91. Fathers and Sons
Dr. Roger Sinclair, clinical psychologist, inheritor of the mantle of the recently enchaired Professor Hugo Fairbairn, was standing close to the large sash window of his consulting room in Queen Street. Outside, above the distant hills of Fife, wisps of cloud played chase across the sky. He watched these through the glass; the sky here was so different, he thought, from that other sky under which he had grown up. This one was constantly changing, was washed out; at times covered with curtains of rain, at times made of an attenuated blue that was gentle, like the surface of a milky sea; the sky of his boyhood had been high, and wide, empty and intensely blue, like lapis lazuli; filled with light too; a great theatre for the sun.
He took a step forward, so that his nose almost touched the glass. Somebody had said to him once that in France window-shopping was called l`eche vitrine, the licking of the window; a wonderful expression that somehow conveyed the longing felt by those who wanted the goods within but could not buy them. Orality, he thought, of course it was orality: the infant within wishes to incorporate the world through his mouth; to swallow the goods in the window.
He noticed that his breath had created a small patch of condensation on the glass, an island shape, dense and opaque in the middle, fainter at the edge; the rest of the glass was the sea, liquid, pure. He stood back an inch or two and saw that the island was exactly the shape of Australia – home – and using the tip of his little finger, he traced a line in the moisture, a route from Brisbane to Melbourne. My journey, he thought, or the start of it.
He had been born in Brisbane, and had spent his childhood in Toowoomba, where his father had been the accountant of a large firm of cattle exporters. His father’s face came to him now; his father who had started his own voyage in Kelso and who had always spoken of it to his son as if it were some sort of Eden, a place where everything was somehow more valid than the world of the smoky office from which he looked out onto the great cattle pens with patient victims, their attendant clouds of flies. His father had hated the expression “ten pound Pom” and had said: “If they want to call me a ten pound Scot, I’m happy with that, but don’t call me a ten pound Pom.” As a small boy Roger had been puzzled. Who had paid ten pounds for his father? Was that all that he was worth?
And now I’ve come back, he thought, just like a salmon that remembers where it was spawned. But do I really belong to this place? He had driven down to Kelso shortly after his arrival, as an act of homage induced entirely by guilt, and had looked for the house that his father had talked about. He found it, and had stood outside and gazed at its modest facade, at the windows giving immediately onto the street, and had thought how mean and small can be our holy places.
He stared at the fading map and at the place where Toowoomba would have been. Then he closed his eyes and saw a block of the boys’ boarding school where he had been sent, together with the sons of the owners of the big cattle stations, and where he had been so unhappy. He saw the place near the door where he had been pushed to the ground hard by a large muscular boy from the Cape York Peninsula who had then sat on him and winded him so thoroughly that he thought that he would die. And he saw his mother, the pillar of the Anglican Bridge Club, drinking endless cups of weak tea with her friend on the front veranda and saying to her, “I’m dying of boredom, you know, Lill. A slow death. Pure boredom.”
He, at least, had escaped to Melbourne, and to university, and had discovered psychology, against the will of his father, who had wanted him to follow him into business. He had left home on the understanding that he was to register for a bachelor of commerce degree at Monash, and had done so. But a week after registration, and after attending the first three orientation lectures, he had changed his registration to psychology.
He did well, although he never told his parents of the change in his course. His mother would hardly have been concerned; her mind was on the affairs of the Anglican Bridge Club, and the difference between a bachelor of commerce degree and a degree in psychology would not have struck her as being very great. Anyway, she was proud of him, and of anything he did; his father was the problem.
When he graduated, his parents came down to Melbourne for the ceremony.
His father was bemused. “Look, Rog,” he said. “They’ve made a mistake on the programme. They’ve put you under psychology rather than commerce. Better get that sorted out!”
“No, I don’t think we should make a fuss, Dad. I’ll just go through with it. We can sort it all out later.”
His father had been appalled. “You can’t do that, Rog! You can’t go and get the wrong bit of paper. Heavens no. I’ll speak to them myself, if you like.”
He swallowed. “Actually, Dad. I changed courses. I meant to tell you, seeing how you were paying for the whole thing, but you know how it is… I kind of forgot. It’s a very good degree, and they’ve accepted me for a master’s in analytical child psychology. That’s quite a thing, you know. The competition is very stiff.”
His father had looked at him in wide-eyed horror. “You forgot to tell me…”
And Roger thought: All my life you’ve wanted me to be just like you, to do the things you like to do, to be a smaller version of you. You thought I wasn’t tough enough. You sent me to that school. You said that I should stand up for myself, be a man, be an ordinary Aussie bloke, just like you. But that’s not who I am.
His father looked at him, and then looked at his mother. She looked away. This was male business, father and son business. She did not want them to fight. She wanted them to be friends, just as the husbands and sons of the other women at the Anglican Bridge Club were friends.