When you make the decision to migrate to the other side of the world like I have, your relationship with your parents inevitably changes.
My dad and I never shared what you would describe as a conventional relationship. He was twenty years old when he had me and at the time was an aspiring young actor. Inevitably, once the stork visited, he had to make the harsh choice to give up on his dream and earn a more dependable living to support his growing family.
I lived with him through my teenage years and it was an unusual relationship. He was unconventional, and still a young, single man when I was in my late teens, nevertheless I always felt loved. He always maintained high expectations for me, gave me what he believed to be the best education and the hardest part of our relationship, from my perspective, was to attain his approval.
Some facets of your relationship with your parents never change. My father may not know this, but I still seek my dad’s approval in everything I do.
Before he arrived for a visit to The Block a few weeks ago, I scrubbed our little apartment from top to bottom. I left no potential colony of bacteria unturned and not even the most robust bed bug would have survived my cleaning frenzy. Each sofa cushion was perfectly puffed and placed, every artwork polished until the glass gleamed and every shower drain emptied. For that hour before his arrival, our apartment resembled a ‘styled’ property and the kids were ordered not to breathe, let alone move around in it.
I even ironed my dad’s sheets. I’ve never ironed a fucking sheet in my life but I ironed his sheets methodically, from corner to corner, and controversially, I took a great deal of pleasure out of doing it.
I’m a grown up, middle-aged woman now and yet I still feel like a child in his presence. I wanted to please him.
Obviously, the kids were put on high grandparent alert. We role-played their table manners, reminded them that it is indeed possible to close their mouths when they eat, retaught them their ‘pleases and thank yous’ and I reminded Kurt that we would be ‘in the library’ for the duration of Grandad‘s visit.
I discovered organization skills that I thought had long disappeared with the arrival of children and the ageing process. I booked tables at restaurants ahead of the day, picked up Dad’s favourite breakfast treats at Aldi (as well as new outdoor chair cushions) and the only thing I forgot was a bottle of his favourite Whisky.
Obviously, it was the first thing he asked for.
My father is an intelligent man and a witty public speaker and he can also be an opinionated old git at times – which is obviously where I inherited it. Like me, he takes a perverse pleasure in baiting people for a reaction. So when we broached topics that I knew we might come to blows with – like feminism, racism and how to raise Kurt – I steered him carefully away and swallowed my pride and my convictions. I didn’t want anything to spoil this rare, precious time together.
Not having grandparents in the immediate vicinity to tell me how to raise my kids, I am even more sensitive to criticism of my parenting choices. ADHD and its symptoms are difficult for the older generations to grasp. In Dad’s day, kids with learning disabilities left school early and no one questioned why they under-achieved. Still, I wanted his approval. I needed him to tell me that I’d done a good job, married the right man and that the kids were a fantastic reflection of how we had raised them.
I didn’t pretend to be the perfect daughter. One evening he walked in on a domestic the old man and I were having when he refused to wear smart trousers to the Yacht Club, (just to be difficult) and I knew it was important to Dad for us to make that effort. I erupted into full fishwife mode – five days was obviously way too long for me to hold my shit together – and just as I called him the C word, Dad walked in, then reversed quickly back into his room.
Mutually opinionated, Dad and I have both mellowed with time and realized the importance of our relationship, which is now closer to that of friends than father and daughter. Many people in dad’s social group are my age and many of mine are his. We are interested and passionate about the same subjects and share an appreciation of food and wine.
He hasn’t judged my life choices for quite some time now, so why do I still need his approval?