If I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Dad, I need to dedicate equal thought to Mum and the impact she’s had on my life. There is no Dad without Mum. There is no me without Dad and Mum. This is the yin and yang, the cosmic duality that created me and I can’t fathom seeing either of them without the other.
Since well before my first moments they have been a remarkable symbol of togetherness, of creative energy in its myriad forms, of love and life and exceptionality. When I piece together the moments of my past they are in every one of them and always as a pair, individual traits combining to a sum that ‘just works’, although I’m sure this devalues what must have been a lot of work behind the scenes to make their relationship healthy.
If Dad is a big creator: books and boats and long-term projects, Mum is more of the introspective energy in the relationship. She’s prefers the edge of the spotlight but from there she happily take ideas, mulls over them and arrives with perfect insight. Both my parents are remarkable in their listening ability, to the point that conversations with them often feel like counselling sessions: for myself, my childhood friends, ex-partners. Milk out the finer details and I often feel like I’m oversharing, by virtue of fielding so many follow-on questions.
Where Dad takes on every project, then over-delivers in an abundance of thoughts and ideas and course materials, Mum curates and chooses what she works on, quietly exerts her forces and then arrives with astonishing insight at an ideal solution. My childhood was filled with Mum’s creative projects and they still crop up in my adult years: carefully crafted Christmas cards where every family member gets a bespoke Bible verse curated to the year they’ve had, fronted by an individual watercolour painting for each of us.
I am the age now that Mum was when she birthed me in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. She is a doctor, by 1987 had finished seven years of study in her 20s to become a GP, then moved from Australia to Pakistan with my Dad and my one year old brother to learn Urdu.
I genuinely can’t conceive how that felt. How would I feel now, taking my partner and our young child to another country where we don’t speak the language and setting up a new life? By virtue of the pure strangeness of my childhood my understanding of other’s experiences has been warped. Every situation we were thrown in to was greeted with a vague incredulity, possibly a little anxiety and then a commitment to getting through it. One thing I take from Mum is a general attitude of ‘acceptance’. You can break down later but in the moment a quiet resolve is all you need.
Mum also shows the inquisitive nature that Dad shows, but it manifests in slightly different ways. Where Dad is excited about everything, sucking information into the supercomputer and stacking it up against the millions of other folders in the dusty cabinets below, Mum’s approach is to dive deep and demystify one corner of one thing. When we lived in Oman, shell collecting was one of her things and our house was filled with periwinkles and conches, all carefully collected and collated against Donald and Eloise Bosch’s book Seashells of Oman. I simplify here, but I feel that I borrow from Dad and a desire to be across everything, while my brother follows Mum and etches deep in to the grooves that interest him.
I’m happy my parents are both readers, for in a largely pre-internet age books were the tendril that kept me connected to the Western world. Mum has always enjoyed novels, and where Dad spent our beach holidays building boats and inventing games to keep the kids entertained, Mum would happily spend the week alternating between a book and a walk. Dad is a reader too, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him read fiction. I see my interests slowly shifting from Mum’s sphere to Dad’s as I age, and if I spent my first thirty years delving into novels and the worlds of Frank Herbert and Anne McCaffrey, I’d suggest my next thirty might be tied into academia and pursuing a PHD. Or maybe not, maybe this music caper is enough.
In writing of my family I start to get a grasp of how individual this ‘human condition’ really is. What odd confluence of events brings together a working-class teacher from Sydney’s western suburbs and a doctor’s daughter from regional Victoria, and throws them into a life perched in the mountains of Yemen?
I’ve started a weekly Youtube series I’m calling ‘Fridays with Friends’. Each week I’m releasing a song with a friend. This is the first edition, with my friend Bob Hutchison, an amazing Melbourne singer-songwriter. This song is called ‘Your Mother’s Eyes’ (hilariously not related to this week’s blog post, just a happy coincidence).