Thy will be done• • • •
A short story of contemporary manners.
You bring children into this brave new world and marvel over their exquisite helpless completeness as babies, and you love them as they grow up step by step, learning to cope with the world, every step, whatever they do you are tied to them.
Then they grow up, become independent and leave you.
Shortly after high school the only son of the father of this story had moved a long way from home, and after a period living on the dole, building a house, several partners later and two sons of his own, had set up a marble and granite business, mainly headstones for graves.
After qualifying in graphic design, the father's only daughter had worked with Banknote Harry and at the Fairfax Press before moving overseas for many years. She returned after a failed marriage, and now single and self-sufficient teaches at a TAFE college and lives in a bus next to a rainforest not far from her brother.
Both of them are now over fifty and not children any more except in name. He had them every day of their lives for the first twenty years, then for their own good reasons they had both chosen to live a long way apart from him for the next thirty years. The father flew up to visit his son of course, but it was a long way and expensive, so it was only twice a year.
He was saddened by this, and also that distance had eliminated any chance to get to know his grandsons better and play a role in their development. Now the eldest had just turned eighteen and would probably become even more remote from him as he starts out on his own life journey. The grandfather often couldn't even recognise the boy's voice when he answered the phone!
But despite the unfortunate and great geographic separation chosen by his children, a separation sustained over the telephone, whatever happened the father had never lost a gut connection, and a compulsive, primitive bond of forgiving and unquestioning love.
Both of them had grown up in the shadow of their busy high flying parents for their first twenty years, and the father remembered his son declaring when he was ten that he didn't want to be an architect when he grew up, that you had to work too hard! The father often wondered how their ambitious full-on working lives had affected his children.
The mother of his children had died recently after a long illness and his daughter had borne the brunt of her mother's demise. Afterwards she'd sent her mother's unsold artworks off to her regular dealer to hold for eventual sale as set down in her will. His son was suspicious of his mother's arrangement with the art dealer and had made a big issue about this, saying that they shouldn't have been moved before probate had been granted. He may have been right legally but it made no practical difference, it simply wasn't important and the father felt growing concern at his son's overreaction and growing estrangement from his sister.
The grieving process can go on for a long while after a person's death and those involved are often unaware of how much it affects their judgement and behaviour. The father was sure it was this factor that had helped create friction and a Rashomon standoff between his children over nothing very much.
The father counselled them separately to stay friends and be patient, don't get involved in the detail he urged them, leave it to the solicitor they'd engaged to do all the probate stuff, and to accept that they are still grieving for their mother and should forgive any hot words that may have been said, that grief was affecting them whether they realised it or not.
The father had recently reread Great Expectations and what had impressed him was that the secret benefaction from the convict Magwitch hadn't improved Pip's life, it had simply allowed him to become a pretentious gentleman until he became reunited with the honest blacksmith Joe Gargery.
Dickens' novel had heightened the father's awareness of the potential for misdirection of their inheritance, that his children should stop arguing and manage the probate of their mother's estate together, that they were both too old to make proud mistakes!
The father had always professed to be pleased about his children's life choices as long as they were contented with their lot, and he suspected most parents would say the same. He didn't mind at all that they weren't doctors or lawyers, rich corporate executives, celebrity chefs or famous artists, or that they hadn't followed in his footsteps, as long as they were good people with good core values.
His daughter had no children of her own and had played a good mentoring role with her nephews, and his son had been a good father, what more could one ask? And it had always pleased him that his son took an interest in local politics and planning matters; there seemed to be some connection there.
The father realised now that he'd over-reacted to the stern authority of his own father by adopting a laisser-faire attitude to his children's education; he had never pressured them to work harder and do better at school, they'd work it out them-selves he'd thought! He regretted this now and urged his son to get more involved in his own sons' education, that they needed to be better prepared for the climate changed years that were coming.
And the father didn't know whether to be amused or not when his son rang saying he'd heard that his father was thinking of selling his big Eames black leather armchair and ottoman. He asked his father not to sell it, it was a family heirloom he claimed and he was looking forward to inheriting it, and not to give his library away, that he'd like all his books too!
The fifty-year old vintage chair had become quite valuable, but it took up too much space in his apartment and he never sat in it, and he had been thinking of selling it, he needed some cash to pay for a new ergonomic Herman Miller office chair so his back could cope with long hours in front of the computer. And as he had every intention of living for another ten years he couldn't help feeling slightly miffed that his son's concerns were a bit premature! On the other hand his son was at least being honest and upfront.
Why on earth would his son want his architectural reference library he wondered? His first reaction had been that they would be wasted on his son and that he should try and find a more useful professional home for his books. Or should he? It might be a vanity for his son to want the books as some sort of physical reminder of his father, but we all have vanities he thought, and that perhaps he should stop being so utilitarian about outcomes.
What did a lot of books matter after his death, that even if his son never opened them, his posthumous relationship with his father via the books might be somehow more important to him then than when his father was alive, if that made any sense.
In any case his daughter had equal rights to his modest estate and might want some of them, many of them were more relevant to her interests than his; she might even want the bloody chair! But when he asked she wasn't interested and said he should do what's best for him now and not worry about the hereafter!
The father was pleased that the proceeds from the mother's estate would give them much needed economic security, his daughter in particular as she didn't have academic tenure and the future of her college was uncertain with the present government. The father got on well with his daughter, she was amusing and forthcoming and had visited him recently for a week; he'd liked that.
When the father spoke with his son they rarely got past the current work load of his hand-to-mouth business and how his grandsons were getting on in their last years at school, before his son invariably found an excuse to break off the conversation saying he'd ring back soon so they could have a long chat, but they never did.
But then he asked himself, what did he expect from his son after all? He reflected on the lack of contact he'd had with his own authoritarian father during his last years and how he'd never been that concerned about his father and what he might have been thinking. He'd been overseas when his father had died and hadn't even come back for the funeral.
Whatever his father might have been like he'd always regretted that, not coming back. And he remembered writing to his mother every week while he was overseas; the telephone had been too expensive fifty years ago. He'd found the letters, all six years of them, tied up in bundles when he'd cleaned out her house after she died, and had been embarrassed to realise both what they'd meant to her, and at the same time what a chore it had been. His behaviour hadn't been that much different from his son after all.
He remembered with pleasure how much his mother had blossomed after his father had died in 1971, and how she had adopted a local family of Italian migrants who all called her Nonna or grandmother! It was only after his father had died and she'd moved closer that he really got to know her. Most days he called in to see her after work, they usually had a polite sherry together, she wasn't much of a drinker, but she'd always been a great reader so they talked about books; she wasn't much interested in politics.
The father wasn't a sentimental person but had recently found a photo of her taken a few years before she died, and had taped it on the front of his computer; he might have failed his father but not his mum!
Then he remembered wheeling her around the garden of the hospice the day before she died, and as he was leaving she'd said to him, 'I was never the person I might have been'. It was the saddest thing he'd ever heard, it was almost thirty years ago now and still upset him whenever he thought of it. How little we really get to know other people!
The father had long since stopped giving his son unasked for business advice; however good and well meaning it might be, it was always ignored. The father appreciated that no one likes being told what to do, and as someone who had run his own practice all those years he was well aware that he might sound a bit too know-all at times, a bit too much like his own father perhaps, perish the thought!
The only time his son had really sought his help was when the police had kicked in his workshop door and taken a new business partner off to Grafton Gaol for importing Buddha sticks, and then he'd flown up immediately.
And as he got older and weathered his own life problems, the father had developed some real compassion for his own father long gone more than forty years. It couldn't have been easy bringing up a family in the Great Depression, and he regretted not trying to get to know his own father better.
But can you ever be sure you know anyone, he wondered. There had been that strange incident where a woman had rung one night while he'd been out. The caller had talked to his partner at length, quizzing her about his family back-ground before claiming to be his half sister. She was from Rockhampton where his father had gone regularly on business and where his father had apparently had a second family. She wouldn't leave her number, saying she'd ring back and talk to him but never did. It was a whole aspect of his father's life that would remain hidden forever and as it had happened after his mum died he couldn't ask her, and doubted if he would have anyway.
History was in danger of repeating itself with his son, the father thought. Increasingly he had to fight a creeping feeling that he couldn't be bothered about a whole lot of things that had once seemed important, a sense of resignation that nothing much matters in the long run, that you're a long time dead. On the other hand Dylan Thomas's oft quoted exhortation not to go quietly into that dark night also resonated with him, there was still a lot of fight left in him!
The father's health was OK for a man of eighty-four, he walked every morning and did a few bending and stretching exercises. He'd had treatment for prostate cancer and other running repairs over the years and found he didn't have as much energy anymore. One of his last three teeth had broken off recently and couldn't be fixed so he couldn't chew well and found himself leaving the hard bits on his plate and cutting the crusts off toast; all little things that marked an inevitable slow decline.
He should decide whether to sell the Eames chair or keep it for an uncertain posterity and then get on with his writing, that was the only way he knew of getting at the truth of things.