Families have odd habits, rituals and cultures that may sit awkwardly with others. But to each of us, there is something sacred about the things that bring us closer to the ones we love; be that nick names, or different ways of doing normal every day things.
For me the celebration of the often shamed bifter with my father was just that: a bond over a quirk with someone I loved and who I remember with a mist of a memory that sometimes clouds over.
For memory is a strange non-negotiable thing. We do not get to choose what we remember, nor what we forget. In some cases we would like to remember more; others less. Where my father is concerned, the later is true, memories of him being somewhat fugal as he died 25 years ago when I was 7. Which means that if someone does mention that they knew him, I tend to bolt after them: “A story about Daddy? Oh tell me please! Anything will do…”
This is my latest post, a meandering look at memory, mere mortals and the benefits of a good bift:
I once met a friend of my father's who looked at me a little quizzically and then with a big smile pointed to the belt he was wearing and said, “He gave me this, your father.” I stared at it not knowing what to say. Part of me wanted to touch the belt, know the belt and hear more about the belt for have only 4 possessions left of my father’s: a chess set and a small sculptor made out of whale bone that Inuit clients of his gave to him after he represented them when he was a lawyer working in Alaska, a pink Hawaiian shirt and a book of Oscar Wilde’s stories that he gave me, with the inscription: “For when my imagination runs dry, love Daddy.” So anything else that may have been his takes on a slightly awesome quality should someone say your dad did this. Stories and memories included.
The stories the man shared made me want to say please come and sit with me and tell me everything you remember. But I felt shy, marginally awkward and just ever so slightly frozen so I didn’t and we parted, a question mark sneezing in the air. Because typically the stories people tend to share to me of my father involve the women, the way he dressed and the way he looked. Three things that were I not quite so desperate to hear anything about him, I might say hey you know, I don't really need to hear that.
But sometimes the absence of the kind of stories I would like to hear more of about my father - who he was, what was his essence reveal something undenible to me: did anyone really know? For we often share more in what we choose not to share, then what we do. As humans of a civilised species we become experts in the masks we present to the world, with many just going oh golly of course I accept them. So it is our friends who not only see past them, but actually look into our eyes and say: I don’t give a damn about the shit you put out, because I know your tender heart and I care about it big time. And even if we run from them, they stay there loving us all the while.
The gift of a line:
When my father died the late journalist Ross Benson wrote at the end of his obituary: “London will be the greyer place without Malcolm Fraser.” It was a line I memorized and even felt proud of. But really that line that Ross wrote had a deeper resonance for me; and it was one that I was able to thank Ross for before he died, for it described most vividly the terrain my own heart lumbered around in after my father disappeared. For disappear was exactly what it felt like he did to the 7 year old I was - for when we loose the ones we love whilst young there is a confusing mulch of what is real and what is not so that an endless reappearence of questions with unsatisfying answers roam in our imaginations:
“Where is daddy?”
“Where has he gone?”
“And why didn’t he say goodbye?”
Moving on, letting go can take a life-time.
When we loose those we love, it is the various bits of their architecture that made them a human; their arms that use to hug us, their voices we loved to listen to, and the feel of their cheek as they kissed us goodbye are the things we miss and want to hang onto. And although I don’t have a plethora of memories to choose from with my father, there is one thing that I do recall with a tangibility that refuses to fade and extinguish. And it was this: my father, Malcolm Fraser was a most marvellous wonderful bifter.
His gift of emitting real belches of the undergrowth left most folk running for the nearest window but it was one that bought the both of us, an not insubstantial amount of joy. And so it is this memory of him that I carry with me when I recall my father. Not a voice, nor the sound of his laughter, but the smell of his exortionate farts.
Of course there is more. The way a smell of a wild daisy conjures up a moment of freedom I thought I had forgotten, in the same way my memory of my father’s bifters return to me something that tugs at the tendrils of my heart: moments with someone I loved and lost but carry within me each day.
And whilst I know biffing is not exactly something one can publicly be proud of (thank god for blogs then where we can write of things otherwise unacknowledged), I have to say that they are a part of me and probably always will be. The delight I experienced announcing a bifter in the presence of my father a s a young girl is one I still feel. Because meditation and yoga aside, when you know you are somewhere where it is okay to biff, not only do you feel remarkably relaxed in yourself, your belly softens, your eyes brighten, your shoulders drop and you de age about 10 years.
The funny thing with bifters is that although everyone has done one most of us will do our utmost, so help us God, to repress them, extinguish them and if one actually slips out, deny unequivocally that they had anything to do with us at all. No matter if it’s just us and our lover in a room, all we have to do is say the line “must have been someone from the room next door” to which our lover will reply: “oh yes of course.” For there is only one thing more awkward then being the one who’s let a stinker of a bifter out when its just you and another you don't know so well in a room, and that is being alone in a room with someone you don't know so well who is in utter denial about it the bifter they've just allowed in the room.
The benefits of bifting:
Bifters teach us ethics: there are farts that smell and farts that don’t. As a rule loud ones are normally smell free. It’s the quiet ones that are lethal. Knowing this the relaxed farter can practice mindfulness pre fart: asking themselves will I be okay with the fact that people know this is my fart as it’s going to be loud, or do I need to make my excuses and for the good of the people around me, leave the room? In this way farts can help us be terribly mindful and charitable.
But I think at the heart of this shared joy of biffing, was delighting in something not allowed, or accepted by the society we lived in. I went to a school called Lady Edens as a child. Farting was not something acceptable in a young lady. Especially one that wore a hat that looked like Father's Christmas. A young lady being someone whose wild heart we mould into something most tame and hopefully controllable. I think when my father taught me the word bifter he was saying have a moment of inappropriate joy daughter. Have a moment of freedom. And enjoy the simple things in life. Don't be ashamed of your body: enjoy it.
It may sound trite.
It may sound like nought.
But to me it was music to my soul and my ears.
Because sometimes the way we live can be different to the way of life we truly love. Sometimes the things we agree to are not the things we believe in. But it takes time to acknowledge this and maybe that's the gift of a bift.
When I became a mother it is a sadness in my heart that if I mention my father to my daughter, he remains an annomly to her. How I wish they could have met. How I wish my daughter could have sat on my fathers lap and had him read her stories, enjoying an imagination on fire. And how I wish he could experience the joy of sitting in a chair with Evie on his lap and seeing the beam on her face as she turns around with that smile and says “A bifter grand-pa! A bifter!”
As children we see gods in our parents; as adults, mere mortals as susceptible to folly as the rest of us. And so we learn to love them again, not differently, but with more totality and space perhaps. Our parents are not perfect, but they are desperately human. A humanity that errs and trips and falls and sometimes goes totally off key. My father was far from perfect; I know that now. Because to be his daughter has been to pick from the whisps of inappropriate anecdotes shares, letters and chance encounters the sense of who the man was. Not who I needed him to be, not who I wanted him to be but who he was: mere mortal, and my father someone I'll never forget.