(written in 2009)
Sitting at my computer, looking back over the seventy-fours years of my life, I am aware of a kaleidoscope of memories, each with its own emotional content, some joyful, some fearful, some coloured with prejudice, some full of rage. And as these memories float past I think that if I were given a second chance there would be many things I would change. And so I decide:
I WANT MY LIFE BACK to find out more about my parents. I know so little about them. I know they were both born into rich English families. My Dad, Stuart Edward Wade, was born in Sheffield, England, on February 12, 1892.1 He was the youngest of a family of fourteen. I often tried to imagine that...trying to make yourself heard over thirteen others. According to his birth certificate his father, Robert Wade, was a Machine Knife Works Manager. Mum was born in the same year and was the youngest of a family of eleven. Her father was an ironmonger, probably the equivalent of a hardware merchant today. Big families were the thing in those days, but unfortunately neither set of parents knew how to express their feelings or demonstrate love. Mum told me once that when she wanted to speak with her father she would knock on his study door and say: "Excuse me, Sir." 2
And so this suppression of feelings was passed on to both my brother Ian and myself and, as a consequence, we didn’t know how to relate to people and both our first marriages failed.
When Dad was 20, his eldest sister, who was then 39, suggested that he go to Newfoundland as a missionary. He didn't have any formal training in religious affairs and was given the job on the understanding he would teach Sunday School and assist the minister. He once told me that, during a severe winter there, two children were lost in a snow storm, and he led a search party and found them kneeling together in prayer position, frozen stiff.
Apparently Dad did some preaching, and he said that when he preached he could make the congregation laugh or cry. Trouble was, he didn't believe in God, nor in what he was doing. He left after two years. It was 1915 and he was twenty-three.
There was a lot of pressure on young men at that time to join the army. The war was not going well and there were posters all around the country with a photograph of Lord Kitchener pointing, and the headline: YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU! Dad didn't believe in shooting people, .but those who didn’t join up received a white feather in their letterbox, the label of a coward. Dad joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He told me once that in the front line, when he was ordered to fire, he used to shoot up into the air. I still find that incredible. Imagine being in a trench, the Germans are charging in full battle cry, the stench from the rotting bodies strewn across the ground in front of the trench is nauseating, and you're pointing your gun in the air. I’m still not sure what to make of that attitude: was he completely nuts or very courageous? Actually I don’t think he was either.
The British Army at the time was shooting deserters at a great rate and although he wasn't a deserter, somewhere along the way I learned that Dad had been court-martialled for cowardice. It was only hearsay but knowing what I know now about that conflict, if it’s true, I can only assume he went to pieces. In 1916 alone the Battle of the Somme, it is estimated, claimed 1,300,000 Allied and German casualties. In total there were over ten million men killed in World War 1.3 Over the past few years I have read many books, watched TV programs and movies about WW1, and am still astonished that anyone came out of it and that those who did had any sanity at all.
When Dad was alive I bitterly resented him because of his remoteness. We never hugged or kissed. Nor did we have any rapport. What changed my attitude about my Dad was a rebirthing session I had in 1953 (Rebirthing is a powerful healing technique that releases energy – as thoughts, memories and experiences held in the subconscious and the musculature of the body). I recalled a past life in which I was his (dad’s) best friend. I went back into the trenches with him and discovered he wasn't a coward at all. I was mortally wounded and I fell into a shell hole. Stuart (Dad) came to rescue me. When I died he huddled down in the mud next to me, too distraught to move. The officer-in-charge thought he was hiding.
I wish I'd known all this when Dad was alive. It would have changed the nature of our relationship. But I didn't, and if he'd told me I probably wouldn't have cared anyway. Even now, fifty two years after his death, I still know very little of his life and what made him tick.
Dad married Florence Irene Hugh on August 7, 1920, in the Ronpell Park Wesleyan Church in Lambeth.4 I imagine there would have been a long engagement period, knowing how hung up with tradition their parents were. I still have four photos of their wedding, which I found after Dad died. One is of the best man and a bridesmaid, which has been torn in four. Two others have been torn in half.5 In one the bride and groom are both smiling. In the last one, which I've never looked at closely before, they are about to get into a car, dressed in their "going-away" clothes. Dad's expression suggests: "Come on old chap. Hurry it up. We want to get out of here!" Dad looks pretty cool. He’s dressed in what looks like a new suit and he has a cigarette in his left hand. A crowd of guests is watching. Mum and Dad look very young and handsome. Never, in the part of their life I spent with them, did I see them so elegantly dressed. Mum looks totally adorable and very cuddly. I never thought of her like that.
After their marriage they decided to emigrate to New Zealand. Half way across the English Channel their ship collided with a French liner and they lost all their belongings.6 It was a case of take to the lifeboats and return to England. I imagine their parents, not being short of a quid, would have replaced the belongings they lost. Either that or they were fully compensated by insurance. Sometime later they embarked again, with the last stop this time, Melbourne, not Auckland Mum told me that they bought a restaurant in St Kilda, changed the colour scheme and lost all the clientele. I asked my brother Ian about this but he had never heard that story. Ian was born in 1924 and two years later he and Mum went back to England on a visit. They stayed for six months.
I WANT MY LIFE BACK so I can say to my Dad that I understand now why he got drunk every Saturday when he came home from work. I know instinctively that his marriage to Mum wasn’t working. How could it when they had both been brought up in such emotionally stultifying environments? I know that situation well as many years later, following the emotionally deprived pattern of my parents, I married a woman who was incapable of responding to me sexually (and me to her) . And so Dad’s emotional and sexual frustration would have grown just as mine did all those years later.
I understand now why he tried to hit me when I wouldn’t do what he said. Instead he broke his finger when I pulled away and his fingers hit the table instead of me. I want him to know that I understand now why he couldn’t show any love for me and how I too have felt that same intense frustration of not being able to speak of what was going on inside me. And on his deathbed I want to tell him I love him and that I forgive him for all those years in which he never hugged me and never said he loved me.
I WANT MY LIFE BACK so that I can change the world in which I lived to one of happiness and laughter, from one of sadness, frustration and struggle. If only we could all see our lives in the same perspective as Scrooge did as he travelled back through time and was shown how his behaviour had affected all those around him. I wasn’t like Scrooge. I wasn’t mean and I wasn’t hateful toward people. I was nothing. I was an automaton acting out a life that wasn’t my own, saying things I didn’t feel, following others down paths that were theirs, not mine, because the denial of love had shut me down emotionally and cut me off from life itself, except of course for the rage that was always there, revealing itself unexpectedly. Like the day I set fire to the curtains in Mum and Dad’s bedroom. I have no memory of what triggered that action. I don’t think it was anything in particular, just a build-up of emotional frustration, for even though I was living in a family environment, I felt very much alone – and unloved. I can go back easily to that room, partly blackened by fire, and remember standing in front of Mum and an insurance man, being asked to explain why I did it. I didn't know why I did it then and I didn’t know what to say. So I stood with my head down, looking at the carpet and saying nothing. It was twenty-two years later, in a session with a psychologist, that I understood that it was my repressed anger at my parents' inability to show any love for me that triggered my action.
In those early years my desire for love was all-consuming. Love never came from where I expected - my parents - but from my dog. He was black and a bitzer. His name was Flip and he lavished love on me as I’d never experienced before, jumping on me excitedly whenever I walked out the back door. Then one day he began running around the back garden at a furious pace. He was unstoppable. He ran and he ran, his tongue hanging out and his breathing becoming more and more laboured. I remember how concerned I was for him. Then, without warning, he keeled over – dead! His heart had given out. Turned out he had distemper. We buried him by the back fence under a tall gum tree. When the house was quiet that night I got out of bed and moved quietly to the bed opposite mine. Ian was sound asleep on his side facing me. I gently took hold of his shoulder and shook him.
‘Ian…Ian. Wake up!’ I whispered.
In the half light I could just see his face. His eyelids flew open and before he could speak I said: ‘Shhh.’
‘Come outside; I need you to keep watch!.’
We crept down the corridor and out the back door. There was a shovel on the back verandah. It was full moon. We’d placed a wooden cross at the head of the grave. I started to dig carefully.
‘What you doin’? Ian whispered with concern.
‘I want to make sure ‘e’s dead.’
I uncovered Flip’s body, then taking my pocket knife from my pyjama pocket, I pulled open the main blade and thrust it into him. He didn’t shudder or react. The blade slid out easily. I shut the knife and pushed the earth on top of him. Just as we reached the back door the moon went behind a cloud. We clambered back into our beds and I fell into a fitful sleep.
For me, this was the last straw. I had lost my best pal and I was really angry, but I didn’t know how to express it. Neither my Dad or my Mum showed any affection for me. Mum seemed constantly afraid, afraid of what I didn’t know, except it came out in the way she mollycoddled me which filled me with resentment and frustration.
I spent the next forty-eight years in a blind fury, not that anyone knew. Even I wasn’t aware just how angry I was. The first hint of what was going on inside me occurred years later when I was a Life Line Counsellor. One of the tutors came up to me one day and told me that I was a very angry person. Who? Not me. She must be talking about someone else!
I found out something important about my Dad by accident. It was on the morning after he died. Sitting on a coffee table in the loungeroom was a diary. I hadn’t seen it before. . Mum must have dug it out from somewhere. It was Dad’s, written on the Somme during the First World War. I flipped it open to a page with an entry I will never forget: It was written in pencil. "Went up to the front today." Then in strong, capital letters: HELL! HELL! HELL! I can still see those three words and the page they were written on. They’ve been imbedded in my mind ever since. It was just eight o’clock in the morning. Dad had died four hours earlier.
Mum had woken me at 2am and I had stumbled down the corridor into my parents’ bedroom. Dad lay on the bed, grey of face, breathing heavily, staring at the ceiling. And grasping at what life he had left.
"Quickly," Mum said, "go over the road and phone Dr. Walker. Tell her to come straight away."
Mum was distraught and terrified. The fear burned out of her eyes and sent me rushing out of the house. We didn't have a phone.
As I knocked tentatively on the front door of the imposing two-storey brick house opposite I was scared, not because Dad was dying but because Mum's terror had taken hold of me and I was numbed by something I didn't understand.
Back home I sat by the bed watching Dad battle with death. The doctor arrived and injected him with something to get him through the crisis but it had no effect. His chest was heaving. He was struggling to stay alive. I understand that now, having had a similar heart condition. There’s nothing you can do except wait for it to pass. In Dad’s case it didn’t. Unable to fight it any longer, he let go and a huge breath rushed from his body like the air leaving a blow-up bed. The doctor tried to revive him with another injection. But it was too late. He was gone.
Mum was sitting huddled in a chair at the end of the bed. I could see she was scared. She didn’t move, nor did she cry. I was scared too and the fear had produced a numbness in me so I didn’t know what to think or how to act. I didn't have him to hate any more and in the nights to follow I would lie awake at night, so terrified that I couldn’t move.
An associate of Dad's turned up the next morning and wrote an obituary which appeared in The Melbourne Herald that night. Dad had been head artist at the Myer Emporium in Bourke Street, Melbourne, for 25 years.
It was August 15, 1951. Dad was 59. I was twenty two.
Brian Castro, in an article in The Australian Author7, described writing as ‘rebellion’. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer. My life has been one long rebellion, starting with that incident when I tried to burn the house down.
1 Birth Certificate
2 Conversation with Mum
3 O’Shea,Steven Back to the Front, Avon Books 1996
4 Marriage Certificate
5 Mum not only tore up these photographs but all the family photographs as well as the artwork for Dad’s book on phrenology. Many of the plates of his etchings also disappeared.
6 Conversation with parents
7 Castro,Brian, Song of the Pen, Australian Author, August 2003