28 September 2014

Where the spirit meets the bone

Somewhere along the way, you always lose the reason that you started out. This is a metaphor that is not true of its own concrete sense. No one forgets their destination on a real journey. On a real journey, you never have any question when it is over. We have arrived. The end.

The metaphor of the journey is insufficient but only in the way that all metaphors are insufficient. Conceptual places are not places at all, of course. They are nothing, they are the firing of synapses in the brain. They are electricity and chemicals. That's it: that's all anything else ever can be.

On Sunday, Naomi had her first swim meet and we, as a family, took another step in that direction — the one where we are consumed with all the coming and going of the family life and whatever it was that I had wanted, as a 23-year-old, sitting with Yoko on the beach in Matsuhama, seemed to have faded entirely into the vapour of real life. It's not in any way a complaint, just an observation.

I am not, I've never felt, built for this life or this part of my life, despite my overwhelming commitment to it and desire to somehow be like all the other men, the good fathers who are present and engaged. Instead, I feel as ever like some actor, an extra in the social world play, who if you look closely enough is just standing there, not really taking part. As someone who has wasted so much of my life on social theory, I've become a kind of a disgruntled magician watching a magic show. All this threat of violence in the whistles and command — even the cheering on, all a threat of euphemistic and imagined force. The bake sales. The entrance fees. The angry middle-aged women and men in matching polo shirts. Anyone can make a social structure capable of control given the possibility that something can be won.

Naomi swam after I watched these heats after heats of kids I didn't care anything about, hating the sound of the whistle with each blow. She swam as well as she could, neither the best nor the worst and got out of the water after waving at us. I took the other girls out for a walk and took pictures of the old King Edwards School, looked over by the Birmingham University clock tower. It had been warm after a cold August and the girls told Yoko, when we got back, that we had been on an adventure.

I wonder if I had been better at this given more time, if I had waited, as my generation has so far, to have kids later, if at all. At the school on the adventure with the girls, I could hear a church meeting inside one of the buildings, an amazingly uninspired praise song leaking out of the doors. You are mighty to save. I had sung those exact words as a believer, as someone watching the show and believing in it, but now I can only think of the metaphor that I can't seem to access anymore, mighty to save. What did I think that had meant. Had I thought it meant anything.

At some point in the play, all the extras have to recite the chorus lines and of course, I mouth along. Naomi is unhappy with her result and I comforted her the best I could. It's a lifetime of disappointment, I want to say. You think it's bad now, wait until you start falling in love. The best you can do is rarely enough to win. Best get used to it. Instead, for a moment, I manage to tell the truth, to reach down and find the part of me that is a competent father, the one that I want to be: I love you, I say, the one thing I actually mean. You did your best and I love you. I can't give you much, but I can give you that.