I hadn't really thought about it until now, but the two weeks I spent with my father in South Africa over the past Christmas and New Year were probably the longest time I had spent with him for decades. At the very least since 2002, and even that period was broken up into relatively small chunks. Or so I remember it.
Even before 2002, my visits were fairly infrequent to England. The total time spent with him since I've made my home in the U.S. can only be a few months at most.
So in many ways the trip to Cape Town was with someone quite unfamiliar, with only the memories of my childhood and teenage years of any lengthy substance. Those memories are faint now.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the visit as far as I was concerned was how different our outlooks, ways of doing things and interests have become, yet certain behavioural traits – for example, a certain dreaminess and indifference to what's going on around us – are very similar. I looked around my father's very neat house, complete with many Lladro figurines that he has collected over many years, lovely matching furniture and landscape paintings galore on the walls and contrasted it with our very untidy house, with no figurines at all, beaten-up furniture of ancient and varied (but distinctly non-antique provenance) and walls covered with my photographs, paintings by my son from his early years and the occasional extraneous artwork slipped in between. Well, at least in terms of density of walled framed objects, the two homes were similar. But the feel could not be more different. Right now, our house is relatively tidy as we hosted the neighborhood association meeting on Sunday but it will return swiftly to its mosaic of scattered papers, shoes, clothes and other sundry items that represents its usual state. A condition that we are perfectly used to and satisfied with and feel only compelled to change when either the chaos confounds us or guests are expected.
Just as our homes differ, so do our interests. My father loves sports, I find them almost wholly uninteresting. My father loves to garden; I do not – although we do share a love of a plant or flower. His are cultivated – I look mostly for those in the wild. My father writes poetry, I do not – preferring, as you see here, a reflective prose for my thoughts. But, again, we do share an interest in language and writing – but with differing emphasis. Photography we both love although again perhaps we look at it in a different way.
Diverging paths from a common root. Perhaps that is the best way to look at what has happened to us. I have deliberately chosen a low-key low-stress career, one that satisfies on all levels but not one you might describe as exceptionally high achieving whereas many of my extended family are highly competitive. Not for me, that way. Satisfying days, well lived with a mellow warmth – that's my goal. Mostly, I find it and for that I am extremely grateful.
So here I am, sitting on the couch with our soft black cat beside me, jotting down these thoughts and feeling pleased my life has followed the route that it has. Perhaps the trip to Africa, in a strange way, was most valuable as a pointer to roads not taken, directions that I am sure would not have given me such a rewarding life. Reeling in the years and then casting out the line; I am very glad my personal hook and sinker fell into waters far removed from what might have been.