this (family) life
MY father will soon die. A disability pensioner for the later years of working age, he was employed in semi-skilled labour in factories that no longer exist, producing technology long obsolete. There were no notable achievements in his life beyond entering a relationship that stood the test of time and being the father of two children. His passing will be mourned by family and friends, but beyond this, his life and death is of little public interest. My father was a workingclass deaf man, who lived a working-class life.
I feel compelled in some way to write. My brother felt compelled to compose, crafting an elegant melody with haunting strings on his iPad while nursing the man who brought him life and character but who was never able to hear this creation. My father’s brother, in recent correspondence, wrote that life had dealt my father some pretty bad cards. First being born with what he termed an affliction, then having to spend his childhood as a boarder away from his family, and then having to suffer at the hands of a cruel and predatory stepfather. For many, this may have been a fast track to intergenerational poverty and incarceration. And yet I write while my brother composes.
Our political systems spend inordinate amounts of time and money on approaches to achieve good social outcomes. I wonder whether there is a lesson with broad policy resonance that might be drawn from my father’s life. My family migrated to Australia in the 1980s, in part as a means of realising the opportunities present in Australia, and in part as a means of avoiding the interference of family who had little trust in my deaf parents’ capacity to rear a family. Australia represented freedom and opportunity. Things were not always easy. Without a car for several years, I recall that my father would often walk the 7km to work. His capacity to do what was needed to pay bills and put food on the table meant the biting cold and wet of winter was no hindrance. Eventually the house was paid off.
While he avoided interference from family, the state eventually rose to the occasion. After a voluntary redundancy, state-sanctioned assessment found that despite a history, willingness and capacity for work, he was unfit. The mythology of the disability pension as a haven for bludgers belies the soul-destroying effect of the state informing a citizen that he can no longer contribute to our economy.
So many hardships, yet so much joy was found in life. The tears and emotion he expressed when Wimbledon progressively moved from Non-League to First Division to FA Cup triumph, overcoming the darlings of Europe, were emblematic of his approach to life. The underdog had shown it had something to offer, with money and pedigree unable to withstand its character.
My brother and I have qualifications from the best university in the country and earn incomes well above the average. This emerges from a family where education was valued and curiosity cultivated. Childhood competition was often centred on general knowledge. The question ‘‘What is the capital of Bolivia?’’ has a special meaning in my family.
I bemoan the lack of prominence of family in public discourse. I know firsthand that the best solutions can be found in the home, in the safe keeping of a loving family, free from outside interference grounded in unfounded assumptions of what is possible.