Because I’ve started drinking a new brand of beer – Bighead by Burleigh Brewing – which are not screw tops, I go searching for a bottle opener small enough to place in my back pocket, so that I can have a few drinks on the way to the Trivia Fundraiser night Reservoir Mum has roped me into, and after emptying my desk drawers I stumble across a foot-shaped opener with the words World’s Best Dad written on it.
The lid pops off the top of the bottle of Bighead with ease but as I rush around preparing for the babysitter and cleaning the Tarago to pick up friends on the way to the pub I’m feeling a little amazed, and disturbed, that a whole year has passed.
I can remember Lewis bouncing into the bedroom, with the opener wrapped in paper he’d designed himself, as if it was yesterday and after pulling out my favourite pink shirt and pulling on my nicest shoes I pick up the beer and take a second to read my body in the mirror.
It will be forty years old in two months. It still looks okay, I think, but I’m placing the same pressures on it as I was twenty years ago. I can see things happening to it. The edges a blurring a little, there is less definition, there is a wrinkling emphasis around the hollows and the crevices. When I lean in for a closer look the skin beneath my eyes appears loose and dark.
There are also the things I can feel. The internal. I get sicker more often, I can no longer claim the shrug of the iron stomach, and sometimes my heart skips a beat and scares me.
I look in to my eyes and tell myself it would be a smart thing to make this Bighead one of only two or three beers for the nigh; that I need to get some quality sleep. But we know each other too well, my reflection and I.
We cannot contain the thrill of the party. We cannot deny the release within the roar of intoxication.
Father’s Day – Morning
Tyson wakes at 6am, as usual, and because I’m battling a headache and a dry mouth I take the doona and pillow to the couch, flick the TV over to ABC 3 and curl back into semi-consciousness.
Each time I wake and roll and glance at the clock another twenty minutes has passed and another boy is sitting at my feet, accosting doona, exposing me, until finally Reservoir Mum and Maki wander in, and I’m able to reclaim the doona back – a comfort against my hangover – as the Happy Father’s Day chant begins, as Reservoir Mum is snapping away with the digital camera.
‘Wow,’ I say, to Tyson as he jumps beside me holding up a poster he made at kinder featuring a photo of himself and several drawings – Tyson originals – including a squarish looking me with a big smile. ‘Did you do this all yourself?’
He nods enthusiastically and jumps in for a cuddle as Archie reaches over, demanding my focus, and I’m suddenly wearing a Super Dad baseball cap and in possession of a No.1 Dad Desk Flag and a World’s Greatest Dad Mouse Pad. ‘Archie, mate, these are so great,’ I say. ‘What a Father’s Day!’
Lewis is skipping on the spot waiting his turn and in all his jittery excitement forgets that I’m the one who’s supposed to be unwrapping the presents and tears open a deck of playing cards and a desk clock with World’s Greatest Dad written on it. ‘Lewy!’ I say. ‘I’m going to have the best looking writing desk ever. I’m the luckiest man alive!’
My final present comes from Maki. He’s laughing as he hands it to me, without really knowing what’s going on, which is super-gorgeous and has me choking back emotion.
When I flick open the tubular post pack I find four great posters for my gym wall and there is no way to thank my boys and RM enough. I hug them and tell them I love them and hug them again and say, a little pathetically, I wanna gets these posters laminated, but no matter how hard I try the ultimate satisfaction evades me; there is no way to impress the fullness of my love and gratitude upon them.
The crowd disperses and RM brings me a coffee and I lie there with my hangover. My body is heaving – rather than breathing – to dispel the toxins of last night, my neck hurts from sleeping awkwardly, every time I blink I have to fight the sleep deprivation of a thousand nights to open my eyes again.
Through the haze, with the noise of our busy home dulling in the background, I wonder again at how an entire year has just passed me by, how my reflection in the mirror looked less like me – older and weaker – and panic revives me a little when I think about the way I live and acknowledge the fact that the day will come when there is nothing to reflect; when I am simply not here.
Father’s Day 9.40pm
I’m listening to Robbie Nevil’s C’est Le Vie as I upload some of this morning’s photos to the computer and doing my best to ignore the need to write something because I still haven’t recovered from last night. I’m tired. I don’t want to go to bed early – I hate sleep and the time it takes from me – but I probably need to go to bed early, for once.
As the photos are uploading I click over to an earlier folder of pictures labelled Boys 2009 and the first picture that opens is one of Archie and Lewis when they were only four and two years old, standing at the doorstep of our old house, holding an egg they’d collected from the chicken pen, and its affect on me is so profound and immediate that my breath leaves me, my forearms drop to the computer desk, my face moves closer to the screen.
Those two boys, with the baby still in their expression, are gone, and it aches to know I’ll never see them like that again, and if this last year has passed by so quickly, so have the four years since that photo was taken.
I can close my eyes and hold the events of the past ten years in just a few seconds of thought, right back to the time when hangovers and irregular sleep patterns and my own health didn’t matter so much; when RM and I were childless.
I love them. Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki. I love them in such a desperate way. The thought of losing them through my own ill-health or of compromising the time we have together terrifies me.
And I want to stay alive, to be healthy for as long as possible, to be a strength to my family, to be mentally clear and present in every moment of every passing day until I’m eighty, or ninety, or one hundred. But will I allocate less time to my passions to get adequate sleep? Will I reduce the amount I drink on the weekends? Will I get better at scheduling in doctors appointments and having regular checkups?
I’ve made those promises to myself and broken them enough times to know the answer is no.
Even as I sit with the terror of potential loss, knowing full well that the way I live may weaken me, age me, and cut my time with family short, I won’t be able to change. Not yet at least.
What I will do instead is decorate my desk with Father’s Day presents, ignore the need for sleep and write a story of confession, tonight, as a way of telling my children that I’m confused by this aspect of myself, as a way of telling them that I love them desperately, as a way of saying I’m sorry.