That Was The Fish Account

A few days after Father’s Day I was feeling pretty down. I had gone the week before to a friend’s cottage. We’d been drinking a lot one night and she looked over at me and another friend – it was a Sunday I believe – and asked if we’d want to go tomorrow. Shrugs all said we would.

It hadn’t really cheered me up, but at least I drank enough to forget that my dad was nada. De nada a nada or whatever they say in that Hemingway story about cleanliness. The wine we drank at dinner was cute because it was bad but in a kitschy sort of way. The dinners were well cooked because I was the chef, if you can do one thing right… But, it was hard not to picture my fellow cottagers learning to grill burgers and hot dogs with their dads – or did girls not do that with their fathers?

I also was stuck on the fact that my experiences in life tended away from those sought after in media. I am a writer and try to write what I know. I’ve read too much shitty macho modernist stuff, especially in my youth, for my references to not seem disconnected – or at least odd.

At her cottage, I pictured, as I looked along the spit populated by cottages all owned by her extended family – grandpa had been a doctor at Sick Kids or some place, what my father would’ve thought. Aah, my son living large or You fuck, I was malnourished before adoption lest you forget. I try not to care what he would’ve made of me. Or my life. But it is hard not to, I crave a sort of approval that I don’t imagine I’ll ever feel in life. The kind a young man gets when his father offers him a beer, a cigar, teaches him to shave or to finger girls, or whatever father-son talks are about. I’ve heard about their importance.

We did quite a few crossword puzzles as we sat wrapped in blankets on the shore of Georgian Bay. It was blustery and I was sure I had caught a cold from swimming in the water but at least I knew that Timbuktu was the capital of Mali. At night, we played trivial pursuit. The kind where Russia is still the USSR. Where the arts and culture cards invariably reference a British or American piece of art, television or film. The kind of trivial pursuit that would’ve hit the shelves when my father was 22 too. It was a cute few days all around, and no one complained, or was made to cry, to feel pain and crushing and internal knawing. No, we were all content as a bunch of white people in our early-twenties in one of the most affluent corners of the globe could possibly be i.e. quite a bit. It reminded of the two couples in The Good Solider. Though I think we were more earnest, but maybe the point of the novel is that honesty matters most. I don’t know.

After my few days up on the Bruce Peninsula, I came back to Toronto before leaving for a fishing trip in Quebec, for Father’s Day weekend. Our trip to Lower Canada was planned so far in advance that I hadn’t even been reminded by Facebook yet of the holiday after which I would feel so sad was that very weekend.

I drove through the bush in Quebec with one other guy in his mum’s SUV.

“So it’s a cabin or a camp?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I’d been having the same discussion all week about the linguistics behind what region of Canada called their summer get-aways what. “Geoff said it was small and shit, so I don’t know if all that really applies, anyways.”

It was really fucking dusty in that car, so we barely spoke blasting music instead. We rode with the windows open, sipping lukewarm beers because it was a requirement to always have a brew on-hand once you entered the ZEC Rich had told me. He’d never been either. But his status as a Quebecois by way of Montreal gens d’affaires meant he was privy to knowledge that Anglophones weren’t.

“This is the first time I’ve ever done this,” Paul, my friend driving, said rattling around a nearly finished beer. “Don’t tell my parents.”

“Same here.”

We drove both in silence and not. It was hard to tell because I was four or five beers in by the time we got to the first stage of the fishing camp (it was a camp I was told by someone).

Boy, I felt like a fatherless child on this trip. I could boat, I could fish and I had a pretty good sense of myself in the bush – for a city boy. But, I hadn’t picked this stuff up from a parent, though some had been my Uncle’s teachings. I learned how to drive an outboard motor, the stick shift of boating, from him. I learned to fish, to cast, to not complain, from my Uncle. But I also remembered doing these things with my father, too.

But, my memories of daddy were faded and in the past. I called him daddy for one, because that’s all he’d every been to me. I had stopped calling my mum ‘mommy’ when a kid on my hockey team had corrected me.

“Mommy, mommy,” I’d been shouting.

“You still say that?” this Italian kid has asked me as coolly as he could.

“What?”

“Mommy.”

I looked at my hands, nine years old or thereabouts and already made to look at my hands. I didn’t learn until later, from my modernist friends, that looking at your hands meant you were ashamed, downtrodden, but accepting of your flaws. It’s not my fault I thought then. It’s what I think now, too, whenever I am ashamed of something I’ve said or done. Then, it was my dad’s assholery, now it’s his death, family genetics. Depression. It’s not my fault sometimes, right?

I drank an amount of beer that even my dad would’ve been proud of that weekend fishing. It was really a beautiful weekend all around. Eleven men, all finishing up our studies at Queen’s, all from the same floor of residence from first year. Nothing else united us, some liked football, others basketball. Some did blow, some just took the odd puff of weed. Some were white, others were first gen. None were mentally ill though, we were all happy and in the prime of our lives. We hadn’t the time anymore to be so concerned with what was going on in our heads because we had to focus on the great, wide world out there.

***

On the last morning, Geoff and his father along with a few others were out fishing one last time.

“It’s looking quite grey over that way,” Geoff’s dad Geoff Sr. said. We all just called him Senior by this point.

We all looked to where he’d pointed with his eyes and chin, he kept an eye on the water as he directed the boat. Nods were shared all around.

“Good day to leave, eh,” I said. Nods were shared all around.

It was quiet, weirdly quiet, in juxtaposition, because we’d drank around 30 beers a piece and quite a few sixties of rum since we’d gotten to the little island with a house on it. That had been only the day before yesterday.

“It’s really nice to see you guys are starting your rituals, keeping together,” Senior said often.

“You still keep in touch with your friends?” someone’d asked.

“Yeah, not much anymore since we’ve got kids now. We used to go fly-fishing in Manitoba at a bud’s lodge out there. He sold it though, bought a place on a lake for his kids.”

“But you had the rituals…”

“For sure,” said Senior. “Started with the card games at school, the beers on Tuesdays. There was this place, I don’t know if it’s still in Kingston near the school, where they had super cheap pitchers. We would all buy one when we got there and see who could finish his the quickest.”

“What was it called, Senior?”

“I don’t fucking remember to tell you the truth,” he said laughing.

Nods were shared all around.

“I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, to be honest,” said someone else. Everyone laughed, nodded.

After a slight pause, Senior once again mentioned the weather and all but barely started the boat’s course home. It was slow and winding, but it was towards safe harbour all the same. I admired the man’s equanimity. It was something between Calvin Coolidge and Steve McQueen. Likeable but not enviable, as any good man should be. Interesting but not a topic of conversation beyond state of health, of property and business. I think that’s why we all took to Senior the way we did. He was bool, balm and bollected as YG would say.

He could also handle his alcohol. He and Geoff brought a 48-pack of Coors Light as well as some bottles of wine and I never once saw the man drunk. I was drunk, Geoff, too, and my father would’ve been puking more than us twenty-year-old university students had he been with us. Or at least been with more people than merely me. Mere old me.

It was the first time, in perhaps my life, that I’d been away from women for so long a time. It was like three days of only talking to guys. It made me almost forget about the mainland, the problems, about depression and my father. But, the second I stepped back into Quebec, got out of the ZEC and onto a major highway, life spilled back in. It was quick and instant like when a cup goes from full-enough, to overflowing and spilling water down your knuckles.

My dad and my depression are why I dislike big-breasted women. Double Ds, get it? No,  I just like tall, skinny girls and not much I can do about it. But honestly, what else defines a man? I am ill, mentally, and I’ve no father, so I’ve no idea how to be a man, and there’s my taste in women. Taste, what a god-awful way to describe the type of person you find most attractive. The type of woman, should I say. I rarely hear that used for men, though we often become ‘boys’ when talked about in such matters.

I am a writer, too. I guess that would be a good way to describe me. I’m curmudgeonly as all hell and multiple girlfriends have chided me on the amount of holes in my wardrobe. I also hate being in motion outside, but love the solitary, slothful act of people-watching which is, after all, how you tell a writer from a journalist.

Ever since actually dedicating myself to the writing-life, people have been very helpful, ever offering to arrange a get together with a friend at the CBC, the Globe, or some other place. It’s helpful but also slightly disconcerting because upper-middle class people are quickest to help ‘causes’. I am a cause, like the Syrian refugee family my mother and some of the women in her book club helped sponsor to come settle in Canada. We are both cases of societal ills – in mine depression and to some extent addiction, though in my father’s time addicts and alcoholics were hugely different. Can’t be stressed enough that a Cokeheads a Cokeheads, a junkie’s a junkie and a boozer is a boozer. No need to get the wires of the fucked-up-among-us crossed, eh.

But, I take all the help I can get. Pourquoi pas? Compunctions are for the weak in my mind. Or at least those without ambition.

It is tough though, being a writer. For one, people implicitly trust what you say. I can’t stress enough how problematic this is to someone in need of help. I can be both wise and stupid. I think of Cheever and how he is remembered. He was brilliant, amazing. His prose is as crisp and refreshing as a drink of Bruce Peninsula well-water. And yet, he was an abhorrent alcoholic, gay as can be and a quick read of his Wikipedia page shows how sad a life he must’ve lived. His name lives on. He’s a Pulitzer prize winner and also a Seinfeld joke. Very sad indeed.

When I was young, I hated my father. Full stop. No bones about it. I told anyone who’d ask about his job that he was ‘dead’. Not passed away, not in a better place. Dead. Because he was, for all intents and purposes, dead to me. But, as I got older, wiser, I began to question why. He was abusive in its nakedest state. I do not love him and don’t think I should really. That would just be stupid. But, I understand him I guess. It’s the irony of compassion. He never broke a bone, and certainly never touched me sexually and yet he did leave me with scars. On top of that, I had PTSD from my childhood. But, it’s sort of empowering to understand him as a man. To understand what he went through when he was my age and how that caused him to be the man he was. It gives me power to know I’ll never be like him despite being so alike. He was abused too, he was scarred and he drank too much. Yet he wasn’t me.

I think being with Geoff, Senior and the boys in Quebec made me realize that. The impotency of some. And how ‘puissance’ is internal.

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