Old Dogs and new tricks
We were married when I was 40, and I settled in to the role of husband, then father, with a pace and grace similar to that of something you’d find under a garden brick. Butchie boys excepted.
This late maturation made active involvement in the kids’ rites of passage even more important and even more special. This year I missed another – and for an Australian father it was a whopper.
The kids, along with most of the football-adoring public, fell in love with the Western Bulldogs during their against-all-odds climb to the top last year. So to a certain degree did Jane, which in itself was no small wonder given her introduction to the team before we were married.
Details of that game are murky, having taken second place to new love, delicately wrapped in its velvety glow, and the odd beer, indelicately wrapped in plastic.
As Cam Faulkner, an Aboriginal midfielder and forward for the Bulldogs, raced to compete in a marking contest, the crowd screamed “Coon”. Those who know little about Aussie Rules, or about Australia, would be unaware of the centuries-long ravages of racism in our society, and the devastating effect it has had on indigenous players in this most beautiful of games.
But this particular case, as I feverishly explained into the horrified face of my girlfriend, was not such an example. Streaking in and soaring to snatch the ball from above Faulkner and opposition players was crowd favourite Adam Cooney.
Eventually, and thankfully, the explanation was accepted.
But back to the night on which our beloved Bulldogs began their campaign to defend their 2016 premiership, against Collingwood. In the crowd to witness their first match were my little bloke wearing a Bulldogs guernsey with Caleb Daniel’s No.35, and my girl sporting Bob Murphy’s 2.
Again, Jane had stepped in to fill the yawning gap left by the kids’ father, who was at that point in a sports bar halfway around the world watching the game live, scrutinising crowd shots for a glimpse of his loved ones and trying with at least some little success to explain the rules of the code to two mates – a Cockney West Ham supporter and a Glaswegian Celtics fan.
Later, in my one-bedroom flat behind Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, the questions of my worthiness and place as a parent returned. Sores are there for the gnawing.
What I was missing as a bachelor (the Middle East term for remittance workers whose families are not with them) hit home with a resounding thud – no oxymoron; it was a lonely, dull sound and it echoed.
Figuring that I might as well eat, I decided on a quick walk to the Lebanese Flower for shwarma, a regular Friday night treat when the family was still here.
“Where is your baby?” asked the amiable Syrian at the servery.
For a few months it had been Dinny’s job to order the shwarmas, and he attacked it in all the seriousness with which he handled anything in his slowly evolving list of responsibilities.
It made me realise on the slow walk back to the flat that I would sleep that night without Din’s lean body, abnormally warm, squeezing its way between Jane and I at 5am on weekends and threshing about until he was allowed to switch on the computer at 7am.
There would be no Jane and I.
There would be no Bella, with her lovely, sassy attitude tempered by the occasionally sad vulnerability of young girls looking for their place in life. You can’t hug Skype.
I often think about the other bachelors here in the UAE – those from India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh – who work much longer hours for much smaller returns, and have fewer trips home to their families.
The most common answer as to why we do it is more pointless than the question: it is what it is.