My old man had this beanbag.
When he first brought it home, when I was little, it was a luxuriant, light-maroon-coloured thing; full of beans. For the next 20 years, it serviced him at the close of each day. He’d position it against the couch, a cushion to rest his head on, and he’d watch the news and A Current Affair, and on weekends, the footy or cricket, Hey Hey It’s Saturday and – regardless of how much he was enjoying it – the first half of the Saturday-night movie.
And on it he’d lay, a couple of beers to the good, as we children – my sisters Jaime and Kate, two and four years my junior; and 13-years-younger brother Josh – took turns bringing his ‘tea’, his ‘sweets’ and his pre-bed coffee (which would be taken to the back shed to pair with his pre-bed smoke), each time collecting the dishes from the previous course.
And there he’d lay as, family fed and dishes done, mum would turn her attentions to bedtime routine: baths, brushing teeth and books. Often he’d slip off to bed, even before our baby brother had settled for the night.
Next morning, the house’s sole provider was up and out the door and into the chair of his bank-manager job before we’d wiped the morning sleep from our eyes.
In the end it was essentially a piece of cloth…
As we children grew older, so did the beanbag; its colour, fading; its shape, anorexic. It lost its innards. Many of the beans flattened into minute, near-invisible disks; others escaped in the puff created by dad’s post-pub slumps or, as beanbag-beans are wont to do, simply disappeared. Kate, who endured the routine most, says: “In the end it was essentially a piece of cloth. I remember it often being my job to put it away at the end of the night. I would have to twist it to give it shape – at mum’s direction – but this was hard when it was just a bit of felt.”
Perhaps the old man clung to the symbol of the beanbag – of a time when, in his early 20s when I came along, everything was fuller, newer – rather than concerning his middle-aged self with trivial concerns such as comfort. He’d had his time in the sun, after all. Perhaps he concluded that mum wouldn’t have allowed him a new one, anyway; that he should sit at the table with the rest of us. Which he eventually did.
I sometimes think that the deterioration of the beanbag as being somewhat symbolic of how mum felt as she carried both horse and wagon in terms of ‘everyday’ childhood-rearing.
It’s also symbolic of why I, and so many of my modern-day fathering peers, shoulder far more of the ‘everyday’. We don’t know any other way.
But dad and his generation – and the generations before them – didn’t, either. And for that I hold him in both annoyance – particularly when I’m holed up in the kitchen, having cooked dinner, and cleaning up for the 17th time that night – and awe. He rode the bull good and well before the necessary storm of equality kicked in.
Fair play, old man.