Advice from My Father

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‘How am I? Kind of you to ask, dear boy,’ bellowed my father from Australia. He belonged to a generation that believed it was necessary to shout in order to make yourself heard on the telephone. ‘I am all right, under the circumstances.’

‘What circumstances?’ I roared back. The habit was infectious.

‘The loss of Angela. It is a blow, to be frank. I miss her dreadfully.’

‘I’m so sorry, Dad. When did she die?’ I struggled to place her.

Was she the remarkably attractive single mother of about my own age? Or the secretary with whom he ‘canoodled’ every afternoon on his office couch? Or the woman he sometimes went to stay with in Sydney? As his primary mistress, Louise, informed me repeatedly in a voice tinged more with pride than jealousy: ‘Your father may be nearly 80, but he is still a vigorous man. A very, very vigorous man.’

‘Who said she was dead? She has gone to live in Canada. I am reading A Grief Observed by that ass C. S. Lewis, to comfort myself. I suppose you have read the Narnia series?’

‘Yes. Years ago. I quite enjoyed them.’

‘I’m sorry to hear you say that. Shows a lack of literary judgement on your part, even if you were only a child at the time. Everything he wrote was total bilge. Apart, that is to say, from A Grief Observed. The man was a genius when it came to describing grief. I have to give him that. If you are coming to terms with a serious loss – as I am – you can’t beat A Grief Observed. You should read it.’

‘Yes. I will,’ I yelled enthusiastically, not meaning it. I never followed my father’s advice on principle and, anyway, I knew that the next time we spoke he would have forgotten our conversation. As I did, until he died and I found his own, well-thumbed edition in amongst a box of b

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About the contributor

Jonathan Self is a writer and publisher. His autobiography, Self Abuse, includes lengthier descriptions of his parents and also deals with the loss of his children.

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