Just before I begin can we make a pact that nothing I say here this morning is to leave this room? In particular I don’t want anything I say to be leaked to your mothers. Tell them I gave an enlightening speech about race relations in Outer Mongolia or something. Because I know mothers are easily insulted and I’d hate anything I said to be taken out of context. Recently I’ve been having nasty nightmares in which I’m chased through the streets of the better suburbs of this town by a baying pack of menopausal blondes.
WISDOM OF FATHERS.
Mothers are everywhere. They stick their noses into everything. By now you girls will have realized you will have very few moments in life away from their bewildering and all-intrusive presence of mothers. But this, happily, is one such moment. A brief opportunity for the timeless wisdom of fathers to sprinkle down upon you like angel dust. I fully expect you to come away from this breakfast enlightened… and maybe a little pissed off.
I’m fifty and my mother still annoys the crap out of me. When she heard I was going to give a talk to a gross of girls and their confused fathers? She said, “What on earth would you have to say to a room full of teenage girls? You might as well sing Lady GaGa tunes to a village of Eskimos. They won’t understand a word you say. You’re an alien. A grey-haired, red-faced old fart from a planet where Mick Jagger was sexy.”
I said, “Mum, as a writer of fiction I like to think I can empathise with other people, put myself in their shoes, as it were, and see the world through their eyes. A teenage girl isn’t a goddamned Unicorn. I once wrote a whole novel in the first-person voice of a teenager.”
‘Ohh…’ she said. ‘A disgusting book full of foul language and half-baked erotica. For Godsakes, don’t tell them you’re a writer. As if Freya’s reputation at school isn’t rock bottom already. And certainly don’t read anything out loud that you’ve written. They’ll stampede out the door as if Catherine Misson was doing a pole dance.”
Now, my mother’s just a cantankerous old hag made bitter by Herman Goering’s Luftwaffe and St Agnes Brandy. And normally I wouldn’t take her advice. But she was correct. It’s a strange way to conduct a life; being a writer. And it’s a hard thing for others to understand: that you just... make shit up.
I remember when Freya was even younger and more clueless than she is now and she first became aware that other Dads did other things, serious things; some fathers made sick people well, some fathers sold houses, some fathers wore horsehair wigs in court in order to bamboozle juries into believing their lies so that they could free criminal scum onto our streets; some baked bread, some taught schoolkids, some grew crops. And these fathers dressed in all sorts of uniforms, suits and gowns, and they had meetings and workmates, and actual offices to go to and tractors to sit.
FEEL HEADS… COMPOSE LIES
But writers just sit around at home dressed in their undies staring at a screen with their heads in their hands wondering if that lump behind their left ear was there yesterday or not. Then, at some stage during the day, a writer will burst into in a brief flurry of activity, for half an hour or so their fingers will attack the keyboard, and they’ll compose a few outrageous lies. Then they’ll go back to exploring their skulls with their fingertips while staring at the lies they’ve made and wondering whether people will buy them. Luckily people are gullible and the world is full of fools who love to be lied to... so they do buy them.
SHITE AND FOOK.
But it’s a strange life and one that’s hard for kids to understand. I remember when Freya was at Morris Hall I eavesdropped a conversation she was having with a friend. From memory it was sweet, shy, eternally confused Natalie Sudlow. And Nat asked Freya what her dad did. Freya was, quite frankly, bamboozled. She said, “Well... he stares at a computer... and every now and then he says “Shit” and every now and then he says “Fuck”. As usual, Freya, in her own psychologically shambolic way, stumbled upon the essence of the creative process. Oscar Wilde I’m sure, did much the same. Though he would have stared at a blank page and said “shite” and “fook”.
But Freya’s simple explanations of the writer’s life couldn’t have been enough for her schoolmates. Because next day she came home from school and I asked her what she’d learnt that day and in a time-honored ritual that continues to this day, she explained, ‘Er. Er..err.’
Then she stared at me sneakily out of the corner of her eye and said, “Saoirse’s dad fed sushi to a thousand executives today. “ I think Frey had an idea that Saoirse’s dad was a type of aid-worker and Rowlands Catering was a sort of soup-kitchen for emaciated millionaires. But anyway, having mentioned Saoirse’s dad’s charitable works, she asked me, “What did you do?”
I replied, quite truthfully, “In the morning I killed a man in a knife fight and this afternoon I stole a Picasso from the National Gallery.” Her little eyes filled with tears and she went off to her room and hogged down a packet of Skittles and skanked herself up to look like Brittany Spears and sang a few hits to her adoring fans in the mirror. And she was comforted by knowing that even though her dad was a dropkick, she was adored by millions.
Next day I was dropping her at school and as I kissed her goodbye she said, “Please, Daddy... don’t kill anyone today.”
I said, “Frey, it’s such a lovely day I don’t think I will.”
But being a suspicious type, always willing to think the worst of people, she fixed me with a malicious glare and said, “And Dad, don’t make up any more lesbian detectives.’
I had, in fact, been hoping to spend some time with my lesbian detectives that day. So I said, ‘Why not, Frey?’
She said, ‘ Mum says your lesbian detectives spend too much time being lesbians and not enough time being detectives.”
So I could see Freya was troubled that other kids’ fathers were heading out into the world and doing useful things like curing cancer and convicting Hells Angels. While I was sitting at home, like Doctor Frankenstein, slowly constructing lesbian detectives who weren’t much interested in solving crime.
So. Not many people understand the writer’s life. But some people get it. One night I was giving a talk at the launch of my second novel. And after I’d finished I was standing there in a crowd of dumbstruck bibliophiles when a tiny old hunchbacked lady with transparent skin stepped up to me and grasped me by the elbow. She must have been ninety-nine years old. A frail, sweet old dame. She was wearing her shoes on the wrong feet. And she introduced herself as Polly Nice. I promise you that’s true. Polly Nice. Anyway, it was apparent she had a secret to tell me. I was expecting her to alert me to a grammatical error on page 223 of my novel or some such thing. So I bent down and she whispered into my ear, she said “Anson…”
I said, “Yes Polly.”
She said, “Anson…”
I said, “Yes, Polly.”
She said, “Anson… your shit really gets to me.”
She died next year… Polly Nice. Which was a large dent in my readership. I hope they buried her with her shoes on the right feet. It makes me sad to think of her facing eternity with her shoes on the wrong feet. You think it’s a long day when you’ve put your little sister’s bra on by mistake, girls? Try having your shoes on the wrong feet until God gets done sorting out the Middle East.
But, anyway, every now and then when I’m at my desk feeling the lumps on my head and trying to come up with ideas I think of Polly Nice… and I’m uplifted by knowing my shit got to her. That anything’s possible.
DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE.
Because… quite frankly… Writing’s a pain in the arse a lot of the time. Most things are. Except when it’s working. When the ideas and sentences and scenes are flowing… then nothing else matters and it’s the most elementally important and wonderful thing in the world. Which is just a roundabout way of saying, “I love writing.” And though I know you girls get given way too much advice, and for most of you it’s just water off a duck’s back, and for some of you it’s water off a dork’s back. And I vowed I wouldn’t offer any goddamned advice here this morning, I am in fact going to offer some advice dressed up as observation… it is this… life’s too short not to do something you love.
If you can do something you love you’ve got the game shot to pieces. Figures I’m making up as I go along suggest that eight out of ten people go to work each day trying to work out how they got were they are and cursing the fact they have.
So, don’t get locked in, girls. Don’t believe the hype about all this setting you on a path of no return. Never do anything you don’t love for too long. Change. Quit. Start again. Move professions. Move countries. Don’t be a slave to the choices you make this year and next year. Surround yourself with lesbian detectives. Now that last piece of advice was a metaphor. Some of you will get what it means and some won’t… but for Godsakes don’t leave here today telling people, “Freya’s dad said we should hook up with a posse of lesbian detectives.” Because I didn’t.
FATHERS CONTACT ME… TELL THEM HOW MUCH WE LOVE THEM.
But enough of writing. Let’s talk of fathers and daughters.
I was gratified and uplifted by the response of fathers who came up to me when they found out I’d be giving this little talk and said to me, “Anson, above all let them know what little angels we think they are. Make sure you tell them how much we love them and how proud we are of them and what wonderful people they have become.”
Sadly, those fathers were a tiny minority. The vast bulk of the fathers who contacted me with suggestions about what to say about their daughters wanted the world to know that their daughters were deluded little narcissists who live in a world of mirrors and hair-straighteners , as orange as oompa-lumpas and as self-important as Benito Mussolini.
The vast bulk of fathers here wanted me to say that their daughters treated them like chauffeurs and butlers and were too embarrassed to be seen with them in public, unless on an outing to buy a three-hundred-dollar pair of True Religion jeans.
REFUSE TO SAY.
But I refuse to say these things, gentlemen. I refuse to mention how mind-blowingly self-obsessed your daughters are. I will not defame them by saying they’re little mirror-junkies who spend far too much time in Facebookland bitching about their periods and blathering on about what pathetic dick they’re taking to the formal. I will not repeat the insults and slanders you urged me to broadcast, gentlemen
But, men, I will acknowledge your frustration. I know how you feel.
The terrible secret of fatherhood is that we are locked into an unequal love affair. Fathers love their daughters more than daughters love their fathers: we love you girls more than you love us. We don’t choose to do it. But we are trapped by the ineluctable, indefatigable, undeniable force of evolution that demands a father love and protect his daughter so that his genes might live on.
TO GIRLS NOW. Your father’s won’t appreciate me telling you this. They’ll be furious with me. They’d rather you didn’t know what a weakened position we are in. That it’s a totally lopsided relationship, in which we are still dependent on you, but you have broken free... a sort of lapsed partnership in which only one of the partners is still in love.
You no longer need us to give you horsey-rides to bed and read you stories of Piglet and Pooh. And our jokes, which once took flight from our lips like butterflies to delight you, now fall from our mouths like dead ferrets. Our wisdom is now much reduced alongside your own vast learning. We know nothing of Nicky Devarge or Gnarls Barkly. Shortly you won’t even need us to give you a lift anywhere because you’ll have your own licenses and cars.
One day not too long from now after the tertiary education is finished you’ll have your own jobs... and your own money... you’ll link up with snotty-nosed little punks from Melbourne Grammar or Scotch, who aren’t ever going to be half the men we are... and you’ll be able to kiss us off completely. Arivaderci, doofus.
And we’ll lose touch with you. You’ll disappear into a cool new country called The Future, and our only news of your existence will come through your mothers, those insidious stickybeaks, when they say, “Frey, rang today.” And when we ask, “Did you send her my love?”
Your mother will reply, “I did.”
And we’ll ask, “Well, what did she say?”
She said, “Whatevs” Dear.
“Did you ask her if she’s coming home at Easter?”
“Well what did she say?”
“She said ROFL, dear.”
You heartless little creeps!!
Shortly after this the fathers assembled here today will begin to die. The boozers will go first. Jumbo Johannson and Pod Muldoon and Weeksey. Then the farmers like Brad McPherson, who’ve sprayed all those deadly chemicals around. Then the workaholics’ hearts will explode: JimJepson, Paul Ainsworth and David Gibney. Then the coke heads and nightclubbers like Dave Fisher and Tom Howcroft will expire surrounded by psychedelic flashbacks in nursing homes.
Chaps like myself with no vices who have spent their lives in wholesome pursuits like inventing lesbian detectives will last longest. But one day we’ll all be gone.
And only then, when we are gone, and our names are etched in headstones: Here lies Anson Cameron neglected father of Freya; Here Lies Marcus South, Much Abused Father of Ruby... only then will you realize how one-sided this whole love affair has been.
And I’m sad to say, girls, you’ll be wracked by guilt. Shaken by remorse. You’ll be haunted by your inexcusable treatment of us. But it will be too late then, girls.
By that stage you’ll be trapped in new relationships with sweet, sweet little kiddies… who don’t love you quite as much as you love them. But girls we want you to know this… WE FORGIVE YOU… and you want to know why we forgive you… because we know you’re going to get yours.
So always remember, girls, as you lie in your beds at night kept awake by a new and horrific music booming from the bedrooms of your sons or daughters… a music you can neither understand nor enjoy… a music that speaks of the alienation and discord that exists between you and your child, that music won’t actually be new… and it won’t actually be music… Listen to it more closely, it will be the laughter of the ghosts of the men in this room.
Buy Anson Cameron's latest novel, The Last Pulse. It's fantastic.