Saturday, 23 May 2009

Cake Break

Yes, I'm still around. I'm trying to write a letter to my aunt. She sent me a very sweet letter about three months ago, "explaining" why my father never got in touch with me. Turns out my old man was fibbing again, this time about my mother, but I can't really say this to a woman who has now lost both of her siblings and is worried about her own husband's ill health.

So I'm struggling with a diplomatic letter that doesn't go into to my father's prevarications. This is taking some time, so for those of you who are Cake Wreck fans (I know I am!), here's a link to a clever (and mostly grammatically correct) quiz from another Cake Wrecks fan . I'm a Drunken Plaid Cake which is about right, although the Steak Cake comes quite close...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Where is the life that late he led?

I have been circling around this subject for days, wondering how to write about it. Re-reading Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy" was not a good idea.... I will circle some more.

Last week, I was watching an episode of Lark Rise to Candleford a television series loosely (very loosely) based on the novels by Flora Thompson which were favourites of my maternal grandmother. The series itself is gentle and charming, not all that much to do with the original stories, but pleasant enough viewing. This episode focused on the fussy Pratt sisters who run a dress shop. When their prodigal father showed up, begging for forgiveness for deserting them as children, I felt a familiar sinking in my stomach and knew long before the denouement that he would betray them again.

My father's memorial service took place in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. It apparently was a grand affair. I knew it was going to take place because my eldest half-sister (from my dad's first marriage) was attending. About a week later, I received a message through where I've been steadily posting my family tree in safe-keeping against the possibility of our home computer going "foom", as it seems to do every couple of years. A very sweet lady from San Francisco was wondering who on earth I was. Apparently she'd come across my family tree during her own family research and, making conversation at my father's service, asked my half-sister and my father's last wife about it. Blank looks. Neither I nor my sister had appeared in the list of relatives in the programme. When the kind lady offered to mail me the order of service, I finally fully understood why.

See, I'd expected some fabrication in my father's obituary. A few years ago, a local newspaper had reported on one of his functions and mentioned the medals on his chest and the fact that he had modestly said: "They're not for anything much." Oh God. They had no idea.

I started to read through the rather lengthy 8x10 pamphlet that had been sent me. My hands first began to shake when I saw the title by his name: Lt.Col. I flipped to the back and was confronted by a two-page (single-spaced) biography which enumerated in glowing adjectives achievement after achievement, heroism after heroism which I knew to be simply not true. I don't know who wrote this thing, but it was a skillful weaving of fact, fiction and half-truth, perfectly credible to anyone who had not known him before his final permanent emigration to the United States. I began to feel a bit queasy, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Whom did he hurt by this deception? Obviously, the many public services (based upon a fraudulent armed forces record and a non-existent Bachelor's Degree at the "prestigious London School of Economics") he performed in San Francisco were real enough. The MBE presented to him as part of the 2006 New Year's Honours List was also genuine; his name appears on the official list. He got that for fund raising, this man that left two women struggling to raise children on their own with creditors clamouring for payment in the wake of his several failed businesses.

Still, it seems to me pointless to wound his widow, the starry-eyed old soldiers of his officers' club, his bereft sister, and my eldest half-sister who wants to believe Daddy was a hero. Oh heavens, luv, so do I...

So here, anonymously, I state for the record: My father was a man of many fine qualities, hobbled by alcoholism and dysfunctional parenting. It breaks my heart to think of how badly he wanted to be a high-ranking, widely admired retired soldier and the lies upon lies needed to make that a reality for him. For the sake of his survivors, I will hold my peace for now. For the sake of his descendants and the man or men who actually earned those medals that they carried in great state in his funeral procession, I will gather the facts of his life together and wait for a few people to die.

Anthony Quinn was asked what he would like God to say when he got to heaven. He replied, "I understand." Oh Dad. I hope that's what God said to you.

A rather more fitting epitaph for my father who used to sing this.