True Colours

Guiding Me Along

Guiding Me Along

I had to act quickly to take advantage of the natural rim-lighting here. I think it helps, in a subtle way, to convey the bond between this young father and his son walking into their lives together. It depicts an observed moment that moves me to think very introspectively. A revelation of my state of mind.

I have deep admiration for men who take good care of their families, especially their children. The reasons are not things I talk about often with just anyone. I suppose it’s because doing so subconsciously makes me feel vulnerable but from what I know to be obvious is that discussing it openly puts my family’s business in the streets. This is a highly expressed no-no where I come from but as a street photographer it’s only fair that I share some personal aspects of my life with others. Taboo or not, I still have the right to do so. I’m speaking of my own personal experiences after all, and such experiences are why I’ve dedicated much of my art career to documentaing people’s lives through photography.

My father’s been married three times, and he has five children between all three wives. I am his first born son (my mother being his first wife), and I have always felt that he was never meant to be a husband or a father.

He cheated on my mother until my older sister caught him, at the age of ten, in bed with a woman my mother worked with. He told my sister to mind her own business. Those were his exact words, “Mind your own business!” but she told on him anyway – rightfully so.

Mum always knew he was cheating on her but this was the proof. In the middle of one night, she woke me out of my sleep, took my sister and I and walked out on my father when he wasn’t home. I wasn’t quite five years old at that time, and I can remember feeling that something was terribly wrong. I asked her if dad was coming too. She bluntly said no. She was fuming mad. I’ve always believed that was the very night my sister revealed to mum what my father had done.

I became what people used to call a latchkey kid as mum raised us on her own while educating herself and holding down a career. She had to be strong, and it nearly killed her. I’ll never forget the time I came home from school and found the next door neighbour assisting her because she had a nervous breakdown from severe stress and exhaustion due to taking care of us, herself and fighting pitch legal battles with my father; battles that she lost.

Dad never paid child support, not even when ordered to by the court. The laws were different back then. Even when ordered by a judge; usually male, a father was never actually forced to take care of his child financially or in any other manner. This suited my father fine, and he stayed away.

There were a few times that between her pleas and court insistence that he show some effort, and he would pick me up and have me sit around the real estate office where he worked for hours. That was when I began to see his habits for myself. Such as the times he would take me to Flamboro Downs to bet on horses, and then tell me to not tell my mother where we had been. I was still quite impressionable back then, and didn’t tell my mother until I was in my teens and saw my father in a whole new light.

Mum has lived the rest of her life single and extremely resentful and distrustful of men after the divorce. I couldn’t begin to count how many times I was accused of doing something sly, and hearing how I’m a congenital liar just like my father, and how I look like him, talk like him, walk like him and will wind up just like him because of genetics; she was a nurse.

My older sister has pretty much been the same since catching dad in bed with that other woman (that one he never married). If our dad was given the power to decide which gender of kids to have, I’m sure that he would select only boys (my second sister is from his second marriage). He has no respect for females whatsoever; although I suspect he’d use the fact that he’s the marrying type and enjoys having sex with willing women to argue against my opinion. The fact that my sister reported my father’s sexual indiscretion and brazen attempt to intimidate her into helping him cover it up certainly made my father hate her even more. Deep down, my older sister has always known this.

I’ve watched her hurt for her whole life because of him. Despite having children, she has never been able to hold a decent relationship with a man and has typically pursued selfish, manipulative, unfailthful, abusive, cocky, macho men whom she never even trusted as potential husband and father material. Yes, exactly the type of man that she and mum repeatedly warned me to never become.

When I was nine, mum moved me and my sister from Hamilton to Prince George in North Central British Columbia 4,100km (2,548mi) away. For a while money was better there, and mum needed to better support our little family well into the future. At some point, her growing children were going to need othodontics, medical care in emergencies and post-secondary education. Further on, she would need to retire and remain independent well into old age. She needed to make money that she could save. So off we went.

By the time I was twelve, I had no emotional connection to my father. It didn’t matter to me that he was neither there when we lived in the same city or when we were separated by vast distances. He wouldn’t call he wouldn’t write so neither did I. Mum got on my nerves by relentlessly asking, “Don’t you miss your father? Why don’t you call your father?” She just couldn’t understand how I did not pine after him as, according to a plethora child psychologists, other boys are said to pine after their deadbeat dads.

It’s just how I am. Terms like friendship, parent, spouse, sibling, and etcetera have extremely important meanings to me. You have to be there to get and maintain my considerations. If you’re not, I will forget about you. If there’s a legitimate reason why you can’t be there, I need to be made well aware of it otherwise you simply will cease to matter. It’s probably related to a genetic trait I inherited from my father; his ability to easily cut just anyone out of his life and move on, except relationships with others don’t seem to mean anything to him except means to advance himself finically, materially or socially.

It may have been 1983, after my father had married his second wife and moved to Edmonton, when dad drove from Edmonton to Prince George to see me and my sister, I’m really not sure anymore. That may have been the first time I met his wife, and her son from a previous relationship. I’m not quite clear on if he brought them with him or not. I do recall thinking that his coming out there was a very nice gesture, and the first time he seemed to actually do something decent without prompting but I was old enough to be cynical in a cynical world. I didn’t think it would last, and I was unfortunately proven right.

There was a time in 1985 when my mother arranged for me to go out and spend the summer with him in Edmonton. It was okay but kind of boring. I faked being the son who always wanted a dad, and I feel guilty about that today. I just know that had I expressed my true feelings at fourteen years of age, I would only have been regarded as impudent and any joy to be had from that trip to Edmonton would be lost. So I put on a false face.

By the time I was seventeen, after a few years of careful consideration, I decided that although I love children, I don’t love them enough to ever want any of my own. The responsibility is too great, requiring personal sacrifices that I don’t want to make. Similar to my father, I’m too career-oriented (but not as stingy), and there is no way that I would be so careless to bring one more child into this world and not be there for it as truly required.

At eighteen, I returned to Hamilton for college. Dad had already moved back to the city, and bought a new house. For eight months – again arranged by my mother, I had to endure relying on him until I could find my own place and fend for myself. Within forty-eight hours of getting off the train, he informed me that he told all of his friends and colleagues over the course of 9 years that he didn’t have any other children other than those he had with his second wife whom he was still married to at the time. My dad told everyone that his wife’s boy, who is a few years younger than me, was his only son (he had another son with her a few years later).

He told me that he was embarrassed to tell people that he had children from a previous marriage that he really didn’t have anything to do with so he boldly lied about the true scale of his family.

The only reason why he told me what he had done was because the real estate firm he worked for had a baseball team and, me being quite athletic, he wanted to pass me off as a young new agent on the team. He had to; therefore, introduce me to his coworkers. Given that I was raised by my mother, who instilled in me to never accept lies and deceptions in my life, I’m sure that he could tell that there would be no point in trying to persuade me to not let it out that I am his first born son. Now he had some explaining to do to everyone he knew and lied to for so many years.

In case you missed it, his revelation to me means that he denied the existence of his own flesh and blood, his first born children, just to make himself look good to his real estate associates and the few friends he had who didn’t already know the truth. I don’t know if you, reading this, could ever deny the existence of any of your children that way but I know that I certainly could not, and I still don’t have children.

Additionally, it means that he was counting on his first two kids to stay way out in western Canada or anywhere distant for the rest of our lives, and never set foot in the same city as him again. We were a hindrance that he was so happy to be rid of until I decided to come back to Ontario to go to school.

Here’s the twist to it all, although I’ve never known my father for not much more than his bad traits, I always imagined that he would disown me to further himself. So, it really came as no surprise when he did. I think that actually helped me to forgive him for it quickly. Forgive but never forget. I still have deep seated trust issues, especially where he’s concerned. Also, I can honestly say that although I don’t hate him, I also do not love him either. He is a stranger to me, and I can’t swallow the “blood is thicker than water” adage at all.

I didn’t ask to be born, and you can’t pick your parents. This is my life, nevertheless. It is what it is, so I don’t let the bad aspects stop me from living a healthy, positive, productive and most of all loving life. Let me also point out the crucial fact that there are many others who have had far, far worse fathers than me. By comparison, I really haven’t got a problem. So I count myself quite fortunate.

Where love is concerned, I eventually found a woman; Kim, to share every aspect of my life with, and made sure that before we got too deeply involved with each other, she would be satisfied with never having children. We courted for seven and-a-half years before marrying, and we’ve been married for the past 14. As I write this I am now 43, never cheated on her and have never regretted not having children.

I didn’t write out my thoughts on this matter as an attempt to embarrass my father. I don’t feel that’s right; hence my long-held reluctance to do so, and I know that this can easily appear to have been done out of malice. The point of writing this is because I grew up hearing regurgitated statistics that always indicated that boys who come from abusive men or absentee fathers have a high probability of repeating the same behaviour in their adulthood. Mum also frequently threatened me with Bible scripture on how the “Sins of the falther will be visited upon the third and fourth generations.” She also made many references to the song “Cat’s in the Cradle”.

Notwithstanding all of the aforementioned, I am extremely proud that I haven’t repeated the most sensitive and damaging habits and mistakes of my father and I want to openly rejoice in that for once. It doesn’t make me an angel but indeed a better man in spite of everything. That’s the point.

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17 thoughts on “True Colours

  1. I know of this too,although each experience is unique. I don’t have any resentment, because I realize my mother made it almost impossible to my sister and I to be with him. He tried, I think. Her unwillingness to live an let live, keeping us away from him.

    • Yes, I’ve seen that in others circumstances. When one or even both parents use their children as weapons of war against each other. A parent who wants to be there for their child is deprived of that need, want and right all because of the other parent’s selfishness and love of hate.

      I hope that you and your sister are now able to have a good relationship with your father, even though such experiences you should have had as kids are forever lost.

  2. Allan, I read this with such a mix of awe, wonder and privilege to know you! The trigger points which drive us to take certain photos are so simple yet so complex . . .

    I’m not sure if you know of this poem but it is one of my all time favorites –

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    “This be the Verse” – by Philip Larkin

    Best wishes to you and Kim.

    • You’re so right, the reason why a photographer shoots what he/she shoots, I allude to this on the main MOF blog:

      http://themofman.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/weekly-post-challenge-habit/

      Clearly that’s why most photographs are likely to mean much more to the shooter than to the average observer who will spend 18 seconds looking at the images. There are important reasons as to why we shoot what we shoot. Even a simplistic appearing shot like this one. We can only hope to do it well enough to convey the importance to someone else.

      This is my first time reading this poem. I like the way Larkin makes poignant sense of it all. He confirms how each generation inevitably advances from the previous in the way life is lived; hopefully for the better. Both the predecessing and succeeding members of the generations have critical roles to carry out in ensuring that the future is positive. It’s very hit and miss.

      Thank you so much for sharing this poem, Patti. It’s a wonderful gift.

  3. A touching photo Allan, thanks for opening up the curtain and sharing your background like this. It is good for everyone to hear from people who have grown from extremely difficult family situations into balanced and caring adults.

  4. It’s a very strong story and I feel for you. And it reinforces my belief that even if you come from the tangled upbringing need not follow that particular line, like so many seems the make and blame everything on the tangled childhood.
    It is brilliant that you can choose an equity line, for too many fall into the parents’ way of being. And it makes me think about how your father’s upbringing was, what was it that shaped him.
    I myself have no children and understand when selecting it away. But I think YOU had been a wonderful father.

    • I know very little about my father’s upbringing. Of what I do know, some things do point toward why he’s quite insensitive but most things don’t. From just that it appears that in the final analysis, although environment plays a considerable part in our development, we all must make serious choices on how we conduct ourselves.

      Even if I knew much more detail on his life, it wouldn’t be my place to explain it here. Drawing that line is one of my choices of conduct.

  5. Allan, this has touched me. I am glad to see that you have grown to be nothing like him – there are some bits about your mother that I don’t understand (her fear and repeated statements that you would grow to be like him, and her insisting that you should spend time with him 😦 ). But I can’t know what her reasons were… like you, I have decided not to have any kids. May I send you a hug? P.

    • Despite mum’s resentment about what my father did, she continued to try to keep my father in my life; despite the few times he even accused her of “poisoning” my “mind against” him. Apart from that, the Christian in her strives to forgive him. I will add that I also believe that deep down she never really stopped loving him, even though she knows full well that he has a terribly incensitive personality.

      Your hug is gladly received, and reciprocated. Thank you so much.

      • People are complex. I could feel her pain and struggles through your story. We are hear to listen and support each other, some of us. I know “where you are coming from now” Others can make an impact on our life, but you have shown that we are the ones steering it. It’s honour to get to know you.

  6. Wow, thank you for sharing all that. I’m so happy that you’ve made a happy ending (and ongoing) for yourself. Happy days to you and Kim! 🙂

  7. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge-State-of-Mind – WoollyMuses

  8. Pingback: WPC: State of Mind (From The Eye) | Chris Breebaart Photography / What's (in) the picture?

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