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Dark Horse

June 18, 2010
by

My father was occupied by two diametrically opposed demons.

One was his incredible gentleness. A kind man who loved deeply, who gave broadly and open handedly. Generous to a fault I believe the stock phrase goes.

Yet there was this other side of him that had glorified, idolised, sanctified the concept of MAN!

The Male, the masculine. It was jingoistic, it was almost religious in impulse. Oh and what manliness.

Well muscled but not bulky. A stance that was solid yet not stolid or stiff. A fluidity of movement, a grace that was akin to a jaguar’s. A well developed sense of personal care and, preening stopping just short of the effeminate!

And a highly developed charm honed specifically for maximum impact on women!

And how it worked. It was incredible to watch. A thing of beauty and grace.

The women, in droves, in whole gaggles falling at his feet. Enraptured by his poles of sexual magnetism. Every one a willing, perhaps even joyous satellite. Most not even expecting reciprocity. Just there to bask. I remember one look from him getting some into paroxysms of glowing, feral submission.

My mother, no small beauty in her own right, took years to work out that the charm wasn’t just a display thing, it had function. It got him women. For real, he slept with hundreds of them. And every one of them was left believing herself to be the one. Drawing whole architectural plans to corral him and get exclusive dibs on him. Every one of them convinced that she was the one where his lights shone brightest.

But really what else is there? He was all man. What’s more he believed in it. He moulded his life around it. To him manliness was the highest desire and possible achievement. The highest accolade. The greatest prize. That damn code.

It spoke of honour, of spirit, strength, control, dignity. It consumed him, sang to him when he awoke in the morning, when he climbed into that cockpit, when he teased his plane up into the clouds in one smooth motion. At night when he walked into a bar or a party all eyes, male as well as female just inexorably locked onto him.

He looked perfect in that damn uniform. His captain’s cap at just the right angle, never tipping into camp rakishness. His jacket and braids perfectly smooth and sitting like they were sculpted unto his perfect form. Shoulders broad as the world, hips and waist tastefully narrow and svelte. Trouser seams sharp as razor blades and shoes jet black, with a sheen that would be the envy of the most demanding barracks martinet.

And then the quiet instruction. That deep battle rumble of his… “All the drinks are on me tonight” semi whispered to the barman. No one must hear it except the barman since there was no honour in showing off about an act of generosity.

When he disappeared on occasion into the desert, with his rifle, knife and minimal camping gear, for days on end, not to be heard from until he returned with at least a whole venison or mouflon on the back of his jeep. No mention was made, no fuss, no stories about what went on in that time spent communing with his deepest manly nature. Exchanging blows with Nature herself. And surviving no, more, triumphing over her. Unscathed. Battling serpents with the knife or the bare hand and winning.

All, every action precisely aligned to the rules of manliness. Never breaking covenant with his male soul. Or that of his glorious ancestors. But what?

What did he see when he looked in the mirror during those ceremonial two hour long shaving sessions? When he had to have everything just so. Naked down to a simple towel wrapped around his waist. His cigarettes handy, near by with his favourite ashtray. His glass of fresh strong black tea and the two lumps of sugar. His little towel which he bunched on the floor to prop his travelling mirror on. Finding the best spot in the sitting room so he could catch the sun on his beard. The four passes with his razor, always neatly broken in half so he could use one half for the first two passes then wash and change to a fresh razor and two more passes with that blade.

What was it he saw? A heroic, mythical figure? A demigod? A direct descendant of Xerxes and Darius?

What did he see? Really? Was he pleased with the man he saw? Did it calm his raging insecurity? did he believe that he was real? That he was there? that he meant something, that there was sense to him, that his was at least a real humanity? Did the numerous women appease his sense of self finally?

All those answers were stolen from, lost to me by the simple decision of my mother finally to relocate as far from him as possible. I will never now get the chance to face him as a man in my own right, proven so, to sit with him over a drink and ask him, looking him in those deep set eyes, in later life so haunted, so sad. I will never look into those eyes and know a little of what he meant, to me, to himself, to the world.

He was, as far as I could make out a failure. He failed in the very things he set the most store by. His central core of masculine honour was never to recover from the simple acts of betrayal he piled onto his promise to my mother, burying it deeper than was possible to dig back out. He made some amends with his third wife, my mother was his second. The first he walked out on, on their wedding day, during the ceremony. He stuck by her, he brought up their son with her. But by then he was a broken man, a mere skeleton of what he had built his entire life around.

And he made sure that he passed his religion unto his second son, since his first had grown into a man while he was still oscillating between his drives and his honour. His first son who was, to his reckoning stolen away from him, who was probably feminised by the company of women. And yet his belief in the power of his manly genes was so strong that he simply took it for granted that even with that this first son was nevertheless a real man. As much as said so when we finally talked after a thirty year break.

He brought up his second son to feel a feverish need to rejoin his first. His younger son grew up believing that his big, glorious, lost brother was out there waiting for the right time to come be with him again, to take him in his manly arms and make him whole. Thirty years of waiting for this.

Somehow he even managed to do the same things as his big brother had done. I don’t know how but he had followed a similar trajectory as his big brother. He became a designer and a musician. Had his own band. Made fonts for god sake!!!

And of course he looked something like his big brother.

All this my father wrought. He deliberately found his truth in myth and legend rather than ever face the reality of things. That his first son was long gone. His belief in blood, that legendary, holy substance stronger than the simple facts of life. Proximity had no power over blood. Distance had no effect weakening a bond. Blood was blood and there it ended. Nothing could supersede it.

And really what a story my father’s was. A man lost to his father at the age of seven. A whore of a mother, no worse, a pimp of a mother who had driven his gentle father away. With her using of her own sister to set up a successful pimp’s racket during the second world war. She had driven his father away, she had brought every one she touched into her sphere of usury and her own narrow interests. She who had bullied him into submitting to her warped will. How was he ever to survive that woman.

And perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps his need to be perceived by all, all as an absolute quintessence of man was directly related to the ignominy of his mother. Harridan, bitch, whore… I’ll show her what a man is made of.

It is not for me to say. I am no psychologist, nor do I believe in the narrow, easy answers of the armchair psychologist. I will leave him there. I will bid him farewell and rest in peace. Perhaps that was precisely what he sought. Peace. A quieting of the incessant, insistent voices that plagued his every hour. That fuelled his need to find respite in the temple of the eternal masculine.

Vishy (14 June 2010)

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