30/03/2022 0 Comments
My friend said: “I’ve got dirty windows”. We had been talking about how we view life, and I had remarked that I generally see life through fairly sparkly windows.
It was the first time I had heard it put this way, but I was very familiar with the idea of dirty windows.
My Dad had dirty windows. "I was unfortunate" he would say, with a pitiful lilt in his voice. "I was a poor boy, nothing good ever happened to me!"
He cherished the appearance of respectability. And since he equated light-heartedness with fecklessness, and stern gloom with upper class values, he became an expert in gloom.
Our house got the full treatment. He first killed off every flower and tree, and then filled in the flowerbeds in the front garden with gravestones - those small white stone chippings that people put on graves to keep them neat. The walls downstairs were painted dark green and dung brown, and the lovely mahogany banister was concealed under a coat of black matt.
The old Edwardian fireplaces had been decorated with pretty floral tiles, but a few strokes of dark brown paint put paid to this cheap trumpery.
As a child I quite respected and admired the air of epic tragedy that he wore like a dark cloak. It wasn't until I had children of my own, and began to be aware, from the experiences of others, of the possibility of losing one of them, or of dying and them being left to be cared for by others, that I began to understand what misery really meant.
I realized that my father had never experience real personal loss in his life. He had robust health; a wife still living who cared for him; his own house, financial security, and had lived to see his childrens' children. Classic biblical fulfilment – as good as it gets!
It was clear to me, even then, that my dad wasn't an unfortunate victim of external events out of his control; he was unfortunate because of a decision he had made way back in the mists of time - to cloak himself in the identity of victim of circumstances.
By making that decision he decided on the character he was going to play in the story of his life. He was the 'victim'. The ’victim’ can command sympathy. The ‘victim‘ can avoid dealing with difficulties and deny full responsibility because, of course, “under the circumstances ……..".
The problem was that having decided on a ‘deprivation’ identity he then had to spend the rest of his life trying to force external appearance into line with his chosen character.
In the late 1950s he came into a sizeable inheritance. We children never knew anything about it. I presume my mother knew something, but she was a woman of her day, and his business was none of her business.
Life continued in the normal thirty watt-bulb one bar electric fire 1960s way. It was many years later when I finally learned of our mythical wealth. By then there was little left of it. Dad had squandered the bulk of it in failed stocks and shares, and the rest he hid in multiple accounts so that even after his death the solicitor despaired of locating what he had hidden.
My dad was a poor boy. This was his identity. It wasn’t the truth, he came from the kind of solid middle class background which, by current standards would be considered very deprived, but which were perfectly normal for the time.
For whatever reason, being ’a poor boy’ felt safe. The ‘victim’ persona fitted comfortably with how he felt about himself.
So when unthinkable riches fell into his hands he was confronted with a dilemma: lose his ’victim’ identity and become a ‘lucky rich man’, or lose the money and keep his identity.
He made his choice, the money simply never happened. Not to him, not to us.
Do I have any regrets about it? Not really. He was a good Dad and we had a very good life in all the important ways, and change … well, who can tell what way that might have gone?
When I meet a client who has been clinging on to some dark deformed identity which excuses them from engaging fully with their life, I tell them my Dad’s Grimm fairytale. Dirty, fuggy windows will necessarily distort your life, shrinking it down to fit the cramped grey space behind your windows, and actively getting between you and any joy you might find in your life.
Get out the old ‘Windolene’ every once in a while and give those windows a going over. Look out and see. There’s a grand terrible amazing awful world happening out there.