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Louis Greenberg

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

One glass of whisky

I’m one of those people. TV ads about fathers and sons make me want to cry. The manipulative moment at the end of a soppy sitcom where the father tells his wayward son that he’s proud of him makes me want to cry. My father wasn’t a sentimental man. I’m not sure we can blame this on his upbringing. He had it a lot easier than many children of his religion and his generation. He was born in 1921 in Riga, Latvia, in a Jewish family in transit from Belorussia, on the run from the new Russia, and could have ended up in far worse places than Cape Town. In the end he, with his ghost-hunt and his books and his ideas of what things should be but never are and how people should behave but never do, was probably the hardest part of his own life.

But you know that whisky ad where the adult sons and old fathers get together for fishing or football or a drink? They press their bald heads together, they have the same profile, they hug each other after Celtic have won. They look like they’re having fun, that everything that went before is forgiven. They look like they share “I love you, Dad”, “I’m
proud of you, son” moments all the time. My father wasn’t a sentimental man.

On the day he died, just about ten years ago, a man in his late 70s, he went to work as he always did. I was off to work myself, and I passed by him as he slumped back against the wall, catching his breath. I didn’t say anything to him. We didn’t really talk. That night he came back, as he always did, sat in his chair, perhaps too tired to heckle the news that night. He probably poured a whisky; perhaps he didn’t drink it that night. Then hours after my mother had gone to sleep as always, he switched off the TV. He went to the bedroom, started taking off his clothes and died of a heart attack.

In family dramas, children fly in from all over the country to sit by the hospital bedside and attain closure in an organised way. By the time my sisters got into town, my father was in his coffin and they never got to see his face. It turned out he had leukemia too. He didn’t tell anyone. He wasn’t a sentimental man.

Yesterday, I took my two-year-old son to a shopping mall. While we waited to meet his mother, we rode around in a shopping cart and laughed and laughed as a man came clapping noisily down the stairs in his slip slops. He sat in the trolley and just smiled at me as we whirled through the mall. Sometimes I have to hold myself together.

All the advice columns say you should train babies and measure out love and security into small, scheduled little parcels, let them cry. I’m not a great father. I’m often impatient. But I hug my son often, I sing to him often, until he has to shake his head and roll his eyes and say “no, no, no, no, no”. We go to him when he cries at night. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but I hope my son will want to smile one day when he sees whisky ads on TV.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    February 2nd, 2009 @12:30 #
     
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    Aww. I'm sure he will. I'm a sucker for those ads too.

    My 6 and a half year old daughter still spends large chunks of the night in our bed. She's trained us.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    February 2nd, 2009 @13:27 #
     
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    That's gorgeous, Louis. I wasn't anywhere near prepared for how parenthood would expand the universe. It feels like I stumbled into a singularity - a personal big bang of my own.

    And I'm taken aback by how much recall I have of really ridiculous songs (I mean really ridiculous) and how all love songs suddenly seem to be about babies rather than adult relationships (Queens' Breakthrough anyone? "If I could only reach you, if I could make you smile") and how I have absolutely no skaam in singing 'em.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    February 2nd, 2009 @13:31 #
     
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    Lovely post, Louis. Absolutely, Lauren, babies are the perfect audience for all the soppiest love-songs.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    February 2nd, 2009 @13:45 #
     
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    Hmmm, between Darrell's piece on his dad as unreliable bedtime narrator and this one, we could have an anthology in the works. Or a book.co.za best-of the year that collates writers writing about particular subjects close to their hearts (or inherited receding hairlines)

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    February 2nd, 2009 @13:52 #
     
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    That's actually what inspired this post this morning - Fiona's reactions to Darrel's memories. Pictures of dogs and fathers always make me moody, and I'll pick pick pick away at that in much of my writing.

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  • <a href="http://kathrynwhite.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    Kathryn
    February 2nd, 2009 @14:14 #
     
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    And if you click over to Alastair Morgan's incredible piece the tears really do flow on this day of wonderful reading from good SA writers

    http://www.theparisreview.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5814

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    February 2nd, 2009 @14:27 #
     
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    PS - you're absolutely right, Lauren. Eternal Flame? How could that NOT have been written for a baby?

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    February 2nd, 2009 @14:31 #
     
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    *Reaching for the Kleenex for the second time today*

    I'm not sure why I find father-son relationships as touching as I do. Perhaps it's because they needn't exist at all. There is, after all, no really compelling biological reason for fathers to stick around during the rearing process. And when they do, there is so much that can go wrong, with many of them not having the emotional vocabulary to deal with strong feelings.

    So when it goes right - even if just for a little while - it all seems particularly poignant.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    February 2nd, 2009 @15:49 #
     
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    Um, no biological reason for dads to stick around their offspring maybe, but civilization rests (more-or-less) on their doing so AND developing the vocab to go with it too. If Darryl and Louis are right, and my bones tell me they are, telling stories and singing is a good way to communicate love.

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  • <a href="http://ingridwolfaardt.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ingrid</a>
    Ingrid
    February 3rd, 2009 @08:39 #
     
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    Ben you're right, sentimentalism rules in this nick of the woods and as far afield as Paarl.It's soo bad that I cry for 7de Laan episodes much to my children's amusement...Mama are you crying? Look Mama's crying...hahaha.
    Can you imagine me at my daughter's wedding in March? It will take more than Gary Players to mop up the deluge.

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