Family matters

It is my sister’s birthday today. She will be 66. But it was a stupid day. On my way to a lunchtime concert (harpsichord and traverso) I got off the tram so that I could get some money. Then I found my card had expired, so I had to turn back and go home. On the No.12 tram a very cute man opposite me yawned several times. Then I yawned. And then I remembered reading somewhere that yawns are catching like that.

And I remembered how as a small child I used to cry if my mother cried. My father used to yell and scream at her and bang doors when he was drunk. She didn’t often cry, but when she did it broke my heart. My sister would cry too. Though she was older and tougher than I was. Once she picked up a dustbin lid and held it there, like a shield, to defend us. We were cowering in the hallway of that bare house, with almost no furniture or even floor covering, or even light bulbs! And with not enough to eat. And the shame of him being unemployed. There was so much shame in that house. As a child one has almost no words, but one understands many things even so.

I carried some of that shame throughout my life and added my own to it. I speak here of something that many people can understand. And I say to myself and to everyone – this is one prison from which we, like Florestan in Fidelio, can escape………SHAME

Shame even menaced my creative work.

It took me really my whole life to forgive my father for his conduct. This year I shall for the first time remember him on his birthday – May 21st. Next year will be the centenary of his birth and I will discuss with my family how we can best celebrate him. If they don’t want to do anything, I shall myself go to his burial place. I have not visited it since his death in 1976. And I shall thank him, because he always loved me and never hit me or tried to hurt me in any other way. Okay, he didn’t do what men are supposed to do – work, pay for a family, give leadership. But he got one big thing right – he loved me.

There was an odd thing in the middle of these violent rages of my father – he would look at me in a disconcerted way as if to say “no, no, I don’t mean you”. But he didn’t say it. And he never did apologize in any way for what he did in those years.

Once in Venice on the Giudecca over lunch, I was explaining to my friend Marie how it was at home and she began to cry, so I had to stop. But a better reason to stop telling this story is that so many children throughout the world suffer far, far worse. And in telling one’s story, one mustn’t lose a sense of proportion.

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