19 November 2017

Awake in the dark I watch how my thoughts wander and get lost. I am thinking this and that and the darkness just sits there around me, unrelenting. I hear my father's voice from our last phone call, the way he mentioned that - by the way - his back pain is now under control. He describes briefly how he solved this particular problem, the way he solves all problems, by defining its cause. I listen to his short lecture on pelvic muscle exercises, delivered with all the confidence of someone who is in no doubt that I certainly wouldn't know the first thing about it. 
And on we go. Once you know the cause, the rest is easy etc.: Once you can confirm it's a virus, you wait for your immune system to get rid off it. Once you identify the error in a specific calculation, you go back to the step you need to correct. Once you realise you said something rude, you simply apologise for it and move the fuck on. How often have I listened to this. Did it ever make sense.
Did I know that my brother, his youngest child (he is 58), has been suffering from back ache for years (yes)? And what has he done about it? Obviously nothing. What is wrong with us. And so on.

In other people's families I have often observed the moment in time when the parent, the father, becomes the child, when his adult children start to explain things to him the way he once explained life to them (and not just about the internet). When the adult children wait - impatiently or patiently - for him getting on with old age. And depending on the secret coordinates of a lifetime, developing a new state of empathy, friendship, gratitude even.

We haven't reached that stage yet. I doubt we ever will. When I wait for him to get out of the car and slowly walk up the three steps to his front door, the same three steps that made him fall down twice in three years out of sheer spite or maybe due to an architectural error, I am just three steps behind the man who has commandeered us around and who has never shown patience or any sign of leniency. He has no time to discuss my sister whom he stopped talking to (or vice versa) months ago. He has identified the problem, female hormones, and come to think of it, the symptoms have been obvious for a long time. So no, nothing he can do.  A simple equation, identify the problem, define the solution. Move on. Leave her behind. 

I catch my breath but in a way so he cannot notice. Better stay neutral. What if I am next. Or maybe I have already been solved out of the equation. Your voice sounds perfectly healthy, you always had a vivid imagination, he tells me. Always had a hard time accepting the science behind a problem.

My daughter, however, his first and most distant grandchild, this enigmatic young woman who moves freely across the globe, working in far away places he never showed any interest in, switching between languages he cannot speak, she can twist him around her little finger, scold him like a naughty boy and he flirts, clumsily and hopelessly. They don't meet often but when they do, I watch with envy.

Today I am tired. In ten days, I will turn 60. Winter is here, dark and damp and cold. I should allow my memories to become gentler, softer. I know. But today, there is nothing I am looking forward to. 

compulsory Sunday walk in the rain


  1. For whom does memory soften with age? Certainly not for me. It only compounds, it would seem. And with interest.
    Your writing is unbelievably beautiful, Sabine. They way you can convey mood and meaning astounds me.
    And may I say that if you were like your father, you might have moved on years ago. Problem identified, solution found, there you go.
    But obviously, you have a heart and a soul.

  2. How awful to have your illness so casually dismissed, especially by someone you could reasonably expect to care about you deeply. And how easy it is for men to write off things they don't understand about women as caused by over active imaginations and hormones. And yet - he produced you! I hope you'll feel better by your birthday. Happy day in advance...

  3. Oh ... fathers. Mine was a bully - and it was a huge liberation to realise that I didn’t have to love him. I have, since he died, been mildly curious about what made him into the man I knew, but then decided I have better things to do with my time. I have no idea if this helps you in your complex relationship with your father - but I found it freeing to accept that he was the way he was and I didn’t have to agree, or kowtow, to him. There is, briefly, grieving for the relationship you’ve never had - but this is nothing compared with the years I spent wishing he was different.

  4. I hardly ever write about my father. I guess I love him on some level; a level so basic that I'll never understand it or come to terms with it. However, I certainly didn't like him. He was selfish in a way men were allowed to be back in the bad old days. They wasted their humanity on selfishness.

  5. It sounds very wearing, your relationship with him. A heavy thing to carry, yet you do.

    My relationship with my father was toxic, a good use for the word in this instance. He was a mean and distant alcoholic. I only remember two short instances in my life when he was kind. And never, in the 68 years of his life, did he ever once hold my hand.

  6. I'm sorry your relationship with your father is so complicated and painful. It's very sad that he doesn't really know how to understand other people's pain, and worse that he actually dismisses it. Some people are broken and have no empathy. It is truly their loss.

  7. Thinking about all you wrote. Looking at the photo of you and your brother and your father walking in the rain. Wondering who took the photo. Recalling the last time I saw my father before he died and how relieved I felt when he died and how relieved I am that our last visit did not produce a sad or negative memory. It was more like a truce, and then suddenly the war was over forever. I was so tired of feeling hurt by him by the time that he died at age 89. Exhausted. I'm reminded, too, that a first cousin asked him (soon after my mother died in 1994) which daughter he thought was most like him. He told her that I was most like him. It didn't appear that way to me. Perhaps he was not comfortable with the part of himself that he saw in me. The part that I was free to be, and he wasn't. Thank you for always writing from your honest heart, even on these dark, damp, cold November days before the turning point that brings more light once again.

  8. Incredibly beautiful writing Sabine. One can feel your sadness...it’s palbable.

    Why do we love people who do not earn it? Who only take? Why do some people lack empathy completely? Trying to understand is good but at what cost? Hugs to you and to the little girl inside of you.

  9. I sympathize. with your relationship with your father, with being awake at night and your mind going over old old old things, why am I thinking about this when I should be sleeping. my father didn't have conversations, he lectured. and when he wasn't lecturing you, he was being verbally abusive telling you what a terrible person you were and what would their friends think. both parents social climbers who couldn't quite reach the height they aspired to. As soon as I was out of their house I cut off contact for several years. eventually he had a stroke and lost his ability for speech. by the time he regained it, the experience had humbled him completely and we eventually reconciled. he's dead now, another massive stroke did him in. you listen without responding in a way I never could once I learned to stand up for myself.

  10. My father was a difficult, angry man. I like him better now that he is dead than I ever did when he was alive. I can see him now as a flawed, wounded man; something I could never do when he was alive.

    If only life was so easy as identify problem, fix problem. So many are like that. Women seem to understand better that life is often unfixable and we need to figure out a way to carry on in spite of this.