Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Bleary Road


1969 and this album was on high rotation. There were only three school terms in those days so the holidays were usually around May and September and that year was my first at High School. Mum was working full time, my sisters were being baby sat by the neighbour across the road and Dad must have agreed to take me to work on a few days.

He was a “Commercial Traveller” and at that time worked for a company called E.C. Blackwood’s who were paper merchants and their warehouse was on southbank in the days when it was an industrial area a long way from the riverside boulevard and cafĂ© precinct that it has become. The railway line and the river were the true boundary of the city. In fact the river was disdained and in lot’s of ways Melbourne seemed embarrassed by it in those days – the river that flowed upside down, a sewer.

The southbank was an industrial area, warehouses, factories, cobbled laneways, narrow streets, trucks, and that was where I headed with my Dad on those school holiday mornings.

Dad had a company car and it was updated annually. The first one I can remember him driving was a mini minor and that must have been around 1964-65 because we went on a holiday to Adelaide in it – five people plus luggage piled high on the roof. After that though, the company began to supply Holden’s and in 1969 I’m pretty sure he was driving a grey HR Holden sedan like the one in the picture.

Amazingly for us, this car had a radio and it was that which became my friend those long afternoons when I went to work with Dad. Usually the mornings were spent seeing clients, driving all over the city, taking orders and selling new paper products. Most of Dad’s sales were in paper bags – no plastic bags in those days, wherever you went, grocer, greengrocer, milkbar, bottle shop, everything was put into paper bags.

But inevitably come lunchtime, there would be a rendezvous at a pub somewhere with some mates. Now as I think back on it, these dates must have been set up earlier because there were no mobile phones or pagers in those days, so it all had to be pre-planned. I didn’t think too much of it at the time if Dad would say, I’ll just pop in here for a while.

I was a kid of course, and kids weren’t allowed in bars, so I’d have to stay in the car and wait for him to come out. Usually he’d bring me out a lemon squash or something to drink, maybe a small bottle of tarax lemonade, and maybe a sandwich. But looking back I guess there was no real concern about leaving a kid in a car in a car park of a pub alone for a few hours, while he was in there drinking with his mates. I don’t suppose there was any real danger in those days, I survived, but we’d be pretty critical of anyone who did that to kids these days.

So the radio was my friend and that afternoon Abbey Road was on high rotation and that meant that the top 5 songs on the chart were played every couple of hours or so. When Dad was in the car the radio was tuned into the horse races but when I was sitting there by myself I could listen to 3XY or to 3AK “where no wrinklies fly”. I clearly remember even now the words of “Bang Bang Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Come together” and “Octopus’s Garden”. Look at this list of some of the other top hits of 1969 –
1. Aquarius, Fifth Dimension
2. Sugar, Sugar, Archies
4. Honky Tonk Women, Rolling Stones
5. Build Me Up Buttercup, Foundations
8. I'll Never Fall In Love Again, Tom Jones
13. Hair, Cowsills
16. Crimson And Clover, Tommy James and The Shondells
18. Suspicious Minds, Elvis Presley
19. Proud Mary, Creedence Clearwater Revival
22. Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond

I’m betting everyone of them was played while I sat there waiting for Dad. But I don’t know how long I used to sit alone in the car on those afternoons. It was hours, I know that, because Dad was usually under the weather when he came out some time later. Funny, this particular day that keeps popping into my head was sunny, not hot, but not cold either. The sky was blue with light whilte clouds drifting slowly past. I can remember that we were somewhere on the Hume Highway, near Broadmeadows, the pub was in an industrial area, a large car park, with not a lot of traffic in it.

Looking back it’s really hard to imagine how socially acceptable drink driving was at the time. Dad was clearly pissed on those afternoons but thought nothing of driving home and showed less concern about driving home with his son next to him. The only way home from that pub on that day was down Sydney Road, through the city and then out Riversdale Road to home. We could follow the tram tracks. I guess it wasn’t possible to speed on that route so maybe that was how we got home safely every time.

I actually enjoyed being with Dad on those days, until we got to the pubs.

I know I keep returning to things about my Dad here and the reason is that there are so many of my midlife issues that keep pointing back to my Dad’s alcoholism. I will never say that I had a deprived or bad childhood, I didn’t, but I need to put the things I regard as my weaknesses into context – communication skills, inability to make friends and maintain friendships, self esteem, inability to express emotion, desire to run from and avoid conflict. I’m trying to understand why a father would do that to a son. I know there are people who have been treated far worse. But why did Dad think it was acceptable to leave a kid in a car in a car park of a pub for hours while he was inside drinking with his mates? Different times I guess. Just different times.

21 comments:

JaniceNW said...

When I think back I wonder how we survived our childhoods, no seatbelts, parents driving after "cocktails", no bike helmets, no air bags(except that nasty fat man down the street. oh wait, he was a wind bag!),gosh hundreds of things that have been made safer now. My honda has a crumple zone, front and side air bags, special seat/shoulder belts. My parents were (are-dad) what I considered functional alcoholics. Not coming to your school drunk and disheveled, they just started around 5pm and drank with the neighbors, their friends, each other. I honestly did not notice how bad it was until I was in college. I remember babysitting for my parents' best friends until 3am. I was 12!. Ot was a different world.

Loz said...

It was a very different world and unfair for us to judge because of that. It's also interesting Janice that you and I live a world apart but some of what we talk about is universal.

Jod{i} said...

I remember sitting in the bar at a table, while dad spoke to the "guys" about baseball stuff and this and that...

I get this

Pen and the Sword said...

That's really sad, Loz. I can totally identify myself. My parents were in their teens when they had me and it was 70s. They smoked a lot of pot and drank incessantly. I was often times left to own devices and would wonder off and get lost with the military police delivering me to my parents' door. My parents were so daft... I am amazed I am still alive.

Beth said...

I remember clearly my father coming home in time to milk the cows - and throwing up because he had too much to drink. He too thought nothing of drinking and driving. Although there were a million other issues in my family, like you Loz, I remember some things more vividly than others. May we learn the lessons that we are supposed to, and be allowed to let them go in a healthy way...

Davidlind said...

Glad you are feeling better. Your story reminded me of being left in the car with my father and sisters while mom went shopping inside. I guess she needed a break from all of us. At least we had each other. But I think I would probably have preferred to be alone!

Robin J said...

Been there done that never forgave the actions but got a understanding of the man and that to me is what it is forgiving the man because more often and not we are defined by our experiences even our parent reflect what their life experiences were......I have this saying " I am not the words of my Father I am the seed of our Fathers love" it works for me :O)

Jeff said...

There is a lot of difference between how we were treated and how kids are supposed to be treated today. In some ways, I think the kids who suffer today (save the extreme ones) are those who have been told that they are being treated badly.

HollyGL said...

My step-dad was not only an alcoholic, but he smoked pot incessantly. My mother and he used to get into huge arguments about the fact that he smoked in front of me. I never saw her smoke anything but cigarettes. Anyway, to this day, even the smell of marijuana makes me physically ill. I associate it so strongly with him and his behavior when I was a child.

I think that its great you're exploring the impact of the past on the present for you. I have done, and continue to do, the same thing - as you know. I truly believe it is the path to healing.

Loz said...

I don't wish to make it sound like I had a grim upbringing it's just that the negatives are the things I find I am trying to explain. What I find interesting about all of your comments is the commonality of experience and it makes me wonder if this was far more the norm than I ever really dreamt it was.

I grew up thinking that I was the only one who had an alcoholic father or whose parents constantly fought. Now I'm beginning to think that wasn't true, that the rality was it was just hidden.

Seiche said...

I can completely relate to this. I spent many late afternoons in my Dad's favorite haunt. Him drinking with his buddies and me screwing around at the pool table or the penny arcade machines.

I would run up to him, exited to be a part of his world, to be with the men, and he would hand me change and smile, and send me on my way. I was happy just to be spending time with him, regardless of what that time entailed.

Looking back on it, this was not the man shuffling his kid off to be baby-sat by a pool table. Rather, he did not really know how to communicate any other way than with a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and like-minded people around him. I'm not condoning it in any way, it's just what the man thought was the right way to bond with me.

I would have preferred throwing a football around in the backyard, but I took what I got, no matter how unhealthy. It was only after I developed my own social moors that I found anything wrong this. It was what it was.

Thanks for posting this, Loz.

.. Dallas Meow >^^ said...

brings back weird memories.
I learned to drive at 13 when one day mom said,
someone needs to go get your dad.
Drove for 3 years without a license, most of the time with my younger brother and sister next to me and my dad 'asleep' in the back.

brismod said...

Wow! It's true, not many people these days would dare leave a child in a car at the pub. We live in such a different world now where such a things aren't acceptable...and that's a good thing.

Loz said...

Thanks for dropping by Brismod - you're right - it is a good thing

Our Park Life said...

yep, i guess it is a different world, with things that are better and worse than in times before...

thanks for sharing this experience though - i grew up in the 80's and 90's and can see how much things will have changed again for my boys in years to come...

Gill xo

Loz said...

Hi Gill - it was a different world and maybe my memories of it aren't all that accurate as well.

life in a pink fibro said...

Interesting post Loz. Mum and Dad and I often talk about how they used to drive us around in the Kingswood, no seatbelts, bassinette on the back seat instead of a baby capsule. As they say, we all survived. But that's a long time to leave a young kid alone - even if you did have such great music for company!

•´.¸¸.•¨¯`♥.Trish.♥´¯¨•.¸¸.´• said...

Yes, different times.

It must seem grim looking back but as you said at the time you didn't know any better. Maybe your dad didn't either. Though it is no excuse.

I second what Alison said too... my parents thought nothing too of leaving us in the car parked in their friends driveway asleep, then driving home down the mountains...likely a little over .05 too.

Sorry you have present difficulties based on your childhood , it must be frustrating sometimes to wonder what if ? things ahd been different.

Stacia said...

It's interesting to reflect on how those times shaped you (and the way you parent), isn't it? Thank goodness for good music and the wisdom of time to help us "know better."

Loz said...

Hi Trish - I don't want it to seem that my childhood was grim, but there were things taht happened that still hold great sway over me today and Dad's drinking was one of them. Thanks for commenting.

Loz said...

HI Stacia - long time followers of the blog will know that midlife does cause some of us to reflect on those critical things that colour who we are. Thank you too for dropping by.