On my 13th birthday, I witnessed my father cheat on his girlfriend. I was playing in a high school tennis competition when it began to rain heavily enough for all us to run to our parents’ cars for safety. I ran to my father’s blue Subaru and opened the back door onto the image of him merged with his 26-year-old assistant in the front seat. That image may as well have been blu-tacked to my bedroom wall for the past seven years between the Pulp Fiction poster and the photograph of the New York skyline, for my mind’s eye can still bring it to life in perfect clarity.
It should be noted that this incident wasn’t particularly pivotal or momentous in the mayhem of my childhood; I simply find it to be the most relatable and explainable of the dating lessons I learned from my father. In truth, it is only one of the series of adulterous and irresponsible acts that have led my father’s friends to joke (I think) that he has a girlfriend on every continent. Bearing witness to these infamous acts from time to time, combined with the fact that women still lined up on our doorstep, became my teenage textbook.
Later on during my birthday, as we pulled up in front of my father’s girlfriend’s house, he politely asked me not to mention that someone had joined us at tennis, for, unsurprisingly, she happened to not like him being around other women. I kept my mouth shut and took notes.
It’s not complex psychology that this upbringing has led to an engrossing ambivalence of being unable to hand myself over to females while simultaneously finding it necessary to be in the company of beautiful girls as often as possible. My friends tell me this isn’t unique or distorted, that it’s simply the inevitable result of the modern male zeitgeist of concealed emotions and an unquenchable thirst for sex. How do I tell them that when I stay up till the early hours of the morning kissing a girl that I know I will not sleep with, nor have any intention of dating, that it is something more than sex that I’m after?
Friends have told me stories of their wallflower visions of dysfunctional parental relationships. Most I’ve been privy to can be broken down to a lack of love: minimal affection or physical/mental abuse. One night last winter as we were spooning, a girl whose virginity I had just taken on a worn mattress in my room confessed to me that her parents slept in separate bedrooms. She assumed they never had sex, and they most certainly never spoke about it. “I learnt more about sexual relationships from 50 Shades of Grey than I ever did from parents,” she said and sighed.
The fact that my father is able to do for so many females what apparently some husbands are unable to do for one is something that I have taken as a point of pride — “He’s doing great for his age, he still manages to pull more girls than I do” I said in my speech at his 50th birthday. But it also causes pangs of indignity. “Is your father seeing anyone at the moment?”… “To be honest, I couldn’t tell you.”
In my early teenage years, when watching a comedy flick with a girl was scarier than seeing a horror with a friend, I swore to always treat girls well, fearing their rejection more than I worried about growing tired of them. Yet as time has passed, relationships have begun and ended, one night stands have happened and I’ve slept with girls too good for me and those not good enough. Confidence and cynicism have grown in me, intertwined and inseparable. Now my main thoughts when courting a girl are not of impressing her, but whether she is the best I can do. I wonder if this is how my father has reached the crescendo of a 50-year-old bachelor: an excess of confidence and a lack of compassion.
At other times I wonder about my grandfather. Whether he is the source of my father’s ways, if this womanizing character trait is a piece of lineage, a genetic strand that has been diluting through the generations of our family. Or maybe it’s been boiling under the surface, blowing up in my father’s face… or yet to blow up in mine.
But most of all I wonder if my father is the way he is because of someone. Often, nights in our home end in us laying on the lounge texting and watching TV. As I send flirtatious texts to girls attempting to fill the void a past lover left in me not so long ago, I find myself asking if my father has been doing the same for a lifetime. If so, I wonder who left the void in him? I wonder where he met her? I wonder if he met her in high school, if he met her on a humid, muggy night on a boat trip through Indonesia, or if he met her by a bar’s fireplace during the long European winters he called home for decades?
I wonder when he met her?
What she looks like?
Her personality traits?
When did he last speak to her?
What did he say?
And then, after I hug him goodnight and walk upstairs to my room and look out my window to the trees blowing cruelly outside, I wonder where the woman to change my life is, whether I’ll have the vision to hold onto her, or if I’ll be too slow to notice.