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Adventure Coming of Age Fantasy

I was ten when I knew for sure.

I was ten when the world opened up to me and I saw it for what it was. That was a frightening moment. I can still feel that fear when I cast my mind back. This was one of those big moments in a person’s history which has a subtitle in large capitals…

YOU CANNOT TAKE IT BACK

Ten years old and I understood that I was on my own, and worse than on my own. That my life was my responsibility and mine alone. I suppose that’s a liberating moment in a life. There is a freedom in it and a sense of control comes to the fore. Not for a little kid it isn’t. I mean, how much control does a ten year old have over his life? 

For me, it was largely loss. If I were to be glib, I would say that it was the loss of my childhood. That on that day my childhood was taken from me, but it cut deeper than that. Much deeper.

I was with my Dad, only I wasn’t, not really. You see, I ceased to be with my Dad when we got to the car park of the burger place on a Sunday afternoon. That was part of the arrangement, Mummy had instilled this in me. 

I was hers, and that was also part of the arrangement.

I got to spend every other weekend with Dad, but there were rules and conditions and even with those in place I was to tell her everything that had happened on my Dad weekend so that she could look after me and make it alright.

She was the one with the control, and that was just how she liked it.

A mother’s love is unconditional, or at least that is how it is billed. This unconditional branding makes it unassailable. No one in their right mind questions the love of a mother for their child. Mothers and their special brand of love are the cornerstone of our society and our civilisation. It is high treason to touch that thing upon which all else is based.

Besides, even if I could go back and ask my questions, I know they would never be answered. Not in a way that would make sense to me, and certainly not in a way that would fix it. Not that it ever could be fixed. 

Sometimes a thing needs to be broken in order for us to do something about it. There aren’t just two states, like say, good and bad, there’s a middle state which is unsatisfactory, but not bad enough for anyone to do anything about it. We all of us can live in the grey and when we do, we won’t do anything about it.

Mummy wanted me to be OK. She was a nice mother and she took care of me. For the days that followed my weekend with him she would take extra special care of me and point out all the things that had gone wrong when I was with Dad. 

If anything bad was ever going to happen to me, it was going to be when I was with my Dad. My Dad was a risk taker and he just did not care. He was wayward and dangerous and didn’t think things through. 

When you’re a kid, you don’t question your parents. Not really. You don’t gather evidence to discredit them or to build your own, alternative version of reality. You’re too busy being a kid. When you’re very little, these huge creatures that dominate your world are your gods and I think many of us carry those gods around with us for the rest of our lives.

I heard an interviewer once ask the most fearsome boxer of his generation, and perhaps the greatest of all time, “what happened when you realised you could beat your own father in a fight?”

The boxer was the most frightening man I had ever seen fight and he had a reputation. He’d come up from the streets and his childhood had not been much of a childhood at all. He had been forged. He stared at the off camera interviewer like he was breakfast, and then he put him straight. You see, you don’t ever think like that. This boxer could undoubtedly put his old man on his arse, but that was a wayward flight of fancy. A theory that would never be put into practice, because the boxer’s father was his god and you do not destroy your gods. 

Without our gods we are nothing. 

We see nothing. 

We aim for nothing. 

We strive to be nothing.

Thankfully, most of us don’t think like that. Most of us just don’t go there, restrained by the benevolent bonds of respect and love.

Problem was, my gods were at war. 

I don’t think it was a war that either of them wanted. My Dad rolled with a bunch of things and he did his best in the circumstances. He acted grateful for the limited time he had with me and tried not to make a big deal out of it. Instead, he made a big deal out of me, and when he made his stand, it was for me. 

I know that now.

For my mother’s part, I think she was frightened. The world was a big and fearsome place, so she closed her own world down to more manageable proportions. This might have been why Mummy and Dad weren’t together anymore. Dad dealt with things in a different way. He had all these sayings and catch phrases. There were many, many lessons to be learned. 

Seize the day!

Life is about experiences!

You never stop learning and growing!

Aim for the stars and you’ll at least reach the moon.

Try not to be a dick.

I never said that Dad was perfect. He had many words, but sometimes he used words that were rated PG. He did have a thing about focus and targets. He taught me about target fixation. How a person goes where they are looking, so it’s important to look up and never let your head go down.

When I look back, I did a lot of my growing up at my Dad’s. A lot of my firsts were at Dad’s. This didn’t make him popular with Mummy; I was not ready and yet he pushed me.

I’m glad he did.

I really am.

Both of my parents nurtured me. I never chose, even when I was pushed that way. The problem came when I realised that we all have to choose in the end. Life is a series of choices and failing to choose is an unsatisfactory default. Better to look at things and think them through and point yourself where you think you need to go. Of course, you could point yourself where you want to go instead, but following your wants as opposed to your needs is a low risk and low reward approach to life and mostly leads to a whole heap of unhappiness.

Two weeks before that pivot in my life, Mummy had been busy and had sent her neighbour and friend Claire, to pick me up. Dad had given Aunty Claire an update on our weekend. I always found this interesting. Dad would tell Mummy what I’d been up to and nevertheless she would quiz me on it later. We got into that routine and in the end I pre-empted it and just told her everything.

After all, not telling Mummy everything was as bad as lying.

Dad never quizzed me like that, he told me to always tell him the important things and that included my worries and concerns. Things just kinda came out with Dad. I talked with him when I needed to and most of the time I didn’t even know I needed to until he was giving me one of his bear hugs and telling me it was OK, along with a piece of advice that I most of the time remembered even without trying. 

He made things stick effortlessly, whereas Mummy repeated and repeated until it was habit. 

I said life is a series of choices didn’t I? 

Not at first it isn’t. There are cursory choices in childhood, but you are kept in that protective bubble away from responsibility and the big consequences. I don’t think Mummy ever wanted me to leave that bubble and neither did I. I could see the fear in her eyes when she thought I wasn’t looking. The world she saw was terrible and I didn’t want any part of it. Being safe and secure at home was all I ever wanted, until I went to Dad’s and we went out into the world and did things.

It wasn’t those adventures that caused the trouble though, it was my education.

Dad had told my Aunty Claire that we’d done a heap of extra work for the tests I’d signed up to, and that I was going to need to do some more work over the next two weeks. 

Aunty Claire was angry. She didn’t shout, but I saw the set of her jaw and I heard the way she spoke. She didn’t say how dare you, not that I recall, but her words still managed to convey that sentiment. She told my Dad that I was busy enough and there was no way that I was going to do that work. She told him that he wasn’t being fair.

Dad shrugged and said we’d signed up for this and I was now well into the work and that it was like exercise. Stopping for two weeks would not be good for me. Besides I was enjoying it and it had ignited something within me.

I had to agree. Not had to because he was my Dad, it was because what he was saying was true.

I was confused and upset when my Dad picked me up two weeks later and I hadn’t done the work we’d both agreed it would be good for me to do. I’d left him wanting to do the work, but then Mummy had told me it was too much and I needed a rest. I’d got upset and she told me that was stress and proved I wasn’t up to it. 

My Dad asked me why I hadn’t done the work and I said I didn’t know, and I didn’t. I couldn’t explain it. It just didn’t happen and I didn’t really know why. I could see the disappointment in his eyes though, then he asked if I wanted to carry on working for the tests.

I said yes, and I meant it wholeheartedly.

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t just work all weekend. My Dad told me I needed balance and to do other things so that nothing ever felt like a chore. Even chores. He also told me about himself and how he found things difficult so he had to find ways to trick himself. He said this was how you managed yourself and found out how you worked. He told me rewards worked well and they did. I enjoyed the rewards after I did my work, even though spending time with Dad and getting my work done were rewards in themselves. I never told him that, but I know he knew.

The drop off where it all changed for me was that next one after Aunty Claire had been off with Dad. We’d caught up with my work and I was happy. Dad was proud of me and he’d made a big fuss of me. He said if I kept on like that then I’d fly, and I felt as light as a balloon in the wind when he told me that.

Mummy was livid when Dad told her where I was up to and what I needed to do before my tests in two weeks. 

She said she’d been thinking.

Dad shook his head and told her it was too late for that now, that I should have a crack at the tests and we could all talk about it after that. That to pull the plug on me at this point would be cruel, that it was setting me up for a fall.

“He was never going to pass anyway,” Mummy said this to my Dad as though I wasn’t there, or like I didn’t count.

She said more, but that was the line. That was the moment that I knew that I had to do the work for the tests, come what may. This was my choice. This was my responsibility. I knew that my Mummy loved me and cared for me, but at that moment I understood that one person being your world is never enough. The world is your world, not any single person.

It wasn’t that Dad was a take it or leave it option, even though I’d been encouraged to see him that way, that I could opt out of his risky life because he wasn’t entirely good for me, not like Mummy was. It was more that Dad gave me space to be me. Don’t get me wrong, he pushed me when I needed a push. He let me dictate the pace a lot of the time though. He talked to me and explained things to me and he allowed me to start building the person I needed to be. He encouraged me to make that person using the best examples around me, told me only I truly knew what those examples were and how to build myself. So I took what I thought was the best of Mummy and the best of Dad and a whole bunch of ingredients from family, friends, teachers and people I encountered in my life.

I did the work.

I did the work despite Mummy’s best efforts to stop me.

She attempted to keep me busy, enlisting my grandparents, cousins and her friends. There were more activities and distractions in those two weeks than I had ever encountered in my life with her. It was all so tiring that she never questioned my trudging to bed on feet made heavy with weariness. I feigned sleep until I knew she’d gone to bed and I worked by torchlight. It was my great adventure, fuelled by the fire in my belly. A fire that had only grown when I heard Mummy’s harsh words. 

I worked until late and then I woke up early. I had thought I’d set an alarm, but in the end the excitement that my secret endeavours evoked had me up with the first of the dawn chorus and I did more work than I’d agreed with my Dad. I enjoyed it and the more I did, the more I enjoyed myself. Not once did I message my Dad about my mission. I wanted to, but I knew that it was not the right thing to do, instead I looked forward to the day when he would know.

That day was the day I sat the tests. I thought that he would know after I sat the tests, but something passed between us before I walked into that test room on my own. I tried to keep my mission secret, but when Dad smiled at me and gave me a wink I couldn’t help giving him a crafty grin. I like to think that was what made all the difference and in a way it was.

The rest is history.

I am history.

Passing the test was only the start and that start nearly ended when Mummy tried to stop me joining The Program. That was when Dad stepped in. It was my choice, not hers and not anyone else’s. 

Four years later and here I am, making my final broadcast before I go into the sleep capsule that will be my bed for the longest sleep in history. When I awake, it will be in another solar system, in the orbit of an inhabitable planet that might just give us humans a second chance. 

I’ll be older then, and not just by the twenty years it will take me to get where I am going. The capsule slows the ageing process, but nothing can cheat time. I will be older, but I will still be a child. A child with the weight of the world on my shoulders. My future is intertwined with the future of us all.

That’s a heavy responsibility, but one I wear willingly and wear well. 

I miss my Mummy and my extended family and my friends. I was brought up in their bosom and it was expected that there was where I would reside for the rest of my days. 

Funny, I don’t miss my Dad. He’s ever present. He’s the reason I got to do this and I know he knows that, even though he passed before he could see me aim for the stars and take flight towards them. 

Even so, Dad was there, at the launch, I could feel him with me and I knew how proud he was, not of what I was doing, but who I was. He gave me permission to be who I needed to be, it was Dad who gave me my wings.

My mother wasn’t at the launch. She was deeply hurt by what she saw as my betrayal. She said I’d chosen the wrong side, when all I chose was to live.

I wonder whether she is watching this on the TV now. 

I hope she is, and I hope she sees her little boy. I’m still that little boy, and I feel that all the more out here, in the infinite. I am small and insignificant, and yet I am enough. Both my parents taught me that in very different ways, it is their legacy. 

I am their legacy.

Night, night.

August 27, 2022 14:04

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2 comments

Ron Smith
02:00 Sep 08, 2022

Interesting reading. If I might make just one very slight suggestion, and maybe this is just a personal preference--but if you could replace some of the paragraphs where you were explaining what was being said with some back-and-forth dialog, it might break things up a bit. Again, that may just be how I like to read things...other folks may have a different idea. But it might be fun to try. Good work! Keep writing.

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Jed Cope
10:07 Sep 08, 2022

Thanks Ron, glad you found it interesting, and I'll bear that in mind.

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