The Walking Dad

We did a show in Saigon, one of the last of a long tour before an 18-month hiatus. I remember wandering out of the club looking for fresh air, hoping to ease pre-show jitters, but it was as thick and oppressive in the street as it was inside. At least it was quiet.

Just outside the door I spotted an older white guy in an army green jacket. The kind of guy you talk to when you feel like being knifed. He leaned on a worn rail in a ‘fuck everyone’ kind of way, smoking his cigarettes bitterly. He eyed me with his burnt-out look and I braced myself.

‘How ya doing?’ I say, to break the silence.

‘Surviving. You?’ he says.

OK, no small talk. I tell him I’m thinking about my impending fatherhood.

I’m thinking about it a lot these days, excitedly for the most part. I bring it up in conversations, usually unprompted, trawling for common ground, practical tips, congratulatory platitudes, some kind of handrail to cling to.

He scoffs a lungful of smoke into the night, looks dryly back at me and simply says, “Kids wreck everything.”

I recall laughing at the blackness of it and in the moment thinking: I bet YOU wrecked everything, you waste of a fuck.

But now with the benefit of hindsight, out of all the well-tempered advice, blessings and warnings from other seasoned parents, my childless friends and my own mother, I can at last appreciate the precise clarity of this man’s wisdom.

The conception of our firstborn was a hazy, passion-filled rite like something out of Rosemary’s Baby. With the authority granted in the contract signed in our own blood, the tiny demon we had just summoned proceeded to annihilate our former lives.

It was the anti-Marie Kondo. It encouraged us to horde plastic gadgets, clothes and tiny useless furniture none of which sparked joy, only new needs and growing anxieties. It oozed shit, piss and saliva and bit my wife’s breasts until they bled. It screamed until it vomited and vomited till it screamed. It emptied cupboards and drawers like a hurried house burglar and threw food everywhere there was fabric for it to find and stick to.

Worst of all, it was cute and you couldn’t hate it for long. Very worst of all it was irreversible, like a brain injury.

I told myself that everyone did this. Stupid people, smart people, the poor, the wealthy. It was as natural as breathing or dying.

I think I handled it OK. I told myself that everyone did this. Stupid people, smart people, the poor, the wealthy. It was as natural as breathing or dying. I smiled through the sleepless nights interspersed with fitful dreams of infanticide. I brushed my teeth with shaving cream and shaved my face with toothpaste. I found myself reaching for the autopilot switch in situations where I had once taken the wheel with cowboy enthusiasm. Biology, and its burly henchman Society, had finally snatched me by the toe, slung me over a shoulder and carted me to the guillotine. My eyes were draped in a dark parenthood. I felt the cold blade cleanly separate my creative life’s head from its body. It rolled away and tumbled under a bed. I felt nothing but the weight of a heavy shroud of darkness upon me and yet I lived. I was the Undad.

The Undad rode trains back and forth for no reason other than to feel the gentle rock of the carriage. The Undad waited in long queues for a suddenly insurmountable issue that prevented him from reaching the cash register/box office just as it was within his grasp. The Undad found nourishment in the crumbs left over by the apex predators that roamed the house at sunset and dawn. The Undad was perfectly suited to playing a monster that unrelentingly roared and chased, and who’s only susceptibility seemed to be the word ‘Freeze’, which halted him in his tracks for an undisclosed amount of time.

Most of all, the Undad cleaned. How he cleaned. He cleaned on a molecular level like he could see skin dust, faecal traces and desiccated snot as clearly as the binary showercloth of the Matrix. He cleaned until it was clean enough and then, after five minutes, when all his hard work was completely undone, he grunted and moaned the way only the Undad can and he began again.

On bad days he felt as though he was being held hostage by his tiny masters and in regret his zombie brain caught the faint, flickering butterflies of his old life’s memories and he squished them between his fingertips.

Time passed and gradually he learned to understand the line he walked. Perhaps he was beginning to make peace with this afterlife or perhaps it was just Stockholm Syndrome but despite his better judgement, he began to love them without question.

The Undad walked on. One step following the next. One foot in the world of the living and one in the Dad.

Quan Yeomans is the lead singer of Australian alt-rock band Regurgitator, and a dad to two boys, Cassius, 5, and Bowie 2.

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