COLUMN | Memories and Music
This afternoon was spent with friends and taking time going through the treasures that are so important in my life.
My friends are those who don’t answer back. They are the third, fourth or later incarnation of what was once a record collection. These days there is not a single (45) or LP among them. They are CDs, YouTube videos and iTunes.
The vinyl collection was thrown away by two young men who I have had involvement with from the time they were small children. In 2000 when we moved home they came across my record collection in old suitcases. The records had not been played in years. The lads thought they were doing me a favour by throwing them away and saving me from carrying them. At the time I did not have a turntable, and many of the LPs had a duplicate CD in the living room. Most of my choices they had mocked in their childhood and adolescence.
Music, whether it be a tune or a lyric, is a trigger to a memory for me. It is these memories that are my most prized possessions; my treasures.
I have never been the father of a child. My sexuality has been the surest of contraceptives.
Circumstance has prevailed, and in the course of my lifetime, I have been lucky enough to be allowed to be an influence on some children. All of whom are now adults, some of them now being proud parents of their own children.
The most amazing compliments I have ever been paid have been said to me by these people who I knew and cared for in some capacity as children, grew to love, and who I have proudly come to know as my friends in their adulthood.
In the circle of life, the dynamics of the relationships have altered. These days they take the lead role and care for me. Not physically, but by way of maintaining contact and with prompts, reminders and invitation to their family events.
These are a few of things that have been said to me over the years.
I have always thought I had been a bad influence on a little girl. She adopted my love of language and developed a sense of humour that is unmistakable for being almost exactly the same as mine.
I had lived as a lodger with her single-parent mother when she was an infant and have been a part of her life, off and on in the foreground and always in the background.
I may have taken her to her first day at primary school. I admit, and she would remind me if I didn’t tell you I once left her in the playground for school on a Monday morning. Absolutely nothing wrong with that you may think; sadly it was half term, and I had forgotten.
Many years later she had asked if she could come and visit and talk to me. She came with a friend and stayed in a local hotel.
A red Jaguar XJ6 was my car in those days. It had a CD multi-changer in the boot. Harry Connick Jnr set the tone as we cruised along the seafront to my home. “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was the song in the background. I was listening to the child who had grown into this beautiful young woman tell me of the counselling course she was doing.
I was smiling thinking how proud of her I was when she turned and said, “In part of the course we have to examine our lives. In mine, you have always been the person I have looked to as a father figure, and I need to talk with you about it.”
Generally, I am not surprised by what is said to me; I have a calm and unshakable exterior. It is a look that is hard to carry off when trying to choke back sobs and while tears were running down my face. I never knew she felt like that and had never presumed to think my feelings were reciprocated. Over the next few days, we examined our relationship and discussed the milestones and memories each of us had some shared, others that just one or the other of us recalled for different reasons.
The next was a Facebook messenger conversation. I steer clear of webcams and Skype. Typing keeps me at an effective unemotional distance from those I talk to.
The younger brother of the girl whose mother I lodged with is now living in the USA. He met his wife to be on the Internet and went to live with her.
He had been a worry. He is a conspiracy theorist. This union I had hoped would be a change of mindset for him. They are both conspiracy theorists and together having potentially set them further from the convention of society, each fueling the beliefs of the other.
They married, and he adopted her two daughters. They live ‘off grid’ in a cabin halfway up a mountain in Missouri.
In the wee small hours of the night here it is early evening in Missouri. They are 6 hours behind GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). These seem to be the occasions we chat online via messenger.
One late night with Neil Sedaka going through his greatest hits back catalogue on a low volume I got a message asking me if I would go to church with the rest of his family when they come over in March next year. Their wedding is to be blessed in the UK, so his brothers and sisters and importantly his mother can feel they have shared in the marriage ceremony.
Just like his sister; he told me I had always been the person he considered to be a father figure. This I did not expect as I have been hard on him sometimes in respect of some of his theories and beliefs. Not intentionally mocking though I think my sarcastic wit may have tipped the balance from time to time but more with the intent of playing ‘Devil’s advocate’ to give perspective.
I am a man, and I think it is inherent somewhere deep inside me to wanted to have a son. The tears poured, I could not stop them turning from a trickle to a torrent, and I found myself crying loudly and uncontrollably. Relief perhaps to be elevated by someone, pride and the ebb and flow of unconditional love are such powerful emotions.
Finally, one of the guilty two who threw away my record collection now lives in Eastern Europe with his wife and daughter. He is very successful, and sometimes he calls me late into the night, at a time others would consider antisocial, but between insomniacs it is acceptable. When either it is time to take a break from the punishing schedule he sets himself or alcoholic spirit tips the balance, and he wants to hear a friendly voice.
He has a growing vinyl collection, and much of the music he and his brother mocked me for in their childhoods is now on his iTunes playlist. His growth has outstripped my intellect and musical repertoire.
For a boy who got expelled from school for setting fire to the toilets and left without a single qualification to becoming a millionaire and employing many in a cut-throat industry, I have always had an understated pride in him.
In an alcohol-infused conversation we spoke of his father-in-law, and this, in turn, led on to us discussing our relationship. He asked, “So are you like my stepfather then?” I have always aspired to do my best, hoping to have a father-son connection. I don’t understand why I didn’t see it and they all did. I don’t know if Wet Wet Wet were playing or if it is a soundtrack I added to the memory subsequently.
I couldn’t discuss the relationship with him further as I was overwhelmed and there has always been a stiff upper lipped stoic unspoken bond between us.
There was an inner fear that if I attained these roles I so desperately wanted that they came with a formality and protocol which could in the longer term be detrimental to the relationship and so I never sought to solidify my place as being anything more than a family friend.
Today I am grateful to each and every one of them. They number eight in total. Being gay was never a barrier to a parental role, it was all in my mind, and in the mind of the society I grew up in. Thankfully the children who I came into contact with never knew my misgivings of inadequacy and did not know the prejudice of the time against gay men and parenting.
In some part, their parents are equally praiseworthy as they did not raise their children to judge another person by any other standard than his or her actions.
I was depressed today, having recently lost my job and not knowing what the future holds. These memories and the time spent listening to music has helped me through it.
Tomorrow I have to go out and face the world, make an impact, take back my self-respect and continue to make them proud of me.
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