Fathers

Sleep Well Woody Allen

In 1997’s Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen’s central character said “all people know the same truth; our lives consist of how we choose to distort it.” There are other standouts from that movie – “baseball’s easy because it has rules” and “I’m a guy who can’t function well in life but can in art.” Now that the proverbial has hit the fan for old Woody, it’s hard not read more into them than I had before. I wonder if he’s been mulling them over as much as I have in the last week. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know how he’s really feeling, but I do know this: I don’t want him to have done what he’s accused of. I don’t want him to be a paedophile.

You’d have to be living in a parallel universe not to know that allegations he molested his daughter Dylan Farrow have resurfaced, 20 years after they were originally made public. Everyone seems to have an opinion, despite none of us being there to know exactly what happened, but it’s not looking good for him is it? Then again he doesn’t exactly make it easy for himself – the awkwardness of his demeanour, both onscreen and in real life; his reclusiveness; his obsessive need to focus on his sexual inadequacies in explicit detail in almost every screenplay; not to mention the marriage and children to a woman who was once his stepdaughter. These are things that are at first glance a little startling; with concentrated effort they can quickly be seen as totally freakish behaviour. The more you think about it, the more suspect it becomes. So did he do it? Well, I guess so. I will always believe the victim, that’s what we must do.

And yet there is a little part of me that’s holding back. Not because I disbelieve Dylan Farrow or because I’m a Woody Allen fan and don’t want to see an idol disgraced, but because we live in a world that is already so suspicious of the motives of men and I don’t want yet another story confirming that suspicion is justified. I have men in my life who are wonderful, kind and honest men who would never hurt a child, yet every time a paedophile is discovered they too are judged. And they know it.

It is particularly apparent in the way we view older men. I have a father about the same age as Woody Allen who is fascinated by little children. Where my mother is disinterested in the offspring of anyone unrelated to her, my father can watch children for hours delighting in their company. He is not creepy, he is not predatory, and he’s absolutely not interested in them for any sinister motives. He does however live in the moment, have an incorrigible mischievous streak, and is a big fan of play. He lights up around tiny people and always has. He loves observing how they interact with the world; it is something he has passed on to me. The difference is that as a woman I am fairly free to interact with children without causing alarm, whereas my father – my kind, genuine, gentle father who children gravitate toward – keeps his distance. He’s respectful, cautious and aware. He wouldn’t dream of approaching a child unless he knew both the parents and the child themselves were okay with his presence – after all he was once the protective father of a little girl watching out for bad men. He still is.

But as his daughter, it makes me sad. It makes me sad that my father has to modify his behaviour because we live in a world where men and children are a suspicious combination. It makes me sad that the children themselves don’t get to benefit from the wisdom of his years and the silliness of his humour. It makes me sad that I can’t make him a grandfather when he’d be such a very good one.

So back to Woody, and another of his quotes: “It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.”

I really hope for the sake of my father that Woody Allen gets a good night’s sleep every night.

This is NOT Woody Allen!

Semi-Precious Moments

I owe a few people an apology. Actually it’s probably quite a few people, so I’m just going to go with a blanket “I’m sorry” to anyone I’ve ever accused of over sharing and be done with it. Turns out whatever the reason was for me attacking your need to disseminate all aspects of your private life in public was nothing compared to my latest discovery on YouTube.

This morning as I was making my usual way through procrastination central, I stumbled across videos of women telling their partners they’re pregnant and…well…I’m kind of horrified. I’m not talking Maury Povich-style “you ARE the father” videos. I’m talking sweet, loving moments between couples who are ultimately pleased about becoming parents. Videos like this:

There are thousands of them, the majority of which have titles like Telling My Husband I’m Pregnant – *Emotional* or Jake Finds out He’s Going to Be a Daddy – Beautiful!!!  I sat through a few, my heart unmoved by what I was watching, and all I could think was “what are you people doing?”

I’ve never been ‘with child’ so maybe I am totally romanticising the whole concept of pregnancy, but there’s something about this I just can’t handle. I understand being excited about being pregnant, and I understand wanting to share that joy. I even get filming the moment you tell the rest of the family you’re pregnant, because some of the grandparents’-to-be reactions are genuinely laugh out loud funny. But that very first time you share the news with your partner, before the pregnancy becomes something that belongs to everyone else, don’t you want five minutes together to say “this might be happening to us” that no one else gets to share? Isn’t that one of the few moments of pregnancy that belongs just to the two of you? If you’re going to let everyone in at that point, why not just invite them to the conception as well?

For those who want children, then this is arguably the moment between a couple; the point at which they realise they may well be bringing another human into the world. Discounting intervention from fertility specialists and pressure from the mother-in-law to give her grandchildren, no one else is actually involved. So why are they stopping to film it for the internet? Is it a competition between females to see whose bloke will prove himself the better man?

I know we live in a world where the line between private and public is fuzzy, enough has been written about how we overshare our lives. But this seems to be a very clear example of where we’ve got our priorities all arse about face, and I’m starting to feel a queasy sadness about what we’ve lost. Perhaps you could call it mourning sickness.

This is more than just sentimentally holding on to keepsakes that have special meaning. Mementos are different. My home is full of little knick knacks that hold value for no one other than me (although I’d probably draw the line at turning the urine covered pregnancy test into a framed wall décor like quite a lot of these women seem intent on doing). Aside from these videos being pretty boring viewing given they’re mostly of guys dumbfounded by both impending fatherhood and the fact that they’re looking into an iPhone rather than their partner’s face, the moment being recorded is actually being altered by the presence of the camera. If you’re busy concentrating on the Director’s Cut, making sure you’ve pressed record, worrying whether the sound is okay, that you’ve got your script ready and you’re both in frame, you’re not exactly giving the father your undivided attention. And he’s not giving the moment his undivided attention either based on how many videos include the line “are you filming this?” All you’ve ended up with is footage of two people dealing with life changing news, aware that their behaviour is being recorded for probable mass consumption. Way to ensure the reaction is anything but natural.

The thing is we don’t actually need permanent reminders of everything that happens to us. We have memories and the ability to tell stories – and a whole lot more can be evoked by a loving retelling than can ever be gleaned by sitting through a home movie. Consider it the real life version of ‘the book was better’. And okay one day you may forget that memory due to age or brain function, but at that point no YouTube video is really going to help you. If you are experiencing something that means so much to you that you want to remember every single second, then participate in it without the distraction of the viewfinder. Be present for the moment itself, not just the instant replay, because right now you’re somewhere between participant and audience and that kind of sucks.

Frankly I can’t help thinking we’d all be better off putting down our phones and just enjoying the experience of making memories we’d hate to forget, rather than footage of what might have been.

An Open Letter to Tony Abbott’s Daughters

Dear Louise, Bridget & Frances,

Hi girls. You don’t know me but I know you. Only from TV of course, but I still feel an affinity with you. I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. I guess it’s pretty hard to stay anonymous when your dad’s running for Prime Minister, hey? It’s just that I’ve been watching these past few months as you’ve stood loyally beside him, and I really feel the need to reach out to you and say you’re not alone – I too have an embarrassing dad.

I know all too well what it’s like to have a loose cannon for a father, although I admit from the outset you girls have it way worse than I do. My dad isn’t in the public eye. No one other than my mother and brother generally hear the daft things he comes out with, unless he’s saying it on facebook. Oh god, there’s a thought. Your father doesn’t have an account does he? I can just imagine what he’d be like commenting on your photos:

 “Hey Lou, what boat did that Asian mate of yours come in on? Must‘ve been on Julia’s watch. LOL!”

“Bridget, is that your boyfriend in the pink shirt? LMAO, poofy much?!”

“Franny, is that guy wearing a Jesus Is My Homeboy t-shirt? OMG! WHERE CAN I GET ONE???”

No, you need to keep him well away from facebook. Social media and embarrassing dads go together about as well as teenage girls and Bacardi Breezers. They get silly and uncontrollable. I learned that the hard way, trust me. My father now has his own fan base amongst my facebook friends because he’s always divulging personal information about my formative years. They think its endearing; I think its grounds for patricide. I should probably block him altogether now I think about it. But I digress.

My point is I know what it’s like to cringe in anticipation every time your dad opens his mouth in public. I know what it’s like to tense up when an obviously gay waiter serves him in a restaurant, or when the bank teller is Asian and asking too many questions. I know that overweight people are like a red rag to a bull, and women in burkas are…ugh, let’s not go there. Having an unpredictable maniac for a father can be so damn mortifying, can’t it? I know there’s an unwritten rule that dads are supposed to embarrass their daughters any chance they get, but some put more effort in than others. I’ve wanted the ground to swallow me up on more than one occasion. The day dad told a ‘woolly woofer’ joke to two blokes not realising they were actually a couple was a highlight, as was the time he mistook a man’s wife for his mother and made some comment along the lines of “what time do you have to have her back at the home?” Groan. The man needs a muzzle.

It’d be easy to write them off as old farts from another generation, but your dad’s 20 years younger than mine. I guess that actually makes my dad pretty groovy by comparison, seeing as he supports marriage equality and believes women are capable of making informed decisions about their reproductive systems without state or religious intervention. Maybe a life of ardent Catholicism has aged your dad prematurely. All that altar wine can’t be good for you. Thankfully my dad has never actually described my virginity as “a precious gift”, although he has jokingly offered cash incentives to any bloke who can successfully put a stop to my lesbianism. At least I think it was a joke. Who can tell? Dad jokes are seldom actually funny. And I don’t think he’d even know there’s a vaccine available for cervical cancer, let alone actively seek to discourage me from getting it (just on the virginity thing – did your dad even know the status of your virginity at the time? I mean, I tell my dad virtually everything, but we’ve never had that conversation).

Look, I know your dad’s not all bad; I’m sure neither of our fathers actively set out to offend. But the difference is mine does occasionally give the impression of not wanting to insult people. I’m not sure ol’ Tony’s ever bothered to concern himself with what’s considered offensive. I mean that thing he said the other day about marriage equality being “radical change based on the fashion of the moment” as opposed to a matter of human rights was a real doozy. Guess that’ll make for a pretty interesting Christmas lunch if your aunt’s there this year, huh? Even worse than the Christmas my dad told a ‘curry muncher’ joke in front of my brother’s Sri Lankan girlfriend. Oh, the memories… 

And then there’s that thing about turning back the boats, despite the majority of Australians wanting to see a refugee solution that’s far more humane. We all know he must have been joking when he said it because no one in their right mind would think that was smart policy, but it made him sound like he’d just flown in from 1954. Surely he’s not that out of touch with the rest of the country?

Even the day my dad inexplicably gave the finger to a couple I’d waved at seconds prior because he assumed they were friends (they were actually clients, but even so, who spontaneously gives the finger to strangers?!) pales in comparison to Tony’s sex appeal comment. Good thing Mark Latham waded in to the fracas with an even bigger clanger. Lucky that dude only has sons!

You have got one up on me though. You’ve managed to convince your dad not to wear the budgie smugglers in public, whereas I’ve never been able to convince dad his Speedos aren’t a good look. God knows what it will take to get my father out of them. Scissors, probably.

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My father. Like I said, I feel your pain.

Anyway girls, my advice is to try not to let it get the better of you. A lot of us have complete nutters for fathers, minus the ever present media attention of course. Which I guess actually points to the fact that none of us really have any idea what it’s like to be you. Except perhaps Jessica Rudd. You  wouldn’t believe the crap her dad puts on twitter…

Best of luck reining the old boy in between now and September 7,

Carrie