Dear old man,
It is nine o'clock at night, it’s the middle of winter, and I am a new father. I am so tired, I feel as if I have been poisoned.
A part of me wants to write to you about the world that is being destroyed, as usual, by fascists, by that cretinous bouncer for the coal industry, by George Brandis the Minister for Sadness and Ballet, by someone called Peter Dutton who, no doubt, you have forgotten, so meagre is he and so miserable it would be a shame to carry him round anywhere in your brain for longer than is absolutely necessary. I would like to rage and apologise. But you know all this of, course. You have seen them all come and go, and even if you don’t remember them too well now — it’s the year 2061, after all — you can probably ask Google or Suncorp to upload a carefully tailored selection of this month's news directly into your frontal cortex — whatever that means. There’s no point raging, you would chuckle, calmly hovering towards me on your hover chair. Don’t worry — just wait till you see what happens, and a glass of scotch would raise itself to your lips, then return to its position, hovering beside your hand. Everything will hover in the future, of this I am certain. It’s not the great events I need to be reminded of, you would tell me. It’s the smallest ones that most concern me now, the ones that slip by so easily without anyone noticing.
So tonight I want to give you this, my little manifesto of survival, in case you have forgotten what it was like to be a father in the early days.
I like the baby’s face in the morning, more than maybe anything I have ever liked. But I do not like the morning. I do not like getting out of bed while it's still dark to put on the heater; the cold floorboards, the cold kitchen, the arctic toilet, the knowledge that, overnight, mice have probably touched everything with their noses. I don’t mind the arctic toilet in the middle of the night, when I can open the window slats and see the rain in the darkness, the wind buffeting the backyards, and know that I will soon be in bed again, almost asleep, entirely asleep, dreaming of sunken treasure. I do not like being woken from this dream. I do not like the madness that overwhelms us at three in the morning sometimes, when, beyond exhaustion, we know that nothing will be ever be okay again, that we cannot cope, that we have destroyed whatever was good in our lives by choosing, foolishly, almost absent-mindedly, to procreate.
I like reading and thinking in the night, when my wife and my daughter are asleep and I have a few hours to myself. I like doing that until I am so tired I cannot stay awake. Then I watch the football replay on my phone until I drop my phone in my sleep. Then the baby will cry out, and I will wake up and run to settle her. I like it when the baby goes back to sleep, after she has stirred, with the mere pressure of my hand on her little chest, and a few renditions of the ABC. I like the feeling of calm authority this gives me, almost like a superpower.
I like going to work because it means I can leave the house and I am almost free. On Sundays, I like driving much too fast to the bookshop where I work; I like changing lanes, berating the other cars, seeing the road open up. I like crossing the bridge over the river. I like how ugly the bridge is, and how beautiful and indifferent the water seems below. At the top of the hill, I like the view of the sea, or the idea of the view of the sea, which is sometimes all it is, so far and fleeting — just an idea, or a memory of another moment when the sea came into view. I like parking the car and walking the long way round, through the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, when I am the only person in the mist, my body still humming with the speed of the drive, cockatoos like crazy angels screaming in the trees.
On the way home, I like stopping in a pub for ten minutes. This is a way of marking what is left of my freedom. A table by the window, rain, a small glass of beer — any larger, and I would fall asleep on the spot — the lights of the world sliding past or hovering out the window. In fact, I like windows in general: windows with rain on the other side, or the wind; windows that show you the weather, but deflect it. How unassuming and noble the window is.
And I like coming home, fully aware of the cliché of the moment, when my wife and my child are waiting on the front porch for me as if I am returning from war and not simply from a job as a customer-service operator. I know, too, that it is my wife who has been at war; that new mothers are perhaps the most desperate people on earth, with their wrecked bodies, clinging on to the remnants of their lives, bewildered, embarrassed and ashamed by their bewilderment, unsure how to love this creature that is devouring them. I like the baby’s smile in the moment she recognises me, in my wife’s arms. No longer the tiny, crazily helpless thing, contorting itself, turning red, her huge uncomprehending eyes like sea anemones matted with tears. Now she kicks her feet in delight when she sees me, purring, unable to look she is so excited.
I do not like the squalor of the house. The fucking crap everywhere, the pieces of plastic, which I forbade, and now accept. I clean the house. I cook dinner. I hang out the wet washing in the lounge room. We eat. My wife goes to bed. It is 8 o’clock at night. I clean the dishes. I sit by myself, writing this, it is now, it is 9.30 p.m. I am radiant with exhaustion. I guess you probably know how that feels too, old man. The radiance overflows.
This is an edited version of a piece Miles Allinson performed at the 2015 Brisbane Writers Festival.