you are really angry about is that you feel trapped in your situation, not that your loved one escaped, or created the situation you are in. In effect, you are transferring your anger at something intangible to something tangible. You can’t affect the state of life/death of your loved one – thus you feel powerless and your anger emotion you raised to rebalance your power is misdirected and thus can’t help.

Complex anger is often mixed up with other complex emotions, such as complex guilt, leaving quite a maze of emotions and perceived causation of events for you to navigate before you can find a path to happiness.

Ceasing stagnation

Stagnation is not a country filled with male reindeer. It is where there is a lack of movement, such as your life going nowhere. This can be due to not doing anything, or doing the same things in a closed circle repeating loop.

It is all well and good finding that you have stagnated, but how do you break it? How do you start moving when you have stopped, and how to you find a direction so that you no longer travel in small circles?

The answer to this is to find a goal you want to achieve.

Let us pause to understand the goal. The point of the goal is to head you somewhere other than where you are. To achieve this goal, you will have to change those habits that have lead to stagnation, those aspects of your life that have lead to immobility, and probably some or all of your friends, who enable this lack of movement.

So this goal must be pretty impressive to make you want to put all this work in.

To find an impressive goal, an inspirational destination, it is important to include emotional elements in the goal. Each of us has a key emotion that we are trying to find – love, comfort, joy, safety, self importance and so on. The goal must be a physical means of attaining this emotion in abundance. Often when we talk about goals, it is things like “get a job” or “move out” or “be around more people”. These are often given to get people off our backs and look like we are doing something. Sometimes these are goals we actually want, but we don’t know why we want them.

To examine the goal “get a job”. What is it about the job that you want? Is it going to a work place? Is it the money? Is it the structure? Is it… and what about those aspects contains the feeling you are hoping to get? If it is the going to a work place, is it because you don’t want to be home? This may mean aspects of safety or discomfort. If it is the money, does money represent freedom, status, power…?

Understanding the emotion behind the stated goals can help us understand why these goals are important to us.

For some, there is no clear indication of what we might want. That is fine. Instead of working backwards from the goal to the emotion, we can start with the emotion and work forwards to the goal.

To begin this process, consider what you have now and it will tell you what you want. Part of this assessment includes physical things, such as shelter, availability of food, physical health and other very basic needs. There is little point talking to a dying person about there relationship with their mother when you should be putting pressure on a gaping wound! So addressing these basic needs is fundamental, but should not be the only focus.

The next focus in understanding where you are is to look at the people you rely on and those who rely on you. This can give you a good idea about balance, give and take, and if you actually like this part of your situation.

Once the shape of your current physical and social being is known, the next things to focus on is your current emotional being. I don’t mean current as in right this second, I mean as a trend over time. Consider the basic questions of “are you happy”? If you are happy and content, why change?

The odds are though, especially if you are reading this, you aren’t happy and content. You itch to change, and something is up that prompts you to do this. So look at yourself and work out what emotion is the dominant one. Do you feel safe? Do you feel loved? Do you feel worthy of receiving good things? Can you accept compliments? There are a whole stack of questions that can help elicit the fundamental emotions behind your current state of being. There is a fair chance that a negative emotions is dominant. It may even be hiding behind depression or some other confounding state. It is important to figure it out.

Once you have established the dominant emotion, this gives an indication of your goal. For example, if your dominant emotion is fear, then your goal is safety. If it is grief, then your goal is securing joy in what is here. If it is anger, then it is to change the status of power. If it is sadness, then your goal is to re-discover joy.

Sometimes it is hard to find a dominant emotion as there are no emotions. That is okay. Your goal is quite likely to be to find your emotions.

Once you have a basic idea of what your goal needs to feel like, you can start to create physical representations of those goals. That is, when I am safe, my world looks like… When I feel joy in what I have, I am … etc. This gives the basis for something to aim for, something to gauge the changes you are going to make. After all, if you want to change your life, you need to make changes in your life.

Complacency and Opportunity

My last post ran away from where I had intended it to go. Oh well, these things happen.

What I wanted to talk about was complacency and opportunity.

When life seems comfortable, we don’t often work to improve our lives. We become complacent. That is, we do not see the need to work on changing our lives because our lives seem to be in a good place. Why rock the boat? Why begin walking a path that will lead to discomfort?

Yet it is at these times that we are often the most resourced and capable of managing change.

On the flip side, when things are not going well, we are the most likely to change. This is reflected in crisis theory, which I have covered before (find it here). In short, we are most ready to change when we discover that all our usual methods have failed.

By it’s very nature, when things are not going well, we are usually under resourced for change and highly stressed and agitated. We tend to see the world as out to get us, that we are useless, incapable and not worthy of a good life. We become our own worst enemy.

In the book “Global Brain” by Howard Bloom, he points out that people can be seen as cells in the body made up of the network of humanity. Much like cells in our own personal bodies, if we deem ourselves as ‘surplus population’ we begin apoptosis, that is programmed cell death. We see ourselves as ‘surplus population’ when we feel unneeded, unwanted, unworthy and unlovable.

The most common method of apoptosis for humans is isolation (not seeing people), abusing our own resource use (not eating /over eating, not sleeping / over sleeping etc) and damaging relationship with other cells that can help us. This will then lead to illness and/or risk taking activities. These can then lead to death.

[I have noticed that this blog has got away from me again. Time to bring it back to where I wanted it to go.]

To change course from apoptosis, one must begin to over rule the temptation to minimise ourselves. We must look embrace our importance in the world. I will cover ontological security in the future. We must learn to love ourselves again.

To avoid going down this path at all, we must change the way we see adversity. Life not going well for us is not an indication of our worthlessness, nor a sign that we only deserve bad things. Instead see adversity as evidence that we have opportunities to become greater than we ever dreamed we could be. Adversity is a challenge to live and to grow.

Complacency, then, is the enemy of recovery. It prompts us to feel that we have reached the peek of what we can be.

By all means, when you feel complacent, enjoy life. You deserve it, you deserve the break. Just don’t mistake this life as the best, and don’t be afraid to expand and extend your life at the risk of ending this streak of comfort.

The rules of the game

In times of peace and prosperity, most humans relax and enjoy themselves. It is only those who were born in conflict that find it hard to sit still. It isn’t because we don’t like peace, it is because we don’t really feel comfortable with the rules. Often we will choose the rules we know over the peaceful situation with rules we don’t know.

As we humans grow up, we learn rules that allow us to survive. In effect, life is a game and those who learn the rules the best survive the best. We don’t all play the same game though. Some of us are playing tic-tac-toe, others are playing chess and others are playing real life mine sweeper. The game we grow up in has a large say in  the rules we learn and how well we can do whilst still playing the same game.

The game is not fixed and we can hop from one game to another. Sometimes that is not necessarily our choice, and sometimes it is our choice. The hardest shift isn’t the change of game, but learning the new rules. Frequently we will prefer to hop back to the old game, even if that game is unpleasant, rather than learn new rules.

You may have noticed in your travels in your life repeats of the same pattern, or avoidance of things that are new. When you do something new, you feel uncomfortable and look for ways to use your old rule set to make the new system easier to comprehend, or look like the game you are use to. When that can’t be done, you feel very uncomfortable and try to escape.

It is learning how to adapt to new games, learn new rules and feel comfortable with those rules for that game that denotes good recovery practice.

Mother, will you help me build the wall?

My mother is a far more difficult thing to talk about. For a start, she is still alive and may be directly affected by what I say. Additionally, she is no longer who she was as I grew up. There are still traces and undercurrents, but a lot has changed.

Mother was conceived in Papua New Guinea during world war two. Her parents decided that the didn’t want her to be born or raised there. They had liked Australia, where they had passed through on the way through to Papua New Guinea, so thought they would move back to there and settle down to create their family.

Her parents were quite old to be starting a family, although not the oldest parents in the world. The generation gaps in my family are quite large. My grandmother was 35 when she had my mother. My mother was 28 when she had me. I was 28 when I had my daughter. I wonder if this trend will continue, or if it will be the trend of my daughters mother, who tends to have only 20 year generation gaps. Time will tell.

Mother grew up in a time of hefty discrimination. She was a first generation Australian, with a heavy East European accent trying to fit into a very white Australia who didn’t like foreigners. Her parents put her in the best schools, even though there was no expectation that she would be able to do anything with her educations. Best schools usually mean rich kids, with rich attitudes and loads of privilege. Mothers family were not rich. Mother lost her European accent at school and speaks excellent English.

Two years after her birth, her brother was born. Mostly he doesn’t play a part in my life, so I’m going to skip his side of the family. I just want to flag that he exists. He currently resides in the United States of America, near the border of a country that does not call itself American on the off chance that people would think it is the USA.

Mother was often used by her parents as the mediator, because neither parent would listen to the other. This was quite a strain on her, especially when she was dragged out of bed to do so late at night.  Her father interacted with her via the intellectual medium. She always struggled to be as brilliant as her father, but always felt that she fell short. Her mother wanted her to become a Princess Dianna clone. She struggled against this for a long time, feeling that she was worth more than just a pretty smile and a rich husband. Her mothers communication style was guilt, shame and manipulation.

When mother was 19, she moved out and convinced her embattled father to leave too. He never moved back with his wife and not too long afterwards they divorced. Mothers brother was left behind and shortly after graduating university moved to the USA. He does not talk about his life with his mother.

My mother excelled at high school and progressed to the end of year ten doing subjects such as chemistry, physics, mathematics, latin and english. After year 10, she was expected to only participate in domestic classes, since she was destined to become a house wife. This was the school model and her mother agreed with it. Mother did not.

Mother worked for an insurance company, where her skills and abilities were quickly recognised and put to use. She was placed in charge of a section, but not paid for the extra responsibility, because she lacked a male appendage. When one of the men wanted a promotion, she was demoted to fit him in, since he had a family to support. She was still expected to help him do his job, and still not paid any additional money. This was fairly typical of her employment history, even to this day. She shows promise, she is passed over, and then she leaves.

Mother grew up being taught that she was better than most people. It is a waste of time being friendly with the little people, because they just want to tear you down. What you are supposed to do is aspire to those greater than you, so be friendly to them so you can become elevated. The paradox here is that if they are like you, they will want nothing to do with you.

I, too, was taught this superiority complex. I work hard not to let it interfere with my life. I don’t always succeed.

My mother met my father at a friends party. This has been discussed in my fathers section. Mother was quite blown away by my father, but also quite wary of his girlfriend. They didn’t see each other for several years until mother went to night school to learn more stuff. Here she met my father and she would give him rides to school on her scooter. Slowly their relationship developed and they moved in together (father was no longer seeing the girlfriend, so was single). Mother says that she helped build a more complete man out of him. She describes him as brilliant in so many ways, but completely incapable in so many others.

She became quite frustrated that he couldn’t keep a job. He would get them, easily enough, but would not keep them. This was generally due to him being too smart and not being able to keep his mouth shut. She told me he went for a job with IBM, who did an IQ test on him. He scored way over 150, but he refused to swear their allegiance above and beyond his family.

They planned to have a family, and soon after had my brother. They were together for a good 6 years before making this choice. My brother was born and he was bright, capable and full of energy. Mother found that fathers lack of stable employment was creating quite a strain. Also, he wanted to sit around and talk philosophy too much, leaving the burden of parenting and domestic chores to her. Not long after I was born, she left him and aborted my sister. I don’t tend to think of her much.

She moved back in with her mother and tried to rebuild her life. She spent a few years hanging around a mustached man. I don’t know why that relationship ended, but she met my step father at a party not too long after. He was a ring in from a different state and they had some fun together. He came back about a year later and they had some more fun. He talked about moving his company to the East. Mother thought he meant to do that to move to her and offered to move to the West instead.

It turns out he was considering moving to the East because that was where the business was. He didn’t correct her. We figured it out much later.

So when I was half way through my third year of life, we moved West. She stayed with him for fourteen years. The last few years were very tricky and I was used quite a few times to help her process her feelings and emotions. Deja vu? She finally decided to leave him in the middle of my mid year twelfth year exams. I said to mother “I really do understand why you are leaving him, but your timing sucks”. I stopped taking year twelve seriously after that while I supported my mother through the separation.

She still defends his lack of involvement in the family to this day. I find that somewhat challenging, although I see this more as a reflection of how little she thinks she is worth that she thought he was as good as she could get.

When I was twenty two I met this wonderful girl. She moved in with me and for various reasons I moved out of the share house I was in. We moved back to my mothers house as we were not yet in a position where we could move in together alone, or move back to her parents house (who were still trying to work out which of us was taking advantage of whom – I think it was her taking me).

I had just secured a full time position at a company I had been doing some part time work at, and still servicing the customers I had for my computer business when things came to a head. I was quite horribly sick (a man cold!), had done a full shift at work, then left to fix a computer at a private residence. I got back home at about 2 am, cold, sore, tired and somewhat cranky. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw my mothers light was on and thought “oh crap.”

I went into the house and checked in on her. Her bedside light was out and she was on the “wrong side” of the bed reading from the other bed side lamp. She said “I have been waiting for you to come home and fix my lamp. It is very late.” It doesn’t sound like much, written down, but she had implied that I was guilty for her being awake so late, that all of my hard work was not as important as taking care of her and quite a few other things. Guilt and manipulation.

I asked “Why? Can’t you change a light bulb?” and went to bed quite angry. It took about another hour to calm down enough to sleep.

In the morning I slept in. My partner had got up and was hanging washing when my mother came out and asked her to wake me up as it was time for me to mow the lawn and cut a tree down and I had slept enough. My partner, who had consoled me the night before, layed into my mother pointing out how hard I worked, how late I had worked, how sick I was and how hard it had been for me to sleep being as pissed off as I was. I woke up to this argument and separated the two. I pointed out I was too sick to do garden chores.

The next day, mother informed me she was giving me until the end of the month to move out as she didn’t have to accept that from my partner. I pointed out the end of the month was four days away. She said she knew. I didn’t talk to her again for another two and a half years.

When I did come back, she slowly began to change who she was into who she is now. I know she doesn’t see the difference, but it is there and it is enough.

I am my fathers son

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.