Wednesday, May 23, 2018

On the puzzles of human nature

A reflection on a year of reflections and questions, moral and legal

My father died a year ago today, 23 May 2017, aged 78. He died in a nursing home in regional Victoria, away from his more familiar environs of Manly in New South Wales, sufficiently out of the way for most members of the family to visit. That was the action taken by my youngest brother and his wife, without reasonable consultation.

He returned to Sydney in 2014 from an almost permanent residency in Los Angeles. He had and we had anticipated a new phase of his life, back in Sydney, back visiting him. He was subsequently diagnosed with Lewy Bodies dementia and as other members of the family sought to make arrangements to accommodate this new phase, the youngest brother and his wife (with assistance from an acquaintance, a long term employee of my father) took him to Victoria. They neglected to inform us of his new residence, my eldest brother had to seek out the address of the home for himself.

On his death, I wrote a tribute to be uploaded to the website of the funeral home, as is now the done thing. My youngest brother and his wife deemed it inappropriate and deleted it. This was among tributes that joked about guns to the head and crooked cops in the 'whatever it takes' 1970s Manly, Sydney. My father was a car dealer on Sydney's northern beaches and later invested in real estate. I thought there were other aspects of his life that ought to be known too.

There remains much to be told in this story. That will be for another day.

I have sat on this for a year now. I post it here, for myself, and as a reminder that while I might be an international relations academic interested in questions the politics of human nature, sometimes the difficult questions are always much closer to home.

The tribute is reprinted here, without changes, as reflected at the time, one year ago.

I returned to Australia in August 2017 where I understood we were, as a family, to gather to scatter my father's ashes over his preferred spot in Sydney, as he had requested. Instead, the youngest brother took it upon himself to defy those wishes and inter his ashes in a suburban crematorium in Sydney.


Reflecting on the tributes here, it is clear that America, especially Los Angeles, was where Ted lived his life as he wished. His first trip there in the early 1970s cemented his fascination with the country and on his return he did his best to convert us, whether through Stars and Stripes t-shirts and cowboy boots, the American flag on the bar wall and JFK (yes, JFK) quotes throughout the house. 

After our parents separated in 1973, the next few years were spent travelling to Sydney in school holidays spending time washing cars on the car yard, travelling across town to do a deal, being taken to Luna Park by friends or left at our Nan's house.

The legacy we leave when we die is what those of us left have to consider. More than the material possessions or accumulated wealth, sometimes that legacy will be lessons in how to be or how not to be. Clearly, for my father's friends in the US, that is one of how to be. As the first-born, however, there is another facet of the man who said that it was my fault, being born, that messed his life up so much. That after years of telling me my education was pointless and right on the point of starting a career in public service and teaching.

It is one thing to sense that level of rejection in your teens, quite another to be confronted by it in your twenties.

It remained the touchstone for over two decades. Later during work trips to the US, I took the difficult step to make contact, to see Ted in his ‘home’ environment. We started working on that distance.

Ted’s return to Manly, the beachside he enjoyed, the pigeons on Corso, the ferries at the wharf, made it easier to begin the journey over. Occasional meetings and phone calls helped to counter a long-held grievance.

The talk was mostly of politics, our almost entirely diametrically opposed views on everyone and everything in US and Australian politics; our views of the world so opposite. Ted never could or would understand why I ‘wasn’t interested in making a buck’ but I think we were on the verge on reconciling that too.

It is a shame that just as Ted was settling again in Manly and re-establishing himself, he was taken to country Victoria to see out his days. Perhaps because he was settling, some saw it in their interests to take him away. It made walking that last distance much harder.

In our last phone conversation, mostly about politics again, I explained I had achieved a coveted position in Tokyo. I explained it to him in terms of his best ever car deal. Ted seemed to finally get it.

As per his request, he discouraged me from returning to Australia for his funeral. He said he didn’t want any fuss. I thus farewell him in respecting his wishes in our last conversation.

This is the tribute that was deleted by the same brother who evicted his own daughter from a long-term property owned by my father, to expedite sale; he later also evicted his own brother from a property gifted to that brother by our father some years ago. 

Some days, there's is seemingly no accounting for the motivations of the avarice of certain individuals.

The puzzles of human nature continue to puzzle.