Sometimes I wonder what my parents would be like if they were born in Australia. Would they still be essentially the same people if they didn’t go through a collapse of a country, loss of all their savings, jobs, security, life as they knew it, queues for bread, tiny apartments? What if they didn’t have to worry about money or food for their children or rebuild their lives again and again?
I can imagine my Mum being a Sydney North Shore mother (vividly depicted by Liane Moriarty in most of her books) talking about organic food and sleep training, hotels in Fiji and involvement in school life, confident and proper but not immune to other people’s opinions, and it just makes me long for my actual mother with her ultimate comfort dishes full of hearty meat, her lying down with me every night to help me sleep and singing lullabies I am now singing to my daughter. No matter what disagreements we had throughout my life (and we have had plenty) I still can’t imagine having a different mother even as I long for an easier life for her, and imagining her as a financially secure woman from affluent suburbs creates in my mind a Frankenstein of sorts, a phantom combined of everything that I feel makes me – not my mother but me – different from those women.
It’s harder to imagine my Dad being Australian except maybe he would’ve liked a good barbie. He doesn’t speak any English and he’s not big on phone calls either. I’ve heard that some Aussies like DIY but I haven’t met anyone who is quite like my Dad, not just skilled but inventive in a way that was no doubt influenced by the necessity to be that way.
Mum loathes a lot of the things she had to do for years – make do with little, cook when groceries are scarce, sew because it’s almost impossible to buy nice clothes for kids, clean and serve food because my Dad believes it to be a woman’s job – she’d gladly not do any of it for the rest of her life. It’s different with Dad. A lot of his DIY stuff was also from not having much but there is so much more to it. He grew up in the countryside, far away from where we lived, and we visited his parents every summer. There was always a project for my father there, whether to do on his own or assisted by my uncles. There were fences, decks and bathhouses to build, furniture to restore and my Dad seemed to enjoy all of it. Our own little apartment had much less space to build but there were still interesting geometrical paintings on doors and a portrait of a woman on glass on the bathroom wall, there were fridge shelves fixed with a melted old toy and much later a bed frame he built in a garage. He was never quite as much into DIY at home as he was at his parents’, much to my mother’s frustration, and only much later in life did I realise that just like my mother cooked comfort food and sewed for us and stopped immediately when there were no more children at home, my father found much more enjoyment in DIY for others – it’s very much his own love language.
He tried to use that language (in the absence of the actual English skills) when my parents stayed at my in-laws, cleaning and sweeping outside, offering to restore an old table; but it didn’t quite create a bond and he stopped offering. While my husband was on his way to Hobart my parents stayed at our place and Dad took complete control over our courtyard. I was in a bad state of mind for months before their visit, trying to get over a hard year and sometimes randomly weeping for no apparent reason. As he moved slowly through the courtyard sweeping and cleaning up, getting rid of weeds and redirecting the water flow from our neighbours balcony outside our courtyard, I sometimes sat outside watching him and I wanted to say, “I love you too, Dad” and the peace that I was feeling while looking at our usually messy courtyard was more than what I experienced in months.