A fun fact; you can’t chew and cry at the same time.
You can try, but it’s going to be a mess. I know all about this, I am an expert. March 6th is my father’s birthday and my father is no longer alive. That means every March 6, I get up, eat muesli and in short order, start crying.
I eat breakfast standing up. It’s a strange thing I’ve done since moving into this apartment, it helps me think. When you are a drummer, you learn to be able to co-ordinate different parts of your body to act independently of one another. You can ‘chk-chk’ a hi-hat and ‘boompf’ a kick drum at different times and put them together to make something. It gets to the point where you don’t even realise your legs are doing something different to your hands. This is how I am with cereal.
Someone smart told me that there is no textbook for grief, so I am writing my own. Chapter 1 is called ‘Masochism.’ I have learned to compartmentalise emotion into excruciating bursts, which may not seem like an inspired move, but unlike traditional grief, you can mostly control when you are sad.
Here is how I do March 6.
It’s too cold to just be wearing boxers, but like my father, I’m hairy and warm up quickly when I sleep. I am a ritualistic person. I lie in bed and do my rudimentary math to figure out how old Dad would be today. This year it is easy, because 2017 minus 1952 is 65. This seems like an important number.
Now I am looking at the wall that runs parallel to my bed, where I have stuck photos of family. I stand and stare at a photo of my father taken when he was in his twenties. It is sepia and has been around long enough that it looks like it is part of the wall, bleeding into the blu-tack.
He is wearing flared jeans, a cardigan wrapped around his waist, the sort of effortless beard people in Redfern spend their entire lives trying to cultivate. He’s posing, and it seems like he’s somewhere in the Rockies. He is so cool, but he is also a total dag.
In the main room of the apartment, I rifle through records until I find what I am looking for. I lift the needle and trumpets blast through the stillness. My brother took Dad’s stethoscope. My mum took his chair. I took an Earth, Wind and Fire LP that he bought for ten dollars in the 1970s.
Earth, Wind and Fire is the ultimate celebration band. They write songs that you hear at weddings, barmitzvahs, drunk karaoke. They are cheesy as fuck. They are at once the epitome of cool and the gracelessness of dag. They are a doctor who chooses to work in Kings Cross, treats heroin addicts and wears a leather jacket but falls asleep to Radio National and is obsessed with history.
You don’t really see your father when he’s alive. I mean, you do, but not like you see him when he’s dead. Then you see him everywhere, refracted in other fathers. You resist the temptation to yell at your friends who have poor relationships with their fathers, your girlfriends that see their fathers twice a year. You are not a sage. You are an idiot wearing boxer shorts, eating muesli and waking up your neighbours listening to ‘September’ in March.
I am 13 and I am at a barmitzvah. I have gelled my hair and it is extra spiky and I am wearing my new sneakers and a black shirt my grandmother bought me and even though I haven’t remotely hit puberty, I’m feeling good.
Then, a horrible thing happens. I see my Mum and Dad dancing. The band has started playing Earth, Wind and Fire. It takes Dad approximately four seconds to drag Mum onto the dancefloor.
I am so embarrassed. I try to look away, but they’re everywhere. And as I stand there, sweating through my shirt and wanting the world to be wiped out by a stray comet, I realise something even more horrible; they’re really great dancers.
It isn’t hard to see them two decades later, in the cold morning of my apartment. They sashay across my dirty carpet, the perfect pair. Dad always had great rhythm, Mum still has sass. They look like lovers. They have all the moves. They have done this before and they will do this forever.
I go to a friend’s wedding. The band plays ‘Got To Get You Into My Life.’ All of the other parents dance. They are dags, but they are not cool dags. I wish I had spent more time dancing with my parents.
Today is Ray’s 65th birthday. You can’t chew and cry at the same time.
So I keep chewing.