Paul P. Mealing

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Monday, 23 May 2016

Homage to my Old Man; a generation gone

I read an interesting article by Christos Tsiolkas (an Australian celebrated author) in Saturday’s Spectrum (The Age, 21 May 2016) discussing the films and characters of Martin Scorcese and their influence on Tsiolkas. He remarked that they shared something in common. Both are sons of immigrants: Scorsese’s Italian to America and Tsiolkas’ Greek to Australia; both post-war, I expect.

I was born in the aftermath of WW2, so I’ve seen over half a century of change. The relevance to Tsiolkas’ commentary is that the characters in Scorcese’s early films, represent for Tsiolkas, an inability to deal with a changing world, where issues of angst are resolved violently, though not necessarily satisfactorily. He gives special mention to Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, both collaborations of filmmaker Scorcese, writer Paul Schrader and actor Robert de Niro. In my own way, I started to think how the world had changed in my time from my father’s time.

I also read an interview with Lang Lang in The Weekend Australian Review (21-22 May 2016) who talked candidly about the tumultuous relationship he had with his father, who even suggested once that his son commit suicide because he was unhappy with his pianistic progress.

Well, my father never told me to commit suicide but our relationship was volatile to say the least and never really gained a satisfactory denouement until after his death. He often appears in my dreams, but it’s as if I’m time travelling into our past, because I’m never surprised that he’s alive and everything is pretty well normal.

My father grew up in the depression, left school at 14, despite having a good brain for both literature and numeracy. He ran away from one school, run by Catholic brothers, to avoid getting a caning. From what I can understand he used to resolve arguments with his fists, even against bigger boys, and he became a boxer, probably after the war but before I knew him. In the war he was captured by the Germans on Crete after he volunteered to stay and look after the wounded, and spent 2.5 years as a prisoner of war, escaping 3 times before they sent him home as an exchange prisoner. He told me it was only Red Cross parcels that kept him alive, and strangely he held no animosity towards the Germans in all the years I knew him.

My father was a non-combatant; he was in the Field Ambulance Corp as the assistant, not the driver. He was not a hero, but he made sacrifices. He once dragged a wounded man behind a tree while they were being strafed, and then dragged him around the other side while the plane turned to make another run. I once had a dream of being strafed by a plane and I was terrified. He voluntarily put himself in danger to save another; I’m not sure I could do that.

On Crete, after the occupation, it’s well known there was a resistance movement who paid dearly. My father was once involved in an escape attempt with another. He said it was always the women who organised these things. They were sprung by an armed German, but he didn’t know how many there were. My father gave himself up so the others could escape. The escapee managed to get word to my grandmother that he was alive. Up to then she only knew that he was ‘missing in action’.

I knew him, of course, in the decades after he returned and he was not someone you crossed. My father was very scary at times; we all walked around on eggshells for most of my upbringing. He and my mother had terrible fights but he never hit her. He hit us kids, which was the norm in his day, and I grew a psychological skin so I stopped feeling the pain, but stopped feeling in other ways as well. I don’t blame him or hate him nor do I really forgive him, but I don’t judge him either. I’ve never lived what he lived through and I can’t imagine that if I did I would have survived. He and I fought almost up to his dying days such was our strange relationship.

And what of my mother? Well, she’s still alive and at 95 she can beat me at scrabble. Seriously. I think she’s a saint to be honest and that’s all I’ll say; at least while she’s alive.

As for me, I couldn’t fight to save myself and I was bullied at school when fighting between boys was still considered a healthy activity. I’ve never resolved a fight with my fists and can’t imagine even being tempted to.

In my one and only novel, I wrote a dedication to my father: To Blue. Because he would have enjoyed it. My father loved a good story of any genre and he would have genuinely enjoyed it. Sadly, he never saw it.

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