I dedicated Slippery to my dad, the man who taught me to think clearly and laugh loudly, always. And over this past week, being bombarded with endless Mental Health stories and interviews to commemorate Mental Health Week, I think this dual lesson Dad provided is the greatest survival technique I’ll ever learn.
At the age of 7, being in the sweet spot of seeing the world clearly in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, I vividly remember one afternoon catching the ferry with Dad into Circular Quay. We hopped off and walked on through to wherever we were headed.
A lady came up to us, asked if Dad could spare some change. She told us she’d lost her wallet and was in desperate need of a few dollars to catch the ferry home and see her own son, pointing at me as an example of the little fella she was in such a state to get home and see. Dad smiled, gave her $5 and waved off her thank you as we walked on up towards George St.
When we were a few hundred metres away, Dad told me to stop a second. He turned around and said hey Li Li, have a look at this. From a short distance up the hill it was clear, the lady was pulling the same scam on every person unlucky enough to walk into her phoney sob story. I was furious, telling Dad that I was going to go down and call the police on her. How dare she?!
No, no, calm down son, calm down. He explained that if she was willing to lie for just a few dollars then she surely needs the money more than us. I was even more furious. Dad was broke. Only a few days earlier I’d sat in our broken down VW on the Cahill Expressway while people drove past beeping their horns and yelling abuse, not helping, as Dad tried to roll start the old bomb in peak hour traffic with one hand on the wheel and the rest of his body outside the car trying to push the cursed Bug.
But as we stood there watching this lady rob people blind, Dad just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, things don’t always make sense son, and that’s just fine. Life’s too short to let it get you down. You just do everything you can mate, and you’ll always be able to rest easy.
He picked me up, swung me round to face back the way we were going and we carried on our merry, little way. I calmed down pretty quickly. My fury was numbed by confusion. What the hell was he talking about? She took our money!! Get her!!
It’s taken me a long time to fully appreciate the Zen qualities of my father and just how fortunate I am to have been heavily influenced by him and his way of thinking.
Christians, Moslems, and countless others who espouse insanely strong beliefs in science-fiction-make-believe stories, appeal to the masses because they prey on our core human belief that this world we’re in, this life we’re leading, the mere fact we’re even here, it all just has to make sense. There’s some divine purpose, apparently. They’ll preach the sanctity of their profound faith while also chastising, occasionally bombing, anyone who disagrees.
They believe that their belief is something in itself to be proud of, allowing them a foothold on some DIY moral high ground. They believe in a higher power. They must be right…hmm?
It’s rare a man or woman will be selfless and pragmatic enough to stand firm and wholeheartedly embrace the notion that things don’t have to make sense, at least not a sense that we're currently able to grasp. And that's just fine and should play no role in how you treat people or live your life.
Scratch the surface of mankind with the bluntest of wits and you’ll be horrified. We make assumptions about the entire universe yet we don’t even know if light is a wave or a particle. The same poor genius who invented dynamite for use in mining and exploration quickly realised it could also be used to bomb every man, woman and child to Kingdom Come, thus created the Nobel Peace Prize in a soul cleansing attempt. And the U.S. has most recently bombed a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontiers in Afghanistan while trying to blast peace into the hearts of terrorists.
And Dad, well…he was a little too enamoured with cigarettes. After many years of two packs a day he developed a cancerous abcess in a lobe of his lungs. With nothing material to show but a life of love and generosity, he sat down on the couch after dinner one night and had a brief sneezing fit. The abcess burst, his lungs literally exploded in his chest.
Thinking clearly about the ensuing final two minutes of Dad’s life sparks a quick bout of despair in me about once every 15 seconds. I doubt there’ll ever be a time I laugh about it, but trusting in his doctrine that not everything has to make sense is the only thing that makes the whole experience bearable.
Think clearly and laugh loudly, the mental demons you face will always be there, but that’s a sign you’re well, not ill. Maybe it’s this world that’s a bit screwed up, but that’s fine, it’s still incredible. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Big shout out to anyone suffering through a tough time, mentally or otherwise. As has been said all week, if you’re feeling down, just reach out and let someone know. Life’s too short to be trapped in with your own thoughts for too long. Mental illness is a sure sign of moral compass strength and is nothing to be ashamed of.
Feel free to contact me anytime.
Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story set in Southeast Asia about capitalism on steroids, it makes the world of Gordon Gecko look positively gentlemanly, and Sweet Dreams of Fanta, a nostalgic romp in time back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, seven year old Fanta addict and devoted Balmain Tigers lover.