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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I am older than my father

That’s right. By quite a bit, actually.

   My father died at the age of 49. I am now 63 years old.  That makes me 14 years older. There is no way I can really imagine him older than he was when he died.

   I try to think of him as an old man, and the image of how he may have been doesn’t remain in consciousness for long. So, it is always feels like a contradiction to me.

Leonard Wright (1915-1965)

I must admit that I have never felt his army photos captured his real appearance or outlook.

   The main reason, I am sure, is that in his entire life, I cannot recall ever openly disobeying or defying him. I was 18 when he died, but had left home at 16 to go to Brisbane, so my obedience shouldn’t seem surprising to most people whose father never gave them a good reason to confront him.

   I know of many who defied their parents from an early age, and they would have had their reasons. But never can I recall either of my parents asking my sisters or me to do anything unreasonable or beyond us.

   There were, of course, plenty of times I didn’t want to do what was asked of me, but that’s par for the course with kids. While I think of it, I never in my life saw a lazy child, though I knew many who were called that. I have seen many unmotivated, often disrespectful and thoughtless kids, but they were the same ones who for hours, days, weeks! would do, with great energy, intensity and concentration, those things that did interest them. You can’t call them lazy.

   You and I are probably in that category too. We can usually find time to do what we really want to do, according to our priorities. There’s no such thing as ‘I don’t have time to do that’ (except maybe for mothers with young families!)  What we mean is, ‘I’m not prepared to make the time because other things are more important to me.’ Admit it. That’s life.

   As a child, it’s another matter to refuse, point blank, what a parent demands or requests (parents’ “requests” are usually demands, aren’t they, however sugar-coated?) You would have to be a much different sort of person to what I was to refuse that, and certainly the parent would have to be different from mine as well. Some people just radiate authority, and a youth of 16 in a secure family environment has no reason to challenge it.

   Yet, from 16 onwards, I made all my own decisions, effectively. I never had the opportunity to discuss anything with my father as one mature personality to another. It was never anything but an unequal relationship. Very Confucian, really. And pretty normal I should think.

    I didn’t think much about this in the years up to the time I approached the age he was at his death, even though we would have been poles apart by then in many ways. He learned his wisdom from the land, from my mother, his Army service during WWII, and from being the youngest in a family of seven girls and five boys. I believe his own father’s word was law, until his father died, aged about 70, I think.

   I never knew either of my grandfathers, who had both died before I was born. But my experience of the world at age 49 would have been unimaginably different from Dad’s.

   He had left school on 24 March 1929. How can I be so certain? Because that was his 14th birthday.* In those days it wasn’t unusual to leave school as soon as it was legal to do so. At that time, believe it or not, there were plenty of jobs, the country was awash with money, and there was no real reason for any boy who didn’t like sitting behind a desk to stay at school.

   But that, of course, was just months before October of 1929, when the Great Depression struck. A boy who left school earlier that year suddenly had to face the consequences of the greatest financial crisis the modern world had ever known thus far. If that struggle for the next decade didn’t provide an education, then nothing would…. I respected that.

   But how different to mine. Utterly. I try to imagine us sitting down, over a beer, both at age 49, trying to discuss things. I have no idea what we could have talked about. I can’t imagine what he would have made of me. All I know is that to me he would have still had the strong aura of authority he had when I last saw him in the dairy. 

Lyn just sent me this picture of Dad. He would not have been far off 49 when this was taken. Seeing it for the first time, I can hardly believe how young he looks, and how old I now feel!

I did sometimes amuse myself by thinking how I would try to explain my world at age 49, the year then being 1996, to him in a world that stopped in 1965. What would he have found most bizarre?

   And now I am much older than he was. Again, it seems very weird to imagine a conversation with him with that degree of age difference between us. I try to imagine, not very successfully, how he would have regarded me, now 14 years older than he, approaching the age of authority of his own father at the time my grandfather died.

   The worlds we inhabited would have been intersected only with family and the history we shared in my childhood. Would he have been appalled by what he would have regarded as radical and unimaginably wrong political and social views?

   Maybe not as much as I might think. He may not have been educated, by later standards, but I know he was intelligent and thoughtful.

   I think it is fortunate for you if you do not nor ever have become older than your parent(s); at least, comparatively early on in life. I’m glad in a way that I will never be older than my mother. It’s strange enough being a lot older than one parent, let alone two. 

   There’s wisdom in old age you only really understand when you start to get there yourself. Knowledge isn't wisdom. Wisdom is what you can do with knowledge, and that tends to come with time and experience of life more than anything else.

   For the price you pay to get there, you have to claim some advantages! There aren’t all that many….

* 24 March 1929 was a Sunday, I note, so I guess he left school on Friday 22 March!


  1. My mother died suddenly at age 64. I was 30. Now that I am approaching the age at which she died (I'm now 61), I think of what she was like at age 61. An old lady.

    Both of my parents were old in their 60s. And I don't mean this from the vantage point of a 30 year old. I mean this from the point of view of a 61 year old. My father could barely walk because of circulation problems in his legs. He was diabetic as well. My mother was not only totally grey, as I am now, but she died her hair a purply colour, as old ladies do, and wore it in typical old lady style. For pleasure, they sat in the back yard and watched the birds.

    I don't think I could ever sit down with my 61 year old parents in the same way that I sit down with people now in their 60s and 70s. My parents would still be old, even if I were older than they. Times change.

  2. PS. For anyone interested in Carl Jung, here is a link to a complete download of his personal journal, The Red Book. Lots of fabulous mandalas and other art work and an account of the inward journey that nearly sent him mad.

  3. Downloading it now.... just a warning to those with low download allowance and/or slow connection speed - it is 223 megabytes. [But if *you* got it out there in the sticks, Joan, then anyone can!]

  4. I sit in the front yard and watch the birds for's one of my greatest pleasures, in fact :) And Denis, I think Joan actually has that book of CJ's. I've always thought men and women looked so much older then -look at the film stars in their thirties then - -adult in a way I feel I could never be! And don't want to be.

    I think of my uncle dying in his early fifties of a heart attack brought on by stress (leftover war stress, farming heartbreak stress). I relate to my aunt, menopausal and with teenage sons and two old ladies to look after -so frustrated and desperate and we just thought she was bad tempered. I look at my mum and see her survival techniques and know I don't have them (different character). It's so interesting. Yes, wisdom can't be taught though imbibed I think.

  5. Joan - that's a wonderful download - though I must admit I wondered when I first opened it if I were going to have to have a crash course in calligraphic German!

    Julie: I can't imagine anything better than to sit in the yard and watch the birds. Maybe that is exactly what I should do - WHEN we see the sun here! So many days this season overcast and rainy....
    CJs? you mean C J Dennis? It is available foe everyone here:
    I have always been very fond of it. My mother used to say that when my grandfather gave it to HER mother when she was in hospital to give birth to Mum, my grandmother used to hurt herself laughing at the poetry.
    As to wisdom, the moment we think we might be wise, then I suspect we have a long way to go!

  6. If you want to read ebooks such as this one, then I recommend Calibre, which is free and works on both Macs and PCs. There are limitless ebooks available free on especially if you like old classics.

  7. No not CJ Dennis, Denis :) the Carl Jung book. But because of the past associations for you, I'm glad if that misapprehension reminded you of the other CJ, esp after the very wonderful dream I had this morning. It was about an old family house right on the sea front (which exists only in my dreams) but is deeply true to me. I think some of these posts of yours have elicited some sort of dive into my past/psyche. Also because of the time of year and not being currently engaged in the world so much as usual, I have the space to go to this place (this internal place). So I intend to spend today 'being there' as much as possible. I wish I could keep the 'beingness' of this dream all the time!

  8. PS I know practically nothing about Carl Jung, esp. in comparison to Joan's understanding of his works. But I think the most simple and quite powerful book of his is 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections'. It's so easy to read and touches your own inner self so effectively that I (at least) had a lot of very strong dreams when I was reading it (maybe thirty years ago!)

  9. I forgot to tick the "email replies to me" box, so I've missed out on this discussion.

    I do have the Red Book. It was published a year or so ago and I bought it quite cheaply through Amazon for $120, not including postage. It's a facsimilie of the original and is huge! So the free download is a real find.

    Believe it or not, Denis, the link was sent out via a Non-duality (advaita) website newsletter, and even they admitted it had nothing to do with non-duality, but here it is anyway. Usually they scorn such things that give reality to thoughts and feelings.

    The Red Book is Jung's personal journal he kept while he made an uncharted inward journey into his own unconscious mind. He recorded his thoughts in a rather arcane language and painted the images that came freely to his mind. His interpretation of his journey became the underlying theories of his subsequent philosophy of mind upon which he based his practice as a psychotherapist. It's a scary read when you think that he had no pschologist to turn to for help. He was it!

    Julie, your dream is a classic. A house often represents one's own mind and all its rooms and levels. The sea can mean many things, including the infinite and/or the unconscious. It sounds like a beautiful dream. One to paint, record, and meditate on. (I mean paint or draw a picture of the house :).)

    Much in his philosophy coincides with Eastern yoga, much to his surprise. I guess it's all archetypal and within us all, waiting to be discovered and unfolded.

  10. I am absolutely delighted that in my strange early morning brain state I confused two things that couldn't appear to be further apart! i.e., C J Dennis and Jung. But I have a suspicion that Bill in 'the Sentimental Bloke' had sorted himself out somewhat better than Carl. Carl Jung, that is, not Carl Merton.... :) Let's not confuse the issue even more! More on these things AFTER I read the CJ text. Which CJ? Guess!!!

  11. Joan, I will record that dream (there was a lot to it) Wish I could paint/draw, actually.

  12. Julie: everyone can paint/draw. Most people just don't know it. Try drawing a bird, as you see it in front of you or in memory, not as you think a bird should be drawn or how ever drew a bird before.
    Recurring dreams are the ones that interest me the most. They are definitely trying to stir your consciousness. I agree with Joan that houses and the sea in dreams represent these things.
    Joan: how strange that the Advaita site people would imagine anything by Jung would have nothing to do with non-duality. Scorning 'thoughts and feelings' as 'non-reality' makes me realise how little such people have a grasp on what they seem to think they know about. Unreal! :)
    Jung didn't need a psychotherapist. He just needed to relax a bit. In a house. By the sea.

  13. Denis, you have a very odd take on Carl Jung. Perhaps it has been influenced by your opinion of me :).

    Indeed, he did build a house, not by the sea, but by a lake, where he could explore his ideas in relaxed solitude for 3 months of the year. This is where he wrote his 20 volumes and did his comparative religion research. The rest of the year was spent giving papers, seeing clients in his Zurich practice, organising the first Psychology Institute, and for one month of every year, as a Swiss, he had to do National Service. As far as I can see, he was a pretty together person, but not without his faults, quirks, and idiosyncracies. His family did suffer from his absence, but his wife did work with him on many projects.

    Everytime someone sees a counsellor or therapist, it is because of the foundation work that he and Freud did. As you can see, he's a hero of mine. But then, in the Red Book, to really reach anykind of self-knowledge, one has to kill the hero.

    Yes Julie, anyone can draw. Children do it naturally, and then they're told it's wrong and they're given colouring-in exercises :)drawn by adults. If you can write your name, you can draw. Writing is a very fine motor skill, and that's what drawing is -- just a motor skill, like driving a car.

    Drawing is an important part of therapy, in which one gets underneath the analysing intellect to less rational, less conscious images. Perhaps we could call them pre-thought images, which are often loaded with metaphors and symbols, with all their ambiguity, double-meanings, intuitive realisations, and hidden desires.

    I could go on forever, here, but you're lucky I have things to do and must go.

  14. No no, Joan - influenced mostly by your opinion of Jung! :) I'll come back to this: my brain hurts.....

  15. Well, it's good to know I haven't been showering him with nauseating adulation and making everyone sick. I have been researching his relationship with Eastern philosophy and, finding that his idiosyncrasies and prejudices got in the way, perhaps I've been a bit hard on him. Also, his inner journey took place in his 40s, and his mature major work came after that ended. That he had this near breakdown led him to develop his theory of mid-life crisis.

    Hope your head is better now, Denis. No need to go on about Jung. I hope you enjoy the Red Book download, mainly for its images. The text will give you a worse headache.

  16. I wish I were more competent to speak about Jung, but my understanding of his awareness of Eastern philosophies, especially Indian, is that he had an excellent grip on oriental notions of reality [I'm sorry, I know that sounds pretty pretentious of me, but there it is] but ran into problems when he tried to express his views on this, using words. That would have been very frustrating for him. It is hardly surprising that he turned to other art forms to express what's simply not possible to explain using words.

  17. Well, I'd better do something about it then and write up my research.

    I think he was far more sympathetic to Chinese philosophy, in particular Taoism, than he was to yoga and Hindu philosophy. Actually, I think he was afraid of them. He didn't think Hinduism or yoga practices were suitable to westerners and could do them some damage, such as making them psychotic. He felt that Indians were more "unconscious" than westerners, and hence not so alienated from pyschological forces below the threshold of consciousness. Therefore, Indians could meditate and get something out of it, whereas westerners would let loose dangerous forces if they opened themselves up to the unconscious.

    It's very odd, because so much of his philosophy of mind coincides with a yogic view of mind. He believed that we create our own reality by projecting our "fantasies". What can be more Hindu and Buddhist than that?

  18. You said it all in the last paragraph!


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