25 August 2017

Generational depression

My father used to take my birthday seriously. He would get the day off work and we would always do something. In Minnesota, this was Gasoline Alley, a go kart track and arcade and mini-golf place, in Blaine. Sometimes we would go just as a family, or I would have a friend, my best friend, Ben Anderson. Dad was happy on those days and things would happen that wouldn't normally happen, like going to a sporting goods shop and him buying me a Minnesota Twins hat, a spring training one that was white, just like that. Not as my present, my big present, that would come later in the day, but just because it was my birthday.

He would also always take us to breakfast on our birthdays. In Minnesota, this was to a place called the Pannekoekin Huis, a faux Dutch dining chain that had a restaurant in Long Lake. We would ride bicycles some time, ten miles, and have pancakes or waffles. I remember this having a tense excitement, that there might be something big to talk about, about Jesus or something I had done wrong, but it never was. You could have waffles with whipped cream and strawberries and Dad was smiling on the other side of the booth, just the two of you.

The vivid unhappiness makes me sceptical of these memories, although they've been a useful heuristic as my birthday ticked by this summer. I've managed to be away from the house for my birthday the last couple of years, at conferences or seminars, and have snuck away for things to pretend I was celebrating myself, to take stock. A couple of years ago it was a cigar in Winchester. I was in London one year, and then New York the other. Mia's birthday is now one day before mine, and the year she was born, I knew that this meant my birthday as an event was gone. I turned 29 the year she was born though, and I remember thinking how pathetic it was to want to have someone celebrate my birthday, to have a party.

This year, I turned thirty five, and it passed without much mention, on a Tuesday. I have become terrible about gifts from Yoko, particularly at this time of the year when I'm always tending to spend money on other things, the house, the kids swimming, gymnastics. To spend any money on something I don't need or want, really, seems irresponsible. She bought me a beautiful watch a couple of years back that I accepted with happiness, without questioning where the money came from, but otherwise, I've been completely insufferable. This year Yoko put a bottle of whiskey in the trolley at CostCo and I said, No, it's fine, I don't need anything, sabotaging it and feeling immediately guilty. There's a house to buy and holiday to plan and that bottle of whiskey takes one and half hours of part-time work for me to cover. It's not even the one I like.

As I trawl back through the past, I remember feeling tension when my father was around, and wonder now, as I sit with my kids, and I hold Naomi's hand as we walk to swimming, can she relax with me when we're together. I just ask, but it's an odd question to ask a child, 'Can you relax when you're with me?' Yes? she says, like it's a stupid question and I want to tell this story of my own father and how much tension there was and how I don't want to pass that on to her. I want to say to her that this persistent unhappiness is hereditary, and we can't let it control us. We can take medication or not, or believe in God to heal it or not. We just can't let it ruin everything. Instead, I just say to her, Good and then I love you, because that is enough for now, I hope. Beyond lost tempers and bad attitudes and the frustrations of every day life, at least I can give you that, the same way my father did, in his own way, through his own unhappiness and cloud. At least we have love.