Dad? Are you high?

By Zoe Brock

Essay

Not so long ago, on a rare San Francisco day of surprising warmth and humidity, I was sitting at my nice orderly desk when an email appeared in my nice orderly inbox.

“Ping,” said my Google Notifier.

“Ooo,” said I. “Somebody loves me.”

The Google Notifier said nothing in response and I took it’s silence to mean that it was brimming over, like a fat and happy porcelain Buddha, with benign agreement.

I was right.

Somebody did love me…… and I am grateful.


That morning an almost sickly-sweet jasmine-scented breeze was blowing through my curtains and threatening to destroy my newest art-work. Like randy teenagers at an unchaperoned party the fine threads of my mobile danced together, much too closely, libidinous and teasing, flirting, tantalizing, making promises and whispering secrets. The  ancient photographic paper, like the very fabric of my small, cloistered reality, was in danger of ripping…

… so I got up and, with one last, grateful inhale of flowery air, I prudishly closed the window on breezy San Francisco, locking her outside to play with her other friends.

I wasn’t worried, she has many.

Once those windows were closed all sound abated. I was in a vacuum and all became still, muted…. and yet somehow quite dense. On this day my very white room felt more like a sanctuary than a sanatorium, a lucky occurrence that has as much to do with my mood as it does with the weather. On this day I was Home, and I was Happy. It was the perfect environment to be in when I opened my email and discovered these pictures-

The man-child in these photos is my father.

I had never seen these images, nor any of the ones that follow.

I was stunned.

There he is, my daddy, in all his youthful splendor, not quite a man and yet no longer a child.

Playing, preening, posing, entertaining, acting the fool – a rock-star artist lunatic.

He looks high.

If he isn’t high then he sure knows how to pretend to be.

My father died in 2001. I never knew this version of him. I knew the later incarnations, the older, more jaded, disappointed and infinitely wiser and wearier versions of this creature I now found before me. The person in these photos is an innocent- a naughty, cheeky, confident kid- full of swagger and sex and adventure.

I was, and am, completely taken aback by these photographs. They do not make me sad but they do intrigue and confuse me. The guy in these photos is My Father, but his obvious youth and the striking physical resemblances we share trick me into thinking he is, despite my being an only child, my brother. I recognize him as much as I see a total stranger. These pictures overwhelm me. I cannot ask him where they were taken, or even who by. I cannot ask him what he was thinking, hoping, dreaming… or what happened in the years between this recorded day and the year of my birth to temper his innocence. I cannot ask him anything.

He’s dead.

I stare at these pictures, here in my clean, white space and feel certain of only one thing….

The guy in these pictures is one of Us. That guy is someone I’d like to hang out with. Get drunk with. Talk shit with. He looks like any one of a bunch of San Francisco neo-hipsters that loiter in the cafe’s along Valencia, or lean against warehouse walls with paint on their fingers and smirks on their lips.

He was a special creature. And, much to my amazement, a better, more daring artist than he ever let on. Maybe he forgot? Maybe he lost that part of himself? Maybe he just got bored and moved on… but I know for certain that, despite his dabblings in ceramics and the totem poles he was carving when he died, he never painted anything in my lifetime like the canvas he is working on here.

It’s fascinating to me that I can find a new facet to my dad so many years after his passing.

I’m so proud and impressed. I feel bigger and greater and more powerful knowing I have his blood and passion inside me. He could play, inspire, create, amuse, reprimand, take no shit and always encourage.

In his honor I will continue to play, preen, pose, entertain, be a fool and a goddess and a rock-star-artist-lunatic… although something ever so unsubtle is telling me that I probably have no choice.

The proof is in the pictures.

This one’s for you, dad. x


Comment by Bruce King 2009-02-17 03:51:41


Zoe,
It is with considerable delight and interest that I “accidentally” discovered your wonderful chronicles by searching Google for snippets relating to my old mate, Warwick. Your Dad was one of my closest friends in Christchurch back in the early to mid 1960’s. We partied wildly and sang together heaps; in fact we often performed together at some of the great folk venues around town in those halcyon days—before Brock & Eggs, before Lyttelton, before the wheel . . . if you know what I mean. Could I have met you in your early childhood at that wonderful house overlooking the Port of Lyttelton? Recently I (amazingly, through a common interest in woodworking) met the German woodcrafter who currently lives there. Just the other day, I unearthed a poster I had done for the occasion of the Wellington Folk Festival several years ago (I am a retired graphic designer—a career choice in no small way inspired by your Dad). This visual chronology, in the form of a photomontage, has many pictures of Warwick, along with his old friend Bruce King, alias yours truly. If you would like a copy I’ll email a pdf to you, just say the word. The last time (literally) I saw your Dad was in Newtown, about 10 or 12 years ago. He and Cath lived a couple of streets away from Owen Street where my Mum used to live. I have never before seen the photos you have shared on this site—marvellous. I do miss his indomitable spirit and wicked laughter! Go well, Zoe, Bruce
PS: My wife Jessica and I live in Golden Bay where we are currently applying the final touches to our new adobe hacienda. What a joy!

Dad

By Zoe Brock

Memoir

Death.

It’s a curious thing.

I don’t mean to sound macabre but I’m feeling a bit philosophical and whimsical.

If it’s possible to feel whimsical about things of such a heavy nature.

I’ve had a fair bit of death in my life, and as time passes I’m able to look back on some of it and even giggle.

Of course, most of the time there isn’t very much that’s funny about death at all. Unless you’re reading the Darwin Awards.

Most of the time death is a vicious, sad, horrible and frighteningly inevitable part of life. which means, that on the odd occasion when something is funny about death, I have to seize it and run like a cheetah for all I’m worth.

Laughing in the face of fear is often the only weapon we have to combat it.

Sometimes I wonder if I have a sensitivity chip missing, or if I’m trying to protect myself with humor.

And I think, no, perhaps I’m just a little more twisted than even I give myself credit for.

And I think it’s genetic.

Brocky2


Throughout my life, and his, my old man would joke about how he wanted to be preserved upon his death, a death that occurred in a most untimely fashion a few short years ago in 2001.

He wanted to be stuffed.

Naked.

With an erection.

And used as a coat rack.

I could probably end this story right here but unfortunately there’s much, much more.

Obviously we, his devastated survivors, failed to comply with his wishes. Nor did we bother honoring his alternative desire, cremation, either. I’m not sure why we ended up burying him, but in retrospect I figure that once he was dead we thought he kind of gave up the right to having any involvement in the decision making process.

“Screw him!” We probably thought. “If he’s going to bugger off and die then he doesn’t bloody deserve to get cremated!” or something along those lines.

Revenge of the Living.

And so he’s buried in a beautiful little cemetery in a forest, surrounded by old gold miners and towering trees, with a bottle of Scottish malt and about seventeen joints to keep him occupied.

Seventeen is not nearly enough.

Brocky1

When my father died I needed to say goodbye in my own way.

I spent time with his body and held his cold hands. I stroked his beard and cried a lot. I spoke to him in whispers and wails. I begged and pleaded and asked him questions he’d never have answered in life, let alone death.

And then I painted his nails.

Silver glitter, if you must know.

For old times sake.

It was an overdue apology for asking him to refrain from decorating himself in this manner when I was small.

At the funeral I gave everybody a jar of gold stars to throw down upon him in lieu of Aotearoa’s cold and wintry earth.

We sent him off in a shower of golden rain from above. It was beautiful. And a bit kitsch. And I think he’d have hated it. But that wasn’t his prerogative either anymore, was it?

Dad left behind many a legacy, the least of which was a collection of plastic yogurt pots containing the cremated remains of our family pets.

All of them.

Three dogs and countless cats.

That’s right.

My dead pets are still lurking on a shelf in south central New Zealand.

Waiting for me.

When he was alive my Dad always wanted to find a good use for them, something artistic, something natural. He’d been mulling over the idea of breaking out the old kiln and firing up some pots so he could use the ashes to make glazes, but I was mortified at this suggestion and used my only-daughter routine to shut it down.

And so they sit there still.

And I have no idea what to do about it at all.

My somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards death comes from both sides of my family.

Several Christmases ago I was appalled to open a gift in front of my entire family and discover it was a beautifully wrapped box containing the ashes of my recently deceased companion of twenty years, Baby, my cat who had died while I was overseas traveling.

“Gee. Thanks Mum.” NOT.

For some reason every single family member had also decided to give me a token to memorialize her- a photo, a card, a bit of her hair.

It was quite possibly the most inappropriate and awful Christmas of my life, and I behaved accordingly. It sucked. The intentions were pure, the reaction… nyeh.

Baby’s around here somewhere too.

And I have no bloody idea what to do with her either.

When my grandmother Ainslee died several years ago her funeral service and it’s rather earnest, morose vibe was ruined completely when my cousin Guy took matters into his own hands with regards to the coffin.

As the pallbearers were sliding Ainslee’s boxed remains onto the rollers that gently glide coffins into waiting hearses, young Guy put his hands on the end of the box, yelled “Bye bye Nana!” and gave an almighty shove.

There was quite a racket.

It wasn’t pretty.

Guy proudly smacked his hands together, as if to clean them, and looked mighty pleased with himself. It was a job well done.

It’s hard to get back to concentrated mourning after a scene like that.

I think about death a lot, I guess.

For a few years I was depressed and wanted very much to die.
But not anymore.
Now I’m glad to be alive, and thankful.
But I still think about it and what it means and where we go and if I even care.
I don’t have any answers, and I barely have questions, but I do know this- it’s something I want to experience without fear.
I’d like to be cognizant through my own death, to accept it, to be at peace.

But I suppose that’s a lot to ask for.

I’d also like to be remembered with humor and honesty, much as my old man was at his wake.

“Jeez the old bugger was a bloody bastard.” Someone muttered into his tenth pint of beer. The very same someone who’d traveled halfway across the world to be present at that funny, forlorn little service in a pine forest in the middle of nowhere.

I smiled and sipped my own beer, nodding my head in agreement. It was true. He was a bloody bastard sometimes. But he was a bloody funny, honest, human, loving bastard too, and he was mine.

Wbandzb

Here’s to you daddy. I’m awfully sorry about the damn coat rack not panning out for you, but the neighbors would’ve had a fit, and honestly? I’d’ve had to have kept a blanket over your head to preserve my own sanity.

See you on the other side, and save a joint for me, if you can bear it?

Z


25 Comments »

Comment by Howard |Edit This
2006-09-20 03:42:06

Wow…I’m not sure why, but your image of you with your deceased father really moved me. I suppose in lieu of the no-relationship I had with mine. Somehow, seeing those so full of life, like yourself, stopping and having to deal is a hard image to watch.

And for the record…I’m glad you’re alive. I’m glad you’re here…bringing a bit of color to a world of gray walls.

Comment by st0ker |Edit This
2006-09-20 03:59:13

philosophical – check
whimsical – check

You forgot to mention humourous – Revenge of the Living is a nice one.

And also extremely touching

xoS

Comment by Jon Mahoney |Edit This
2006-09-20 04:14:38

Zoe,
Wow, you are quite the writer. I enjoy reading
what you write very much…striking.
I am 10minutes from DFW airport if you ever fly through

Comment by MTHIOTVOSB |Edit This
2006-09-20 04:29:30

I think Jon Mahoney wants to propose. – You know he’s right about the writer part but even more you are quite the daughter. Cheers! Oh wait! Scratch that!!! I’m sober and I’m out!

Comment by Goddess |Edit This
2006-09-20 06:29:02

Beautiful… found myself thinking a lot of my own dad when I read your piece… trying to imagine how I will deal, and how you did deal… very moving piece.

Loves.
kj

Comment by beau |Edit This
2006-09-20 07:03:34

Rip Dad.

Comment by Glenn |Edit This
2006-09-20 08:54:15

You are an amazing writer.

Comment by Trip |Edit This
2006-09-20 09:25:14

What a beautifully written memorial. Thank you very much for this. Your dad sounds like he was quite the character, I can see where you get your strength and humor! Thank you so much for sharing this, Zoe. Say hi to Owlie for me. -) Kudos!

Comment by Spencer |Edit This
2006-09-20 13:28:08

he didnt want to donate his penis for use in a penis transfer to some poor asian guy who had his cut off?

Comment by Todd Darling |Edit This
2006-09-20 13:33:59

Hey Zoe.

You know – I never met your father – but I’d bet my life he’d be proud of the beautiful person you are.

Todd

Comment by deborah jones |Edit This
2006-09-20 17:09:50

Yes, Todd, I was thinking that too

thankyou Zoe… your story gave me

a whiff of Warwick
welcoming to his home
Hey Deb he’d say,
swiveling on a stool
warm and brotherly

so much love between the two of you

Comment by Joshua |Edit This
2006-09-20 17:39:03

Well done, Zoe. I also lost my father in 2001, June 12 to be exact… right before Father’s Day. It’s a struggle at times. And it’s always the little things, like when I have trouble remembering what his voice sounds like, that make it particularly tough. Anyway, this piece really hits close to home for me. Thank you.

Comment by Becky |Edit This
2006-09-21 09:40:49

Shucks, Zoe.

I wish my dad wanted to be a stuffed-cock coatrack.

I think I’d just like to have my left hand stuffed…holding a cigarette…giving the finger.

It could be a door-knocker.

Big kiss for ya.

2006-09-21 09:43:18

Zoe:

Great work, once again. Also, in regards to the Darwin Awards, a friend of mine, Finn Taylor, just finished a film entitled the Darwin Awards. He took some of those death ideas, melded them together, and came up with an interesting story line.

Hope all’s well…

Comment by 1159 |Edit This
2006-09-21 10:11:46

Dangit Zoe, I wanted to be the first to write about death and existential longing and you went and did it all good too.
Snif.
Your best yet.

Comment by solar |Edit This
2006-09-21 10:12:36

zoita, what would i give to see the two of you in action as your ridiculous selves? well…i’ll wait patiently. and like you, enter into my own death, fearless, with my eyes wide open.

i’m so glad you’re still here.
my love.

2006-09-21 11:17:20

Nicely done. I agree–that picture of the two of you is very touching.

Comment by meg |Edit This
2006-09-21 11:59:15

Crying at work? Not a good idea…

You know how sometimes you worry that no one will ever know how you feel, ever know what the point is?

I don’t even know you and you got it. You pinned it down in an armload of sentences and…thanks.

Comment by Ernie |Edit This
2006-09-21 15:52:17

Wow, Zoe. Very impressive. You always make me laugh or at the very least; feel “something” and you out did yourself with this one.
Best wishes as always.
Speechless, again.

Comment by Anonymous |Edit This
2006-09-21 16:47:39

Baby girl, this was breathtaking. I adore you.

Comment by Lara |Edit This
2006-09-22 09:16:40

Hi Zoe – I gasped at the photograph of your father in the woods. I can’t explain why, but there is something hauntingly beautiful about it within the context of this lovely written remembrance of him.

2006-09-22 16:01:47

You painted your dad’s nails? You are awesome.

Comment by Maureen |Edit This
2006-09-25 13:32:23

Zoe,

First of all I LOVE your name, and I used to use the name Zoe as a moniker when I did a job where anonymity was important.

Yours is the first post I read on this website, and I loved it. I too have had quite an “obsession” with death, feelings ranging from fearing death, wanting death, glamorizing death, accepting death, then realizing I hadn’t accepted the idea of death. But mostly I think death can be really really funny. I love your dad’s idea of a coatrack )

Comment by Angie |Edit This
2006-10-30 07:45:46

This was very beautiful.