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. 

Just cause

Events happen. They are the things that are perceivable, detectable and observable. Events are physical changes in the world around us.


The fact of an event happening is not related to why it happened. Why is a story we create to help us predict what will come next. We create the idea of causation, suggesting that one event leads to another, and that the second event was “caused” by the first.


Even if this is true, it does not tell us why. It just dictates a string of events.


Why is a far harder concept to grapple with. If “why” is a story, then the story can change. We humans often pick a story that tells us we are bad. Sometimes we tell stories that tell us we are good. Events do not define us as good or bad, only our actions based on our intentions.

The Miracle of Insanity

When sudden irrevocable change happens to an individuals personality, we call this insanity. Unless friends and society deems it a good change, then we call it a miracle.

Why is this?

If we like a change, we often attribute the change to something beyond the person who changed, robbing them of the credit of the effort to be true to themselves, or the them they wish they were. Perhaps because it is a sudden change, we outsiders do not see the effort it has taken to continue the new trend.

If we don’t like the change, we blame the person for it. Why can’t you be nicer? Why are you being mean? Why are you talking to people who aren’t there? Why aren’t you getting out of bed and doing something? Why are you…

What we often want is a miracle to occur to those who we deem insane. Often those who are troubled are also looking for that miracle, whether it be in the shape of a pill, divine intervention or some guru/white knight who can fix it.

We done’t often see the “bad” radical change as a miracle, or the “good” radical change as insanity.

Sudden change is rare and should not be relied upon, any more than winning the lottery to save pay off the mortgage. Instead make a dramatic shift you can maintain, like getting a job re: the mortgage, then slowly improve upon this until it looks like the life you want to have.

A Beginning Part 3

I don’t know anywhere as much about my paternal grandparents. I know that my grandmother was from England, but I don’t know what part, family or other miscellaneous information. What I do know is that she raised two boys and a girl without a husband present. She worked three jobs to make the money to clothe and feed them. This is going to launch into a slightly feminist rant.


In those days, women were looked after. They were either at home, being looked after by their fathers, or they were married and looked after by their husbands. Either way, they didn’t need a real income and so they were paid at two thirds, on average, the wage a man got for the same work. If you couldn’t get a mans job, you got a womans job, which paid even less. If you did get a mans job, then you got passed over for promotion and responsibility, because you don’t really need the job. The men, after all, have a family to feed. Thus three jobs.


My grandfather was missing in action. Not to do with a war, such as world war one or two, but more to do with the war on alcohol, which he was loosing. He also had a gambling war, which he also tended to loose at to. And his attitude to women stank.


My grandmother and aunt were killed when my father was 13. They were run over by a young, rich, drunk driver. He was never prosecuted, I was informed, because his father knew the right people. My grandfather was left with two boys to look after, and had no parenting skills. It was difficult to do as he still had a strong gambling and alcohol addiction.


My grandfather was the kind of man who really enjoyed hanging out at chess cafe’s, drinking and playing chess. Why don’t we have those here anymore, I would like to know. Sitting down to a nice soy chai late and playing an embracing game of chess, or something else, sounds like a fantastic afternoon to me.


My grandfather did have some troubles with the war around the time my father was born. He was in a business, a grocery business, just as the war broke out. His surname was very Austrian-Jewish, so his business dried up and no one would by vegetables from him. His solution to this was to change the name of the business to something more English. Business boomed. At this time, my father was born, and was given this new name. As the war ended, my grandfather changed his name back and my uncle was born. He got the new old name, while my father got the old new name. This made it quite tricky for me to find my grandfather in hospital one time, as I thought he still had my fathers surname.


That most of what I know of the history of my paternal grandparents.


The next bit of history is my parents. You may be surprised to here this, but I have two parents, and some other add in’s on the way.

Despair, dreams and opportunity

Despair is knowing that nothing you can do can move you to another, better, place, and the place you are in now is not good. At this point you stop trying to improve your situation and just coast, collapse, or stop trying. One the one hand, this is deadly to recovery and on the other, it is an important opportunity.


The deadliness lies in the stopping of trying and the death of the hope that your dreams can be achieved, in part or in full. The loss of motivation is also the loss of momentum in moving anywhere you choose to move. To escape/defeat this, revisit your dreams and stop worrying if they are achievable or not, or how it can be achieved. Just discover your dream. A quick and dirty way to do this is to imagine what the world would be like if there was nothing wrong with anything. Now consider the defining difference/differences in this world. Why does this difference make the world better and what about this difference makes the world better? This abstraction is your dream. I’ll cover this in more depth another time.


The important opportunity is recognising that all of the things you have done are not working. This opens you up to trying new things. This is akin to Crisis Theory. When all the things you have done fail, then you are open to trying new things to actually fix the problem instead of just compensating for it.


New ways of solving problems often come from talking to other people – people you don’t normally talk to – or reading books you don’t normally read, or thinking about things you don’t normally think about. Keep in mind safety, but don’t be frozen by fear. Accept reasonable risks and discard the dangerous. More on this another time.

Metamind – Self examination

Another step to knowing the self is to use your meta mind to watch what you are trying to say to others. This is not exclusive to the words you use, but when you say them, what you say, how you say, how you stand, how you dress, who you talk to and who you are trying to influence.

Metamind – Social relationships

To begin to know who you are, begin looking at your social contacts. Use a meta mind – what would an outside observer see, are these people actually good for you, how balanced is the relationship (give vs take), are these the people you wish to be like and so on. This will tell you a bit about yourself. Don’t ask their opinion of you – it doesn’t really inform you of who you are.

Depression

Depression is often brought on by suppression. Discovery what you are suppressing and do something about it. Often this will lead to anger, and we will instinctively do 1 of 2 things.
1) Become aggressive to reclaim our perceived loss of power
2) Suppress our anger because it is uncivilised
Instead, recognise what is suppressing your power and dispassionately plan how to affect it such that your power is rebalanced.


Sometimes dispassion is not possible


Suppression can also be pulling back from some stimuli other than anger that is seemingly too powerful or complicated to deal with. This too must be understood and a dispassionate plan to deal with this must be created and acted upon.


There is always a way.

Definitions, limit problems, and solutions

When we define problems, we often focus more on what we can’t do than what our solution could be. We narrowly define why we can’t instead of opening up the solution space to what we can. Working on understanding a problem means changing how we define the problem such that it includes a solution – whether that solution is direct change, adapting to an unchangeable aspect or completely bypassing the problem.

Defining what the problem is in terms of what is stopping you is an important first step. If you don’t know what the obstacle is and why that prevents progress, you can’t factor into your solution something that addresses that issue. However if this is where our defining the problem stops, we have only defined half of the problem. The interferes with finding a solution.

Looking at what a solution can look like allows the problem to be defined in terms of outcomes and possibilities. For example, I can’t move forwards. Ok, that is good to know. Why? What does forwards look like? How will you know that you have progressed? Is forwards the only way to get to your destination? The first definition – I can’t move forwards – is accurate but limiting. Incorporating these follow up questions into the definition of the problem allows scope for finding a solution that gets the outcome you are after.

Considering the scope of the definition is similarly important. If your definition is too broad, you can paralyze yourself in your analysis of the situation. If you don’t define enough, you limit the space landscape to find a solution. If you can figure out which way you have limited yourself, then you can adjust and compensate.

Feeling your way through an obstacle

Often we are hindered in our progress by an obstacle of some kind. Obstacles come in all kinds of forms, which can make it difficult to identify what has gone wrong. Indirect methods for understanding the obstacle are needed to help us plan how to adapt to that obstacle.

Blindfolded person running a race tied to a sighted person
Unseen challenges can tether us.

If we can’t easily directly identify what that obstacle is, then we need to know how to  indirectly learn about the obstacle. This is where the idea of Feeling the obstacle comes in.

Emotion

Identify what feeling is attached to the obstacle that is hindering you – you are probably feeling frustrated that you are not progressing, but that is secondary to how you feel about the thing that is stopping you. Often fear is attached to the obstacle we can’t identify, or sadness or some other primary feeling.

Missing Step

Identify what point in the obstacle is in your plan. If you know the step preceding where the obstacle is, it makes it easier to identify what is supposed to come next, which facilitates you to identify what the obstruction is. It could be a person, a resource, knowledge or yourself.

Analyse and plan

Combine the emotion you have identified with the missing step to help get a sense of the shape of the obstacle. If you have identified what it is and how you feel about it, you can now start to create a plan to overcome this obstacle.

Sometimes the thing we identify is a symptom of a more complex obstacle which may need a bigger solution.

If you are still stuck, it may be time to call in an expert. Talk through with someone you trust – a friend or therapist – where you got up to, what the wanted outcome is and where you got stuck. Brainstorm what it may be that is stalling your progress and ways to get past it.