Remember when you were a kid and you’d go to your friend’s house after school and you’d be playing hide-and-seek or searching for the Chinese Checkers set and you’d go down some stairs and there he would be. The Father. Silent, smelling like tobacco or some masculine scent unnameable he would swing around on his big chair and squint at you over his glasses.
You would stand there, rooted to the spot.
“Hello Mr Roberts,” you would say politely, just as you had been taught. You want to turn and run but you know you can’t, you are caught now, in his den with its brown carpeted walls and flicky teledex and tall peeling bookshelves full of atlases and spines with big words on them like ECONOMICS and GIACOMETTI.
“How is business?” you would continue, gesturing towards the ink-blotched sheet in his lap. Something has dripped on the ink and you wonder if it could have been a tear. But fathers don’t cry. Maybe he dribbled.
He doesn’t answer, but begins to rock on his squeaky high-backed chair, his gaze shifting to the atlas as though he has remembered something.
“Bye Mr Roberts.” And as you turn to go you hear him mumble a deep mumble, perhaps your name, perhaps the new idea.
And you would run back up the staircase to the kitchen where it’s light and the mum has made choc-chip cookies and your friend is guzzling two at once and has forgotten all about the Chinese Checkers. But you don’t care, you’re just grateful that you’re in the world of the mother who is yabbering about ballet shoes and smiling at you as she pats the friend’s hair.
It was Fathers’ Day today and I saw my dad. He was the only dad I knew in our neighbourhood that wasn’t a quiet one. I never found that strange, he never really even seemed like a Father, more of a Dad. A big friend who taught me acrobatics and took me to the ballet and the opera and swapped at bedtime and got into my bed and played the kid while I played the grown-up and did butterfly kisses saying eyetoeye/othereyetoothereye and talked lots and lots and lots about all sorts of things. He wasn’t really one of those Fathers as he went to work every day and worked with actors and directors, and a man called Max pushed him and his camera around on a trolley which looked like huge amounts of fun and I found out that it actually was because he took me to work and let me sit in it and the man called Max pushed me too. He was lucky because he didn’t have to try to be serious, he just got to make pictures all day long. So maybe he had more things to talk about. But all the same I wonder sometimes about all those Quiet Fathers and what it was they almost said but didn’t. And what the blotch was on the paper.