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Two ages of my father

One of the reasons I find Mad Men sublime and compelling viewing is the number of ways in which the character of Don Draper reminds me of my father. Obviously one was a real person and the other is a fictional character; they worked in different industries and if you compare feature by feature they are not the same. (And my father was warm. He was playful and generous. That deserves to be remembered too, just as much as the sadder, darker stuff.)

But yet... there is something in the expression, the styling, the movement (such as Don Draper's attachment to women, drinking and cigarettes) which recalls my father. Which repeatedly stops me and makes me do a double-take, like catching sight of your image reflected in a dark shop window.

So I watch Mad Men. And am transported into a world which I only inhabited tangenitally, and as I watch the fictional character stumbling towards his own age and mortality and fall from grace, I remember vividly the one I haven't seen for such a long time. It makes me wistful and nostalgic. It calls out my longing and my grief, the phantom-limb ache of absence. It makes me imagine him in the world, re-cast in another life.

Imperfect as they are, sometimes all that is left is photographs.

This is my father in the 1960s, in his early twenties, the beginnings of his career.

my father in his twenties

This version of him appears most often in other people's tales. The older I grew the less he knew how to be playful with me. Our relationship was a series of absences and disjointed re-connects. He felt guilty, I think. The more I grew, the less he seemed to know how to just be with me. There was profound love, and moments of pure joy, but (in my memory at least), little ease.

This is my father at 40.

my father at 40

He is still an exceptionally charming and handsome man. I know when he has come to fetch me after school because of the way the faces of all the mothers are not turned towards the schoolgate, but him, even though his own face always seems detached from awareness of their attention. In my memory he is always solitary, leaning back against some tree or parked car, smoking. Or when it was colder, hands in the pockets of his quilted blue jacket, waiting. He is the solitary rock against which the wave of collective longing breaks. And because I am deep in my own romance, the moment I see him he is the focus of all points of light.

(And then because life has always been farcical, there is the thing I never saw. My mother in the background, across the street somewhere. Crouching behind a tree, or a parked car, just checking. Making sure that he hadn't got drunk or forgotten to come when he promised he would).

At 40 my father is cynical. He has been chewed over, weathered by disappointments and the weight of responsibility and consequence. He is still warm. He is still humorous. But the carefree cheerfulness of ten, even five years earlier, is gone. He is actively, grimly, marching towards his own demise and the thing that will precipitate his death is like a ticking timebomb, hidden inside his brain and waiting.

I look at that picture and a wave of sadness washes over me. Makes me want to craft a different end for him. That imagines his death as a release, as a Houdini-like escape from the world. In my mind he has never stopped existing, he has only moved away.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
trinity_gal
Nov. 5th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)
So sad, at such young age for both of you.

(I clicked on 'father' tag and saw pic of him and a baby which suspiciously looks like Helena)
yiskah
Nov. 5th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
This whole post is beautifu. Especially the part in brackets.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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