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Twenty years ago today, my father died. This is one of the few surviving photos of him. In case you can't tell, that's me on the horse, and I'm terrified.

My father was named Michael James Peek, and you don't know him, and neither do I. To me, Dad is a collection of images from my childhood, and stories from other people. The closeness to his brother, Dennis, and the trips to his house every second or third day when he lived in Sydney. He was close to all his brothers and sisters, but Dennis most of all. His three brothers gave up smoking after his death. A trip in Tasmania before I was born and before he was married resulted in some kind of Black Bar drink in which he and his friend got very, very drunk. He told awfully racist jokes about Aborigines. He blew up of garbage bins at school. He made bullets in the garage. He made beer there, also. The guns he kept tightly locked up in the house. His desired to move into the country, like his brothers and sister. He planned to retire at fifty-five. The time he presented his youngest sister, who is mentally disabled, with a tree made from twenty-one one dollar bills for her twenty first. Australia hasn't had one dollar notes for years. He could skin a rabbit and once showed a bunch of us how to do it with a pocket knife. He hand-made leather belts and sold them to friends and friends of friends. His left kneecap had been shattered and removed in a soccer accident, and as a result, he hated sitting in cinemas, because it hurt his leg. He only liked westerns and films with Clint Eastwood, anyway; though he and a friend once hooked up VCRs to illegally copy a rented tape of the Empire Strikes Back for me, because I loved Star Wars so much. He hated that I was always into TV, comics, and books, more than sport and guns, and he hated that I was timid, where other boys were not. He yelled at me when I wouldn't stop crying after slamming my thumb in the car door. In the hospital, he would give me money to buy comics and books and, of all things, darts. The serious amounts of drugs he was on would mean that he would forget that he had done so a minute later. He used to listen to country music and play Slim Dusty and Johnny Cash as we drove in his big, brown Valiant. He would trade that in for a Volvo, eventually. He would drive both with his knees--one absent, scarred flesh, and the other whole--while rolling his own cigarettes. He smoked Camel. He died from cancer.

There are two surviving photos of my father and me. We were never a big photograph family, like some are, and that's the reason for it. The second photo is the one that I've put here on the blog because it captures the image I have in my head. Also, it's the only one I have scanned in. Never over look the easy answer. The first photo was taken when I was around a year old, and we're both sitting in a pool, and he, while wearing an ugly orange hat, holds a beer in the other hand, and me in the other. I guess this doesn't help if I wanted to make an image of my father out to be a progressive social champion who challenged the status quo on race/feminism/or something like that, but lets face it, he wasn't pushing that line. He was, I suppose, a hick. A bogan. A Westie. Pick your term. You've all got one. I would have clashed horribly with him as a teenager.

I usually keep the personal stuff off this blog, but some of it, I don't mind putting up here. Maybe it's surprising that this is one of them. It shouldn't be--it happened twenty years ago. It's not the intense, private thing that death often is in the first years. It's simply a thing and every now and then, on anniversaries, events, topics relating to, you talk about it, and you do so without pain or pause or grief, because all that stuff is long gone, and there's nothing left to do with the dead but talk about them, and give in to a few moments of nostalgia. If you're lucky, you dig up an old photo, show it round, and have a few laughs.

Comments

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(Anonymous)
Apr. 24th, 2007 10:16 am (UTC)
Sounds as though you would both be at odds forever...

---factory farmer
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 10:29 am (UTC)
who is to say, now? i'm a big believer in that you're affected greatly by the environment that you grow up in. had he lived, i would have likely been a different person.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 24th, 2007 10:45 am (UTC)
But your interests were then and now at odds with his expectations. Right?

---factory farmer
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 10:53 am (UTC)
well, i wouldn't go that far. what his expectations were, i never knew, and i don't think you can describe the what if relationship of a father and son in their thirties and sixties based off their relationship when they were ten and forty.

(Anonymous)
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC)
"I would have clashed horribly with him as a teenager."

Well, just working with what you've provided :)

---factory farmer
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:23 am (UTC)
clashing doesn't mean being at odds forever, man.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:33 am (UTC)
Certainly not 100%.

All I'm saying is that as long as you both maintained opposing viewpoints there would be a clash.

---factory farmer
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:40 am (UTC)
perhaps. but given the circumstances of being dead and alive, however, we don't, and i'm quite content to leave it at that.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:44 am (UTC)
Ok. Didn't mean to antagonize you.

---factory farmer
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:51 am (UTC)
it's cool, man. i'm just not looking to create a difficult relationship with people who aren't round no more. what is, is. ain't no point in getting caught up in what it might (or might not) have been.
speshal_k
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:47 am (UTC)
I think this is a pretty black and white view. I think it's possible for people have opposing viewpoints and not clash - or at least get along without drama (barring Peek's difficult teenage years, of course).

Anyway, it's irrelevent and, as Peek said, who knows how he might have turned out, had his father lived.

(I have to say that I'm happy with the way Peek's turned out... so far... :-)
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:53 am (UTC)
aw, you say that, but you don't know bout the capes.
speshal_k
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:54 am (UTC)
Like I said... so far... :-)

scarlet_arts
Apr. 24th, 2007 11:58 am (UTC)
I'm sorry he couldn't be in your life much, much longer. I'm sure if you'd been given some time together in your adult life, your black-and-white childhood memories would have developed lots of shades of grey.

I wonder (and I'm sure you do too) just how close you've gotten to figuring out the man, after 20 years of piecing him together from so many different sources.

For what it's worth, I agree that you'd have probably clashed in your teenage years... but it doesn't all stop there. I know that I've developed the ability to somewhat separate the people I love from the opinions I dislike, and that's something I didn't really figure out until my early 20's. I think if we didn't find that place there'd be a pretty scary homicide rate ;)

Anyway, thanks for telling us about your dad. And hey, maybe he's played a bigger role in shaping Ben Peek than even Ben Peek realises.
scarlet_arts
Apr. 24th, 2007 12:00 pm (UTC)
PS: Nice socks ;)
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 12:09 pm (UTC)
thanks. i always liked them socks.

anyhow, i don't really know him at all, which is why i have the images i've pieced together. they don't add up to much, i know, not in the way that a person is a person, but i like the person he is in everyones memories when they speak about him. there's nothing mean in him. so i reckon, after them difficult teen years, i would have been fine ;)
scarlet_arts
Apr. 24th, 2007 12:54 pm (UTC)
there's nothing mean in him

Yeah, that's your answer. I'm sure you'd have found some middle ground by now - maybe you'd have a home brew kit, and maybe he'd have hated The Phantom Menace for all the right reasons ;)


He yelled at me when I wouldn't stop crying after slamming my thumb in the car door.

I meant to say this earlier, but forgot. My gut reaction to this sentence is that you probably scared the hell out of him, and he didn't know how to fix it. Men are funny like that, whereas Mums know that a kiss and a bandaid can fix a broken leg. Mine used to put a bandaid on my forehead to cure my headaches.
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's your answer. I'm sure you'd have found some middle ground by now - maybe you'd have a home brew kit, and maybe he'd have hated The Phantom Menace for all the right reasons ;)

i like to think he would have said, 'it's no better or worse than the originals--it's just that you're all adults now and can't view it through the child's eye.'

;)
scarlet_arts
Apr. 24th, 2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
Actually, you make an interesting point. In the future, when you're able to have that conversation, someone will have invented the "Jar Jar Binks" filter.

Don't worry, it'll be any day now ;)
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 01:29 pm (UTC)
jar jar was no more annoying than the droids, you ask me. what made him better than them, though, was that in subsequent films, he had a less screen time :)
(Anonymous)
Apr. 24th, 2007 12:56 pm (UTC)
"I know that I've developed the ability to somewhat separate the people I love from the opinions I dislike, and that's something I didn't really figure out until my early 20's. I think if we didn't find that place there'd be a pretty scary homicide rate ;)"

I should expand what I meant by "clash".

There's the clash of arguments and anger.

But the heart of it is one person asserting x and the other asserting anti-x where x is a non-trivial matter for both. Whether this results in anger and/or arguments does not negate the existence of the clash (opposition) of two contrary positions.

---factory farmer
lyndarama
Apr. 24th, 2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
hey Ben,
Nice post man: I like the pic; your Dad's looking at you, proud as punch, and you're looking at the camera, all 'hey, look at what I can do, in my Balmain-like socks.' It's a shared moment, and no-one, and not least of all time, can take away from that.

I tell you what though; while you missed the teen years, when you didn't get along with him, there's also this great period after that, one I find myself in now, where we (me and the olds) still don't agree, but talk about it like adults, and that's kind of nice too. I'm kinda glad I reached that point with them: we seem to have reached some kind of equality. At last. I could have done without the interim agro-phase however...

Anyway; a cool post. Your frankness is inspiring as always...
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
'hey, look at what I can do, in my Balmain-like socks.'

i loved them socks.

(i was quite terrified up there, actually. i seem to remember someone saying smile, so i did, but even on that very docile horse, i was terrified.)

thanks for the thanks, btw.
claredudman
Apr. 24th, 2007 07:55 pm (UTC)
Like Lydia says he's looking back at you with pride and happiness and even if you might not have got on all the time - who does? - I still think it's sad...intensely sad. Somehow your honesty makes it feel raw. 40 is too young. He should have seen you grow up. This is such a moving post, and carthatic too. Thanks Ben.
benpeek
Apr. 24th, 2007 10:22 pm (UTC)
thanks, clare.

forty is too young, i agree. when i was a kid i thought it was old, old, old. but now, looking at it, i think, 'shit, in another ten years i'll have lived as long as him.'
crookfactory
Apr. 25th, 2007 10:25 am (UTC)
...he and a friend once hooked up VCRs to illegally copy a rented tape of the Empire Strikes Back for me, because I loved Star Wars so much.

That was a nice thing that he did.

And for the record, I zoomed in just to check out your face ;)
benpeek
Apr. 25th, 2007 11:43 am (UTC)
a mix of smiling and terrifiedness, if i remember right.
bodhichitta0
Apr. 27th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
Yes, you post the personal stuff so rarely and I love it when you do and you know I think it's your strongest stuff.

Just saying.

And I know I'm biased.

My dad and I were completely different in many ways and if there is any effort on either part, you make it work.
benpeek
Apr. 28th, 2007 01:49 pm (UTC)
yeah, but mostly, the personal stuff is pretty boring. if you saw it every day you'd be, like, 'stop! stop now!'

:)
bodhichitta0
Apr. 29th, 2007 12:25 am (UTC)
Well, maybe what you had for breakfast is boring, but Emo Ben is my favorite action figure. :-)
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