Voyage around My Fatherhood

Article excerpt

There is a line in Helen Garner's novel Cosmo Cosmolino in which a character attempts to cope with the breakdown of her marriage. "To see a couple of any age lean towards each other across a restaurant table caused Janet's heart to fracture like an egg."

Random glimpses of parenting-my young nephew, naked and finally tired as he lies on his mother's belly after his bath, my friend Mick dancing with his four-year-old at the pub, a father walking slowly down the street with his child-the small arm reaching up so high, the little hand lost in the big mitt, all the trust and responsibility this image evokes for me-such moments, similarly, can crack my heart like an egg.

Easy on the eye, admittedly, compared with much of the hard reality of parenting, they remind me, painfully, what is absent from my life. They lead me to question what might have gone wrong that I have missed out on children-and to wonder with occasional panic what direction my future can possibly take without the rudder of family life to steer it.

"Children suck the love right out of your bones," Garner writes elsewhere. How can we who are childless find any reason for living that even comes close to this?

I didn't choose not to have a child-how many of us do?-it is, rather, how my life has panned out. I'm 47, which means of course that I'm not too old. But if anything I feel readier now to be a grandparent than a new father. Watching men my age with small children, I have no doubt we were meant to do this business 10 or 20 years earlier, and I wonder whether emotionally and energetically my fathering days have passed.

I have been the father of several terminations, all but one of which were clear mutual decisions-as much as any can be. That one exception, however, was my girlfriend's last-minute choice. She had been my partner for several years but our relationship was in turmoil after we had become involved with other people.

I doubt we would have stayed together even if we'd had the child-a boy, we were certain, and already named Jack. But I also have no doubt that I would have parented Jack with every gram of dormant love that lies hardening in my bones now. He would have been 13 this month. I can imagine, too easily, his gangly cockiness, the sullen, aggrieved tone in his voice and, also too easily, the frustration and fierce protectiveness this arouses in me as his father.

I look back at my life and understand that every other twist and turn and choice I've made were all but inevitable, as if I were blindly following a script my past had left in my hands. …