(This is a long post. Please accept my apologies if you get bored by it, but it’s one of those posts that I’m doing for me. You don’t have to read it, but if you do you’ll learn a lot about me and my family history. PS. I wrote this over Easter, so my apologies for taking so long to post it!)
I’m here in Adelaide again. Deidre and I are here for Easter, staying with her dad. Along the way we caught up with my own parents last night and my brothers today. Oh my, what an experience.
To start with, a couple of weeks ago my mother accidentally stepped on her pet budgie and killed it. She hasn’t been able to forgive herself, and has been a blubbering mess ever since, filled with guilt and anguish about stepping on her beloved budgie. I have to say that I haven’t really been able to empathise with her emotional distress at all, and I think that’s because she’s expressed more love for her budgie than she ever has for her own family.
I think I’ve mentioned before that there’s never been much love in our family, and there still isn’t. At the same time, it’s all quite sad that both my parents seem to have lived lives without purpose…
I was looking at my dad last night as he was talking about his past, and I realised that’s what he’s living in – the past. In fact, that’s ALL he’s ever talked about, from the first times I can remember him opening his mouth… It seems that his life hasn’t been rewarding or purposeful, and now he’s just waiting to die. Fourteen years ago he had a heart attack which resulted in a heart operation. They told him at the time that the operation would give him only another ten years, but he’s still going.
Maybe the point of their lives hasn’t been reached yet, and that’s why he hasn’t died yet and he and mum are still together. Maybe the loss of her budgie is leading her into the emotional trauma of losing her husband. I just don’t know.
I also don’t know how I’ll feel when he dies, but I feel it’s going to be sooner than later. He has no purpose that drives him, and my mother, in all her bitterness about her own life, isn’t helping. She openly tells him that she can’t wait for him to die.
I can’t imagine what kind of life he’s lived, especially for the past 40+ years, where he’s been living with a woman he didn’t love and who didn’t love him, all for the sake of ‘doing the right thing’ when he got her pregnant with me. I was the result of a one night stand that turned out wrong, and so he did ‘the right thing’ and they got married. Forty years later, with 3 children and a wife who can’t wait for him to die, he’s waiting for just that.
I’m 40 years old now, the same age that he was when I was born. By then he had his own experiences, his own life, his own losses and his own achievements.
He came over from England in 1939 at the age of 12 with his brother, Don, who was 13. They were war orphans, sent to Australia from England by anxious parents who wanted to save their children from the war. He learned many years later that his parents died during the war, victims of the London bombings. There was nothing in England for him to return to, so he stayed in Australia.
On his journey over in 1939 on a convoy, he watched a sister ship sunk by a German U-Boat, with over 1,000 children going down with the ship. The convoy was unable to stop and they kept on sailing, leaving all the dying children behind. Any ship that stopped to save them would have been doomed itself from the U-Boat. I’m sure those German sailors were proud of themselves for killing so many and furthering the German war effort… I wonder if they knew the ship they sunk was full of children.
As an orphan dad was raised in a very harsh farm school in Victoria, which was run as if it was a military school by an old one-armed ex-Colonel who was a veteran from the Boer War in the late 1800’s. Dad was taught how to work on farms, and when he was 15 he and his brother were sent out to work on farms. The war orphans became the young slave labour of farms around Victoria, and that defined the life that he was going to live.
During or after the Korean War of the 1950’s he served in the Australian Air Force as a parachute folder. He never left the country for active service or anything, and to this day he still talks about his military service and the very important role he played – as a parachute folder. The rest of his life was on farms and stations and railway camps (working on the railways lines across the centre of Australia), all over South Australia and Victoria.
In 1966 my mum joined him in this life of his. She was working in a café when she met him in, and when her life changed as a result of the one night stand she had with him she ended up as a cook on the various farms and stations they found themselves on. My childhood consisted of her blaming me for how bad her life had become, as well as having her take out her anger and frustration on me (I became intimately familiar with how a horse strap felt when you’re beaten with it), and then on my two brothers who she also blamed for her crappy life. I was the recipient of most of her anger, however, because I was the first. She also blamed my dad for getting her into such a crappy life as well. Apparently her ability to make choices or be responsible for her actions was never a part of her reality.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I learnt that dad had been married before he met my mother. I apparently have half brothers or sisters, but I have no information about them as both my parents completely refuse to talk about it. It was also around this time that my uncle discovered that he and my father had 3 sisters who had also been sent away from England in 1939. My father was never interested in knowing, so it was my uncle who followed it up. He managed to track them down to Canada and managed to get in touch with them, only to find that they had a similar attitude to my father – they weren’t interested. So I have aunts who don’t care about their brothers or any other family.
During my childhood, when we didn’t have TV, my dad would talk about all the experiences of his life, with most of it revolving around his own childhood and how often he had tried running away from the farm school. They always tracked him down though, and he usually got severely punished with a good strapping from the old Colonel. His one arm was apparently his strong arm.
Now dad’s turning 81 this year. His life has been challenging, and I don’t think there’s been a lot of happiness throughout it. I know that he had some moments of happiness during my childhood, because I remember him laughing and smiling, but it was always tinged with sadness for the life of hardship that he’d had. And then, of course, there’s my mum, who hasn’t made it easy for him, or for herself, and especially her children.
I had a lot of anger towards my mum because of the amount of blame she placed upon me. I learnt to suppress my anger because any expression of it – or of any opinion that wasn’t appreciated – resulted in me being punished, and so the development of my passive aggression was the result. My rebellious nature earned me the title of ‘black sheep of the family’, and many were the cries of ‘oh where did I go wrong!’
It wasn’t until I reached my 30’s that I started to understand the concept of self responsibility. I realised it was something she had been denying for her entire life. She wasn’t responsible for the decisions she made, as far as she was concerned, and she blamed everyone and everything else but herself.
I began to use this new understanding of self-responsibility to start changing my own life. I had been living my own version of a life where I denied self-responsibility, where I blamed everyone and everything else and never saw that my own choices were resulting in the crappy life that I was living. I realised that I was continuing the same pattern my mum chose, and I knew that had to change.
It took me a while, and I only really started to get a grip on my responsibilities within the past 5 years. What an incredible, incredible struggle it’s been along the way. And only in the past 6 months have I seen how much I’ve still been living in denial, and working through those issues.
My brothers, however, haven’t reached anywhere near the point that I’ve reached. Phillip is 36 and Stephen is 34. Both of them left high school when they were 15, but that’s it. They didn’t leave to go to work; they left because they didn’t want to go to school, and they’ve never worked since. To this day, they have been on welfare (we call it the ‘dole’ in Australia, because it’s free money being ‘doled out’ to recipients) ever since they left school.
Phillip is intellectually disabled, but the government system that provides support has failed him. As far as the government’s doctor was concerned, he can still do non-manual labour and so he still has to look for work. As far as Phillip’s concerned, however, his mental faculties are… well, vague, is the best term I can use. Ever since he had an operation to remove a brain tumour at the age of 8, he’s just never been the same. It was as if he had a lobotomy. He’s still 8, in a 36 year old body. But the government wants him to look for work, even though he’s pretty much been declared as ‘unemployable’.
Stephen is like me, 15+ years ago. He’s been doing an admirable job of caring for Phillip (they’ve been living together for the past 10 or so years since they left home at the same time), but within the bounds of his own passive aggression and emotional issues, it hasn’t been easy. The experiences I grew up with are the same as what he grew up with, but he hasn’t had the motivation or the enthusiasm to try and change his life. And now he has no money to even get a start on doing it. He’s angry, frustrated, doesn’t know how to change his life and doesn’t know how to start. His dole was cut off 6 months ago because the government decided that he had committed a breach of the terms and conditions to gain the dole, and so he now has no income, and no money.
Both he and Phillip are living off what Phillip gets from the dole, which is about $230 a week, including rent assistance. Rent is $150 a week. Maybe you can see a problem there… Ever since Stephen lost the dole, they’ve been forced to pay only half rent, and the landlord has been tolerant. But how long will that tolerance last?
Stephen talks about the jobs he wants to apply for, but which he can’t because he can’t afford the cost of a bus ticket. Phillip talks about the food that they’d like to afford, but they can’t, and so he eats the food packages that a charity mission occasionally provides.
We talked about this over lunch, which Deidre and I bought. We wanted to provide a good lunch, because we knew they had no money, but unfortunately it was Easter Friday and everything was closed. We ended up at a Subway in a service station which was open, and we sat around eating chicken and salad rolls and talking about their life.
At one point we were all crying; Stephen because of how frustrated and angry he is at how crap his life is, Phillip because he’s in the same boat but he doesn’t understand the intricate details of why it’s so crappy, Deidre because she cares, and me because I’m their big brother, and I know where they are right now, because I used to be there too. We ran out of napkins before we decided to continue the conversation in a nearby park, out of the public view.
Everyone is someone’s angel at some point. Deidre and I have decided that we have to become their angels. My brothers couldn’t believe that Deidre and I now earn more in one day than they do in 3 weeks. The debts that they have are miniscule compared to our debts. The biggest debt they have is less than what we paid for our hotel room last night and breakfast this morning, and yet their financial situation is such that they simply can’t afford to pay off their debts and survive at the same time.
So we’re going to help them. We told them that today. We’ll contact their landlord and get her account details and start paying the rent that they owe her, allowing them to at least avoid eviction. We’ll also give them a weekly allowance to allow Stephen to effectively look for a job. All of this is on the condition that they actually do what they need to do in order to change their lives, get a job and then pay us back. However, we’re effectively writing the money off, but not telling them that. If they pay it back, great, but if they don’t, that’s ok too, but the incentive of paying it back shouldn’t be taken away from them. We’re not here to give them free money – they have to do something with it.
I’ll also be giving Stephen tips to help him get a decent job, which I started to do today. I told him how to get a job in an IT call centre and why it was a good idea to do so. IT is the way to go if you want to earn money, and there are ways of getting in without needing experience or qualifications, but once you’re in, you can start getting the experience or qualifications you’ll need to move up and earn more money.
Hopefully their lives can be turned around. Hopefully the support we can give them will help them change their lives. I know there’s the danger that they’ll just treat it as free money and continue to do nothing, but I’m hoping that the crying they did today means they’ve reached that low point in their lives where they know that things have to change. I’m hoping that the ‘shame’ of needing big brother’s help will provide the incentive for them to get off their butts and do something. Counselling could be something that Stephen will need as we move forward as well.
Family. It’s easy to keep your distance, but when you get up close and see how badly their life is, you know you have to do something to help. That’s where I’m at right now.
Thanks for reading! Please add your own thoughts below.
Don't forget to subscribe for new posts sent to you by email!