Here are some thoughts not so much on love as on the people I love – the people I have very strong feelings for; the people for whom I would, I believe, lay down my life. I mean of course my children Eve, Tate and Lec, and my wife Rochi. It’s easier to talk about people than emotions, and obviously platonic love is not easy to define. I might lay down my life to save a close friend in certain circumstances, but it’s hard to be as certain about that, and there is not the same depth of feeling for most friends. I accept that some friendships may be so close as to involve platonic love. I also think that in love there is an element of pride, though the former could certainly exist without the latter. I am proud of all my children, proud that they sprang from my nest. I am proud to be the partner of Rochi, because of the impressive person that she is. Love must be reciprocated: so I loved Pru, my first wife, but she clearly lost her love for me and decided to leave; although a distant affection remains, love evaporated quickly. I think at age 60 I need to write this down before my easily accessible memories of those three childhoods grow dimmer. It is surprising how fast it seems to be that children develop independent lives of which their parents know not a lot; and feel like a footnote to those lives, albeit a supportive footnote. This said, I’ll speak of my loved ones in the order that I met them.
My daughter Eve is now 31, a smart, mature, vivacious and indeed a beautiful young woman. Like her brothers she has a strong network of friends – much larger than my own, and I believe that is in part due to the loss of a sense of family when my marriage with Pru broke up. She has always been most articulate, with strong writing skills, and quite a dominant first child. Her nearer brother Tate may have begun life a quieter person as Eve was so good at putting her point-of-view. She developed much skill, confidence and independence as a child and young teenager through several years spent with her beloved galloway Justin. Eve has a robust sense of humour, as do both her brothers. She can be quite tough and ‘ballsy’ I’m told, but has a vulnerable side which I know less about. I think there was a time in her mid to late teens when she was depressed, but that was not shared with me. It may well have been in part due to the family break-up, even though both parents worked hard to provide a continuing sense of home and family. At a much later time she seemed badly wounded by the loss of her longstanding relationship with Pete Fitzgerald, a much older man.
Eve was a rebellious teenager. As the more obvious authority figure in the house, I think I copped more of her anger. That was all happening when the marriage crumbled – indeed we were attending a counselor ostensibly because of Eve’s difficult behavior. Of course she was not remotely responsible, but at 16 she happened to be the oldest child and certainly a significant participant. I’m unsure if it’s a first child thing, but Eve often formed friendships with people less able than herself. She also seemed to fall for significantly older men, so I’m pleased that her present relationship with Fin is more equal in every way. There is a generous and loving quality to the way Eve relates, certainly to me and I think to all the people in her circle. It’s nice to be there in a small sort of way. She is well travelled, and has had a quite longstanding executive job with Penguin book sales. I think the position was created for her, so clearly they like her, and she is well aware of the benefits of being with a big firm. It will probably be good for her to try something different when she’s ready, and she knows that.
Yes, Tate as a child was a quieter person than his two highly articulate siblings. Now he is a tall, confident, handsome man of 29 with perhaps the largest network of friends – though I am guessing here. As did Eve and Lec, Tate had a happy rural childhood living with attentive parents on big forested blocks. I believe that Tate was the one most affected by the sense of loss of family, going by what happened to him next. He was, at the time of the break-up, in the last year of primary school at Upper Beaconsfield, and doing well. His best friend was a clever boy from an academically oriented family. In his first year at Berwick High he found a new ‘family’, boys without much interest in schoolwork, and who were, to call a spade a spade, a fairly rough bunch of ‘yobboes’. They were loyal to each other, and Tate retains a number of these friendships today. They also got into a deal of trouble with the police, some of it terrifying for a parent – as in car theft and high speed chases. Tate seemed slow to learn that breaking the law isn’t smart, but eventually got the point, left school in fifth form and began a landscaping apprenticeship. For all that, the yobbo mates and the ‘tats’, he is probably the most sensitive of the three – exhibits a tough exterior but is vulnerable, not unlike my father, and with the same deadly blue eyes!
He is also the least worldly of the three; not naïve, but always had an ability to focus intensely – to the exclusion of the world around, I think. Hence his strong skills with computers and other modern technologies, which seem to come easily to him, lucky fellow! Being a young ‘tradie’ running his own business was very hard, particularly as some clients with big houses could be slow to pay, if they paid at all. So to his credit, after a chance contact through me, Tate was able to pass the (rather bizarre) entrance test for Landscape Architecture at RMIT University. To his even greater credit, he passed the degree – after years away from serious study. He hasn’t travelled extensively like his siblings, but has worked at many jobs and achieved many lesser qualifications and certificates. He and a good mate travelled north to Cape York, and he returned after a month when his money ran out. Now I hope he gets that first ‘real job’ in Landscape Architecture soon, before his course becomes too distant.
It’s a truism that life isn’t always fair; not fair to be born into a family riddled with diabetes, even less fair to get Type 1 Diabetes at 28 with no other risk factors. That’s what happened to Tate last year. He is coping well, but it’s a miserable condition. I hope that his flare for technology will help him to manage it expertly, though ‘attitude’ is probably the key factor. Unlike his brother, Tate has had a fair number of short-term girlfriends, but now seems settled with Roshi, a nice British lass and astute restaurant manager. For me, Tate is still a ‘work in progress’, an unfinished symphony – I have to let go, but somehow he has always seemed the most vulnerable one; I’ll near-as-be- damned let go once he gets that first career job. Of course, it’s also about my own lingering traces of guilt at not being able to sustain my first marriage.
When I think of Lec, now 27, I think of not just a fine all-rounder – tops at study, work and play – but also a generous, caring soul, or so he seems to me. He has demonstrated an almost uncanny ability to do very well at studies despite playing hard too, and keeping fit. I have a vague memory that as a baby he was a little slow to start speaking – but when he did start some of the things he said were remarkable; as if he had been monitoring things, soaking it all in. And so he continued – successful at school and uni, and an intrepid traveler – taking himself alone through South America at a tender age (?24), working in a London bar, travelling about South East Asia. He has been, almost, a one-woman man. He had a long relationship with a sweet lass he met at school, then a brief relationship before he found lovely Cat, a fellow physiotherapy student. It’s a not uncommon trait, I guess. Some would say it’s better to try a number of relationships before settling down, but I think it’s equally true that you learn a lot from a longer (necessarily deeper) partnering. They’ve been together several years now, so both must have learned a good deal about cross-cultural relationships. Cat is very obviously Australian, but of course looks Chinese, and I suspect that Chinese cultural values are strong within her family home. Their relationship seems very happy and set to last.
Another descriptor I’d apply to Lec is ‘wise for one so young’. I think it’s a wisdom that also comes from much experience squeezed into a small number of years; but then he seemed street-wise from the moment he could talk, or quite soon after. He can also be moderately quick to raise the temperature of an argument – though that is likely just youth, and the son/father competition thing. I’m finding that I have less to say about Lec, and that may be either because my pen is tiring today, or because he has always inspired confidence in his ability to manage his life well. It’s interesting to me that I almost didn’t have three children. In 1982 I’d just had a melanoma excised (while looking after a young farmer dying of the disease), and wasn’t altogether sure of my own prognosis. However, I’d had the experience of losing my brother Peter at an early age; and although it sounds a bit strange, I was somehow thinking ‘security in numbers’. And having another child was an optimistic thing to do. Whatever, it’s a good thing Lec arrived.
Well, here we are then, ‘saving the best for last’. Maybe not quite last, as I think I’ll write a postscript about my sister Kim, though I’ve written in a similar vein before. Rochi and I have known each other for nearly 15 years, married for 8. We come from quite different backgrounds – mine quite privileged upper middle class anglo (though with a strong work ethic), private school, on to a career in medicine – on the face of it. Rochi grew up in an immigrant Italian family; her mum and dad started with very little and worked hard for their success. My parents were protective of their precious first child, but Rochi’s conservative Catholic papa was more than protective; he ruled the family with an iron fist. The 4 daughters were not trusted to do anything without dad until they left home – which Rochi did as soon as she could by studying law in Canberra. So whereas I had a good many brief and longer relationships before marriage, Rochi had a small number of unpleasant ones with men who were deceitful, no matter what their positive attributes. This was likely because prior experience had been forbidden – not a recipe for choosing well, in my opinion. So I think Rochi is more wary of relationships than I am, and at the time we met less experienced in the nitty-gritty of living together. Relationships demand compromise – you cannot just live as if with an independent housemate.
I was very attracted to Rochi and still am. She is clever, vivacious and with a fine sense of humour. She also has the lawyer’s need not only to win every argument, at times by sophistry, but also to crush the opposition. And Italians get hot quickly (and also cool down quickly), and tend to say hard things in the heat of the moment. Anglo’s probably hold back a bit, unless pushed into a corner. What I sometimes think of as abusive might pass for just an average argument in an Italian household. And I am no shrinking violet, so perhaps to that extent we deserve each other. Rochi has a passion for the arts, which I admire. She also has somewhat limited her life experiences by avoiding things she is anxious about – swimming, bike-riding, camping for example – and I think that is sad for her. It affects me less than it might; I rationalize that I can do those things alone, or have done enough of them anyway, like camping. I think we have smoothed the rough edges of our relationship over time, and it seems enduring – that is certainly my preference. I like the idea of us, with luck, growing old together, and I think Rochi does. We could both still improve our conflict resolution skills, such as stepping back rather than thrusting forward. Career change hasn’t been easy for Rochi (is it ever for anyone?), though by most yardsticks it seems to have been a good move – if only a job in the public sphere would come up. I’m truly sorry there’s not more I can do in that regard than be supportive.
I have a sibling’s love for my sister Kim, but it is tempered by frustration and probably some guilt. She and I have different values about some important things, and I have often felt frustrated over the years by her less than adequate care of her diabetes, and her inevitable descent into major complications; though a lot of them galloped ahead in pregnancy – not of her doing. So I’ve had less to do with Kim than a truly loving brother would, and for that I have a little guilt. I have at times tried to help her health, with little positive result – hence the frustration. Perhaps love should have been more attentive, tried harder. So it’s a loving relationship (and Kim certainly expresses her love for me) but with some ambivalence – not unlike many sibling relationships, I suspect.