Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: Father

Daddy Tick Tock

3:06am. He’s crying. The father groggily wakes and looks at the digital clock on the bedside table. The shrouded corpse far across the bed doesn’t move. He hears the seconds dripping.

3:05am. He’s still crying, even if time has ticked backwards. Confused at first, he realises it was 3:05 then 3:06. But the last three hours sleep? Gone in an eye blink. He’s still crying.

And once his other eye opens, the real day will begin. Post the forced wake up, yesterday’s washing must be hung out, snack for breakfast, shower in between, shave while not being cut by an unsteady hand, the new washing hung out to dry, perhaps most of last night’s housework, then the final reluctant rush to work. She’ll sleep through. And the son too.

Maybe a deep sleep on the bus might save me, he thinks. Yeah! But that’s some hope! Then nine hours of bobbing his head up and down with the interruptions and interrogations every minute or so. Selfish people with trivial wants, urgent phone calls or exaggerated crises. Then he’ll tank ten cups too much of coffee. And on the way home, he’s as jittery as Methuselah the bus driver.

And silently, as a burglar, he enters the empty house of no welcome. A kitchen of bowls, cups, saucers, baby bottles, plastic spoons and congealed saucepans. The lounger with scattered clothes both clean and dirty to be gathered, or worse. Somewhere in the fridge, there is a covered dinner of leftovers. Usually his only friends are the freezer, the microwave and frozen pizza.

He slips hopefully unnoticed to visit to his son. As he creeps through the hallway, she’s there. The mother of their child, back to the nursery door, wordless and childless, a pillar of salt with eyes blazing.

He draws close. He takes the usual half step backwards. Then he pushes down the door handle and skips into the open space. If he’s quick, he’ll glimpse his son. Some days he doesn’t make it that far.

“Perhaps this is the day,” he says to himself. “The day when St Thomas finds out who his father really is.”

There he is, in yesterday’s dirty jumpsuit. A covered head, a small contorted face, dolls hands protruding. “My son?” he thinks. He reaches to touch the arms stretched each side of the cot. He stops his breath to listen to the whispered intake of another’s. But she steps inside, blocks his way, steps into him and shuts the door.

“I didn’t disturb him,” he soundlessly whispers. But the standard admonishment is always administered.

Then the flight back to the kitchen, the clothesline and the laundry. Undresses himself in the dark, and slips unnoticed into bed. To sleep wakefully.

3:06am. He checks. Yes they are now both awake. Dreamily, he finds a small mercy. That cry isn’t the endless one-note scream. He forages for the proper definition: a night terror?

A terror shared both by father and son. For nothing can wake her.

If it was that one-note call from hell, it would be okay. He would be at battle stations ready to repel demon boarders. He’d sprint in the dark. He’d take a nanosecond to snatch the child from cot. Forget about unlatching the cot side. Leave that for later. He’s stolen the baby. For then there’s the piercing shriek that dissolves them both. Then that hour long second to pass inconsolable baby to consoling mother. Then silence. Then the bottomless ocean of post pregnant sleep. Which only subtracts a little more from him.

It’s the mummy cry, he recognises. Not to be confused with the daddy cry. Perhaps that doesn’t exist, he thinks. It might if fathers could become pregnant. No it’s the natural order of things, he muses. But it’s still wrong.

“How can she sleep through this? It’s her cry, not mine.” Perhaps a few more moments and she will wake…

He dunks face first into the first pillow, then smothers the back of his head with the other. He turns over and in on himself. He binds himself in his blanket. And he sets a imaginary alarm. She’ll wake this time and there will be peace for all.

Eyes half open he watches and sleeps. The pile of blankets to his right doesn’t move. She’s going to sleep through.

3:07 He’s still crying. Was there a minute of sleep? He can’t remember. In the dusk, the wall of sheets and blankets opposite is unclimbable. But a small gap, might be enough. If he gently disturbs her, she’ll softly wake, yawn and stretch, hear her baby, go to him, St Thomas will be comforted.

And it will be like the old joke. Now we all can get some sleep. That’s the punchline but what was the joke? He scrabbles across and meets two pillows, one on top of another, pressed down under the blankets. He could burrow through but the danger of course is real. For once awake, there will be the usual set-to in front of the baby.

Yet again it’s come to this, he thinks. Maybe this will be the time, when he’ll be lulled to sleep by his father. And know it.

That would be a welcome addition. Then St Thomas will know he’s not a baby napping stranger. Or an absentee father practising for the future. Knowing that, we both can sleep, peaceably, however long that takes. With his mother grateful for the sleep won.

Now, he’s the reproached lover who has started the long walk back. He approaches the cot, walking on the sides of his feet, approaching unheard. But he’s caught out again, even before unlatching the cot. Same as last night. Same as yesterday. Same as the last three months. Or four?

Through the cry, he hears rustling. He looks back. Blankets, sheets and pillows have flown upwards and outwards. The mother, dishevelled, now a phantom. She strides quickly towards the nursery. He’s too tired to shrug off the blow. He never did duck or flinch before. In case you’re wondering , he rehearses, the mark is shaving rash. That is, if anyone asks.

What is she doing? She’s plucking her head. Pulling her hair out? She’s pulling at her ears. Two or three snatches then, two bright objects appear. She throws the earplugs to the floor.

She bares her white teeth and snarls. “Why didn’t you wake me?” Most of that is lost as St Thomas screams even more loudly. She gathers the child, still robed in her blanket and departs to her queendom.

He’s left standing there, too tired to rub his cheek. He thinks, it’s too late to go back to sleep. But too close to dawn to get up. Same and again.

One happy addition, as they say, but all subtractions from now, he thinks. Twelve weeks, two days out, now, isn’t it? Or is that when mother and child came home? Twelve years after that. Then the six or so teenage years. Chained in a land he will never understand.

3:11. He’s crying.

Your Breath

Watching you stumble from one breath to another, I'm trying to breathe for you. I want to Inhale the oxygen, and pass it through my lungs into yours. And from there into that heart that I love so much. And take your breath and exhale it all for you. But I cannot. All I can do and it seems of no use at all is hold your hand. And wait and hope. We always wanted you to grow to a fullness that would exceed ours. But right now I don't know if that will happen. And my fear is that you'll catch my doubt. A doubt enough for youto quietly slip out that door with perhaps barely a nod to us as you leave.

As for your mother, she doesn't know. And that's what she cannot handle. A little uncertainty perhaps which can be overlooked or postponed. But not the uncertainty that is now resident. She worries that it will take over and we will be living moment to moment. She can't say that to me as it would betoo great a worry. She won't say that to you. Or even afterwards. No matterhow things turn out.

You're not as tough as you thought you were. This illness is your companionnow and ours too. I could advise you:  if you can do something, don't worryand if you can't do something, then do nothing and don't worry.  I can't 
take my own advice. I simply don't know how it will turn out. And I can't 
tell anyone, least of all you.

So I should make myself comfortable I suppose. I try not to look at the numbers and zig zags on the machine. Me being me, automatically I try and analyse them to determine a trend. The numbers seem unchanging like a clock that keeps time but never tells it. I grab a spare pillow, wedge it against myplastic hospital grade chair and find a position of least discomfort. 
Unlike yourself.

Tubes run into you and out. For a moment, I hope that it's all unreal, thatjust for fun, they've attached them to your skin only. I'm really waiting for someone to rush in and say it's all been a joke. And you'd wake and 
laugh with me too, until we thought of how to tell your mother. But she 
might see the fun in it too.

There's no change in the numbers or the fuzzy lines on any of the machines.
The door opens. Men and women rush in. Your eyes flickers open. I'm raised to my feet and quickly shoved outside. A joke? No a sarcastic cosmic one. Ishout out in my head, that was a random thought, I was idly thinking, 
I didn't mean it. Much as a child, I fear the horrible thought made true.

I wait for news and fear the over calm manner of those who deliver it.

Baby Crush

A bald head crowned by a few curls peeks out. Two eyes large and watchful wait and see what I might do.

I’m not moving. I stand silent. I’m a daddy statue.

Tiny hands cover her eyes. She tries to catch my gaze.

No way. I’m having no part of it. Not yet.

She opens them. She peeks carefully at me. Then covers herself with the blanket.

“Peep bo!” The blanket speaks.

That’s my moment. My eyes close. Although I keep the good one only an eighth open. Enough to cheat. Enough not to get caught.

Each time she closes her eyes, I open mine. Each time I see her open her eyes, I close mine!

Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. “Peep Bo!”

“Peep bo!” I say again. Before the blanket went on.

I chuckle as the blanket giggles and rolls on the floor. Then smile at her laughter while she wriggles her way out. Usually she beats me to it. Then as she unwravels…

“Peep Bo!” She got me that time.

The blanket again wraps itself up. It giggles and rolls on the floor. Then she crawls out. And stands a little taller than this morning. Now her jumpsuit is too small for her. But that’s no matter now.

Two arms stretch to the sky. She starts to waggle her fingers. Twinkle twinkle? Yes i’m happy to sing that with her. But no peeking. Otherwise she’ll catch me lip syncing.

Then she stops stock still.

No. I was lucky there. Then not so lucky.

“Jump game.”

Oh no! Daddy workout time.

Arms stretch high. “As high as the sky.”

I squat down. I waddle towards her. I put my shoulders under her arms. Then my hands around her waist.

I lift her up. Until her head is level with mine. Her eyes are already laughing. Daddy’s doing the heavy lifting now.

I stand up and throw her high into the air.

Giggles, then laughter.

I stop just before I let her go. I’m not a dad, I’m an astronaut trainer. Besides she’ll never get vertigo from me!

“Again. High as the sky.”

More deep squats. More overhead presses. My knees ache. My shoulders sing. I sneak a glance at my burden.

She’s frozen in time!! One arm up, one arm out, frozen in a ballet pose.

Carefully I shift her to my stronger arm. I lean forward, most weight pushed backward and draw back the coverlet, sheet and blanket. Then i place her in her bed as if one false move would be the last. She slumps flaccid in her bed. I cover her up. I start to lightly leave…

Her hand finds my finger. And crushes it. I hold my breath. I listen to her breath slow and deep measuring eternity one second at a time.

The Glass Slipper (4) : She Met Me First

It was too dark to film in the pre-dawn twilight. And too hazardous to set up cameras and lights. Or send over their dumb drone in case it crashed and couldn’t be retrieved.

Occasionally, rarely, reality TV did have its benefits and now was one of them. Lonely at last, I thought. But, of course, only for a short moment. For I had to be back ready for the the morning feature. Me splitting wood bare chested (ugh!) for my fans.
I crept softly and slowly still hidden in the night. My torch picked out the sleeping shapes of cows not yet interested in me or milking just yet. Blades of grass reflected their sheen much like shards of green glass. And then the dark swallowed my light. For I had stopped at what looked like a fallen wall.
The last trees I had cleared.  I had left those broken remnants to season and dry. And now I was sawing them into logs and later kindling for the winter. And to boost my sagging ratings.
Behind me in the grey twilight, I could faintly see the camera crew near the house. They were trying to keep warm like ghostly puppets that were losing their strings.

But my work was in front of me, the latest pile of logs. I squatted, bent down, leant forward and drew each log into my arms. Once filled, I slowly stood up and started my trek back to the house.
Still, like the twilight, the other inhabitants paid me no attention. They’d wake soon and the routine would begin. Another day in the life
of “Down on The Farm” : the spun (and slowly unravelling) spin-off show. Featuring the recently separated husband of everyone’s favourite reality star, Ella who was doing I don’t know what.

I stopped.  I thought I saw something. But it was too dark. There is was again. Behind me, I saw a glimpse of curls, followed by a giggle.

“I’ll catch you,” I thought carelessly. I turned ponderously to follow. “Looks like she’s run around me,” I thought again. I finished my sedate circle. Nothing. I couldn’t see or hear anything. I kept on.

Surprised by my thoughts, I said to myself, “It’s nothing,just your imagination running wild in the wild.”
To keep my load steady, I stopped and crouched slightly. I raised left arm and then right and the logs in my arms settled heavily and made a pile yet again. I trailed my way back towards the house. It was still cool and grey and I was a shadow in the twilight. I saw the green roof turn olive-grey in the approaching dawn. The water tanks : squat and silver like oversize 44 gallon drums.
I trudged slowly. As far as I was concerned I had all day. But in the morning silence, I heard the whisper of a smile again, sent to me on the breeze. “A voice too young yet to laugh.”

I stopped again. I took small goose steps as I rotated trying to see the source of my audio dream. I didn’t want to drop my load yet. Still nothing. But something, it must be something. Perhaps…
There it was again. A whisper, now a laugh, curls and a glimpse of a cornflower dress.
To confound my pursuer, I stopped again and turned the other away.
“She’s quicker than me,” I thought carelessly. “Or will be.”
Ignoring the watchers, who had set up camera and microphone, I reached the woodpile and bowed down : a supplicant making his latest humble offering. I threw my arms forward and stepped back in reverential awe. A clump of logs flew forward, thudding and clunking as they hit the altar. Now for the fun part. I took off my shirt and threw it carelessly away. They’d like that, I knew. Apparently it was worth 20 points each time on the ratings.
Next to the stump was my favourite weapon of destruction. A green triangular headed wood splitter. I balanced it in my hands like I was buying a rifle. The head and handle were still smooth yet to be scarred by combat. That would be years I thought. And I had years now. I waited and felt the presence. A watcher ready to ask me a direct question. But she had years too. I heard the camera crew shuffle nervously, as they moved to keep me in view.
Even though the log pile was just the right height, I still leaned down, forward and across. I picked up log number one. I took its weight, squatted and placed it on the stump. Grey silver bark, wood core like cracked ochre. This one had finally seasoned.
I reached down to take the splitter again.
“And how long does it take to season?”
“As long as it takes,” I replied to myself (I thought). I looked up and around. The crew were motionless. They hadn’t seen or heard anything. Otherwise they would ask for another shot.
So I stilled myself, ignored the voice in my head and swung the splitter. Back above my head. I cocked my wrists and swung it just above the small of my back. I waited until it was just about to fall backwards and have no weight at all.
Like the string holding the arrow, I let go, timing turned into power. I struck wood, felt nothing except the tip tapping the stump. “No effort required,” I thought. Turning logs into kindling is the easiest part. Sure beats cutting down trees and sawing up logs. The dark held its breath and watched silently.

Except it wasn’t the dark.
Two more swings. The rest of log number one split into five pieces. I kicked the kindling away. That one done, I began again. Then I stopped. Someone was still watching me. It wasn’t the cameras. Being watched by them was like being stared at and then ignored as uninteresting.

No I was being observed. Closely and carefully. But not uncomfortably.
This time, I slipped and dropped the splitter mid swing. I turned right then left to catch whoever it was unawares. I saw nothing.
I felt her peer over my shoulder as I fell into the rhythm again. Pick up log, balance, pick up splitter, balance, pull back, let go, split log, split, split and kick kindling. Occasionally, I missed the mark, self-consciously. I would have to repeat the blow. Occasionally, too, I knocked the log over instead of straddling it. And steadfastly, I kept ignoring her.
And in the silence, her presence grew in my mind. I could see her curls, and hear her voice, even when she said nothing. I felt her read my thoughts, turn them over in her mind and read them back to me with another question. And slowly, the dawn crept through and the day began.
Much like the parent I wasn’t and had no intention of being, I more and more hoped that she would go away. Every so often, I would turn around to say it out loud. But I was deterred by the media presence.

I forced myself silent. I knew I would be thought mad muttering to myself in the middle of the bush away from my estranged wife.
And every single time I looked for her, she wasn’t there. She was enjoying this game I knew. She knew where I would move and what I would say before I did it.  I senses that this knowledge would not be used maliciously, however, rather playfully and ultimately patiently. For she knew that I would come around. Every so often I would hear a giggle and then a stifled laugh. I knew that she knew. As she knew I knew.
“Who is she? A haunting?” I had heard stories like this. Lost children haunting the place where they had died, waiting for their parents to return. But at dawn? In front of witnesses?
I stopped splitting and looked across at the crew.
“What’s happening?” I asked. No-one replied. “See anything this morning?”
No reply, neither nod nor shake of the head. Maybe they haven’t seen anything. If they had they weren’t saying, they were professional like that. Besides I knew these questions would be edited out.
I still sensed her listening to me. Much like the child I really was, I decided to scrunch the bed covers over my face, hold them close and feign sleep until she left me. I really hoped that she would slip away and find something else to take her attention, as little girls are supposed to do. Well, as far as I knew anyway.
I continued. Pick up log, set it on the stump, scythe the splitter through wood and hope for sparks,  kick the kindling away, dodge the odd shower of splinters, the rhythm continuous and all-encompassing despite the warming day and its hardening light.
In the silence between logs, I finally took my chance.

“Are you a fairy? A tree-nymph? A gumnut baby fleeing the evil banksia men?” The smile whispered into a giggle, then she laughed. At her giggle.
And while she looked over my shoulder, she beckoned the silence with more questions. “Who are you?” I asked (silently) in exasperation.

Her reply was familiar. “Why are you chopping wood here?”

“Instead of elsewhere,” was the implied thought I heard.

“Instead of where you’re supposed to be,” she thought at me finally.
I sensed that she was patient. And insistent. She knew I would answer her questions eventually. She seemed to have years to wait.
The sunrise rose above the green roof. And with it, the cold post-sunrise breeze washed over me like ice water. And then I knew where I was supposed to be and why.
I said, “Ella doesn’t want me anymore. I’m not in a fairy-tale anymore.”
But still her silence called to mine. She reached forward to take my hand.
I knew that I could send her away. But she would keep returning until I returned to her now pregnant mother.
The cameras kept rolling as I carried the kindling up to the house.

The Dad Interview

It started as I’m the family blog expert. My sister wanted my Dad, Kevin Whalan to create a blog and record his memories.

So I took it on and found that the blog had been started. But there was no content. So I tidied it up and passed it on to Dad. And he added a couple of blog entries. But then there was a pause.

I was unsure how to encourage Dad to add more content. In passing, I mentioned my dilemma to a friend. Typically, she batted it back at me. Interview him, she said, it worked for her family: namely her brother and father.

So I took it on.  It just so happened that I was working a extremely short contract and was in Sydney Thursday and Friday the following week.  I thought if I rescheduled my flights to Sunday and visit my son for the weekend I could interview Dad Saturday.

I told my son and his partner of my plan. They were up for it. So I then invited them to come down and see Dad on the Saturday. I also told Dad what I was doing. He had no problem with it at all. I also bought a web cam and tried it out.

So on the Saturday, it all came together and we arrived. But then I was beset by technical problems. I set the laptop and camera up and nothing seemed to work. Laptop and Mouse

In the end, I managed to get a test video of Dad talking about his meeting Princess Diana. That story was both hilarious, inspirational and insightful.  My son and his partner were absolutely spellbound. Then everything stopped working again. I started to despair. I then thought that if I just get past this, something interesting might happen.

So I put on my desktop support hat. I diagnosed and fixed the problem despite having to borrow some batteries.

So I began again.  The video resumed. I audibly whooped for joy! It probably can’t be removed from the clip. Dad began  talking about how and where he was born. He was born at a small nursing hospital quite close to his parent’s home. I asked him about his parents and his childhood. He lightly touched on that so I didn’t delve.

Then I asked him how he got into being a journalist. I was astonished by his story. He said he was asked to write a story as no-one else would. “So what did you do?”, I prompted. “I just wrote it,” was the reply. Yes I thought, I know that one, no-one told me either. Once a writer, always a writer.

And Dad was away. He spoke about how he became a journalist. He more or less taught himself. He then spoke about how he leased the local paper, the Canowindra Star. It was running at a complete loss. In time after the interview, he ended up writing about it in his blog.

I prompted him again. I asked him why he took it on and how did he know it would work. His reply again just completely surprised me. He said, “he just knew it would.” He just went ahead and leased the paper. It as he writes was incredibly successful.

As the conversation continued, I tried to make myself as scarce as possible. I was amazed how much I remembered as a boy. I quite clearly remember how Dad knew everyone and would say “Gidday” to one and all. So did I and I made sure to drawl out the greeting just like everyone else. I also clearly remember going with Dad to Cowra, the nearest major town each Tuesdays when the paper was printed. I remember the linotype machines and the printing presses. All in all the noise was incredible. It was an oily grimy gritty place to work.  But it had an energy to it that I caught.

"Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated" by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna; Paul Koning - Original photo (Image:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum.jpg by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna. Annotations by Paul Koning. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated.jpg#/media/File:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated.jpg

“Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated” by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna; Paul Koning – Original photo (Image:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum.jpg by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna. Annotations by Paul Koning. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated.jpg#/media/File:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated.jpg

Every so often, the operators would assemble the molten type after dousing it with water into a metal print form. They would then smear it with ink. The would place newsprint over it and run a roller over it. My job was to read the proof. As I was six or seven I can’t be held responsible for the bloopers. But it helped my education.

In truth I didn’t realise how much it helped until I was a teenager. I and my brother were asked to help publish and print the school magazine. It was hard work but it was a job that we both just seemed to know. And the magazine was a success! Thanks to my Dad. It wasn’t until much later that I realised how much I remembered. Besides during the interview, I only touched lightly on these subjects. For you see, the silence was beginning to do its work.

So setting aside my musings and returning to Dad’s story, the Canowindra Star fell on hard times. Due to circumstances beyond his control, the paper was sold and Dad was retrenched.

Since that time, Dad had quite a few ups and downs. On two occasions, he went from finishing  a role on Friday to starting a new one on Monday. While that was not always his experience I began to discern a pattern. But I didn’t say anything.

For I could see and was surprised by the effect of the silence. As the interview continued I became quieter and quieter. In truth, I still think I speak too much and need to listen more. But I learnt much that day about interviewing and especially my Dad.

For Dad became more expansive as he relaxed. He too realised that there was a pattern in the stories he was telling. It was there the silence called it forth much as Anna Deveare-Smith described.

Each time he encountered ups and downs he prayed. He really thought that things would work out. And they did. Every single time.

 

Sex and Vacuuming : A Game of Mutual Selfishness

Kathy Lette’s If Your Wife Doesn’t Want Sex Then Try Doing the Vacuumming article echoes the Annabel Crabb‘s The Wife Drought re having it all and needing a wife.

Like the old expression, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage“, there isn’t much of that anymore.

Yes, unfortunately, I’ve heard this all before.

In the throes of a disintegrating marriage, I turned to reading books many of which made the same recommendations.

The prescribed panacea was that if a man did more housework or spent less time with his mates, marital bliss awaits.

In truth I did step up and I fervently believe that men should (see Having It All). But there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. Not that reciprocation was my motivation.

Unfortunately, the opposite argument is of course is that the woman should do more. As set out by Laura Doyle in her book the Surrendered Wife where women need to step up so the man can step down. Again there’s the implicit guarantee of reciprocation.

These viewpoints seem to treat marriage as some sort of reality show (Wife Swap perhaps?). Marriage is seen as a game where you amass points for doing the right thing, are penalised for doing the wrong thing and receive or forgo prizes. Marriage in this light seen as territorial and transactional with winners and losers.

My real problem with all of this is that both viewpoints are both motivated by the guarantee or expectation of reciprocation. If I do this, I get that and if you do this, you get that.

What that creates is a relationship based on mutual selfishness. Both partners keep score and amass points and expect to be rewarded. The problems occur over keeping track of the points, rewards, penalties and prizes. From my personal experience after arguing over that there’s little energy left for vacuuming or sex.

Nor does it foster much love. Nor create an environment that fosters compassion and generosity.

So what’s left from this? My dull insight is this. Perhaps we could try an unselfish love for oneself and for others for a change? Perhaps we could create an environment of compassion and generosity?

 

 

Of Happier Things

And now to speak of happier things as my Dad says. As you may have already read, my sister was married last week.

How I did behave at her reception? Perfectly. Well almost. I spoke to anyone and everyone.

I said this wedding shows the good you do returns to you.

Let there be more of that! Especially after the terrors of yesterday.

Father and Daughter : Spiders and Cobwebs

Cobwebs on fence

Cobwebs on fence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday when I got home from work I couldn’t check my post box or even open my front gate. My way was blocked.

By a little girl standing in front of my house. Who of course was no threat. She didn’t even notice I was there. She was busy staring quite intently at the front of my house. Her dad was there holding her hand and waiting patiently.

Before I was a dad I wouldn’t have known what to do. Now I waited to see what she would do next. And then I looked closely and really saw what she was staring at. The cobwebs next to my postbox.

Her blue eyes looked at me for the first time. All they said was this is what I always do. She then turned and spoke to her dad who was still waiting. She asked him about the insects wrapped up like licorice in the cobweb.

Then they both started walking away and he began talking to her. I didn’t hear what they said. Besides its not my business. And its almost  certainly covered by parental confidentiality. If it was me, I would be explaining life and death, spiders and cobwebs. Perhaps her dad was doing just that.

Then I thought that I really hope she stays that way. I hope she grows up unchanged. I’m lucky to have a daughter just like that. She liked cobwebs silvered with dew or rain.

Pickles Is Dead (A Children’s Imaginary Friend)

The phone is buzzing. In my state of near-sleep, I don’t know if it is the alarm or a phone call. (Mental note: Change phone alarm tone). I scrabble at the phone on the bedside table and just grab it before it falls. I realise it’s a phone call, press the green phone button, and…

“Daddy.”

It’s my seven year old who has just discovered how much fun it is to phone Dad anytime of the day or night.

“What..Oh Hi Josh, how are you?”, I drawl in a tired undertone.

Pickles is Dead”. It’s said in that mixture of certainty, surprise and awe that children use to describe death.

“I’m sorry to hear that Pickles is dead…Are you alright?”

“I’m alright”. Now he has a different tone : why would you think otherwise? As my mind clicks into wakefulness, I start to wonder that children are perhaps more mature than their parents. Or at least their father anyway.

“What happened?”

“Oh. We were outside playing. And Pickles is Dead.”

“Okay, I’m so sorry, What happened again?”

“Oh. A man came along. He stared at Pickles and now Pickles is dead.”

Now I’m awake. I’m rapidly working through my incomplete list of pets, friends and toys. But to no avail.  Pickles isn’t on any of them. Maybe I should keep some form of shortlist.

Time for a sidestep. His mother should know who Pickles is. But I don’t want to ask for obvious reasons. So I ask Josh what his mother knows. Then maybe he will tell me who Pickles really is. But I’m not ready for the answer I do get.

“Have you told Mummy?”

Yes, she was there.”

“She saw Pickles die.”

“Yes, we both saw him.”

“Did anyone else, like your brothers see him?”

“No, only Mummy and I can see him.”

I’m stunned. This does not make any sense at all. I pause and regroup my thoughts. To gain more time, I rephrase his reply back to him, to keep him talking.

“So, you mean no-one else can see Pickles but you and Mummy.”

“Yes”

Now I don’t know what to make of this at all. I do know that children have vivid imaginations. I know I had one as a child.  And Josh has never lied to me. So I can only trust what he is telling me.

I also know that children see things that adults don’t. But a child that sees something that only he and his mother can see makes no sense at all.

Deep breath now. Time to deal with something more confronting that dealing with Pickle’s demise and my son’s yet to be experienced grief.

“Josh, can I speak to your mother, please”

“Okay”. Pause. “Muuuuuum, Daddy’s on the phone”. I hold the phone out at arm’s length and shield my ears. I wait as the footsteps get closer and closer. I think now it looks like I made the early morning phone call. This has to go well. It doesn’t.

“Hello”. There is no inflection to the voice at all.

Friendly and warm, just like my customer service classes. “Hi, how are you?” Now I’m trying to sell my ex-wife eternal life.

“Fine”.

Lightly, like dealing with a difficult customer. “Josh was telling me that Pickles is dead. Sorry to hear that.”

Nothing, no response at all, but a sharp intake of breath. She doesn’t know that Pickles is dead. But she knows who Pickles is. Otherwise she would have told me off. And then the phone goes dead. Which leaves me to add failed detective to my role of failed father, husband, etc, etc.

The mystery still remains. So I try my second son. I text Josh’s brother. He should know something.

“Hey Johnno, how are you? It’s Dad. Josh told me Pickles is dead. Who is Pickles?”

Even at this time of morning, he is always on the phone. So the reply comes back almost instantly.

“LOL Dad. No Pickles there is.” So he doesn’t know. But he does know Yoda from Star Wars. I would definitely like some of his wisdom now.

The next week, the same thing repeats itself. The phone rings, I scrabble to answer it and it’s Josh. Again.

“Pickles is dead.”

He is my son, it is early am and I try to stifle my annoyance. But still I say.

“I’m really sorry but he died last week.”

“Oh no, he died yesterday.”

“What are you talking about?” I realise my annoyance is coming through. So I stop and start more slowly. ”What happened?”

“Oh Pickles came back.”

“How did he die this time?” Now I’m really thinking that this is made up despite his Mum knowing who Pickles is. But his answer completely stuns me into silence.

“I saw a big yellow man look at Pickles and then talk to him and then Pickles died.”

“Maybe he went away this time.”

“No he died.” How can children be so certain?

“This is what I think. I think you should tell Pickles to go away and not come back. And tell him to stay away from Mummy.”

And then the conclusion pops into my head. Pickles is her imaginary friend. And Josh can see Pickles. But who is protecting Josh?

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