Beach Houseby Brandon Edmonds / 14.12.2010
Close friends bought a beach house recently. A fixer-upper in Rooi Els. It’s beautiful. You step out onto beach sand. Dassies dart in the rocks. Turn and its mountains, turn again and it’s the ocean. The sky all around you like a dream. All night the shoreline breaks and murmurs. You feel prized out there.
But the beach house has become the sign of everything I don’t have in life. The distillation of regret. A beacon of what’s left to be done. A challenge. Some day, I tell myself, I too will be married and own a beach house. It’s something to work toward. We’ll summer there, my phantom wife and I, we’ll summer there and have nights where clothes are encumbrances and wine turns our kisses golden. I can see us through the windows of our beach house at night. Firelight makes our summer skin look painted on. My phantom wife has a wonderful laugh. She makes a face when I tell her we probably shouldn’t open another bottle. I would do anything for her. There are days, too, when hope is gone and I doubt the dream. All I can see is what I don’t have. A beach house and all it means: freedom, joy, accomplishment, togetherness. Happiness. The good stuff. A good life.
Men have an unwarranted reputation for pragmatism. We are traditionally bearers of responsibility. We go out into the world and hunt things down: promotions, prey, pay packets. We are stand ins for reality in our children’s lives. Examples of how to be on the outside. In life. Pragmatic providers and doers. That image is changing every second of course. It has been ever since women began entering the workplace in greater numbers after the 2nd World War. Global statistics tend to reflect a planet of single mothers by now, making do in the developing world. Economic stress amplifies the burdens of family life. In South Africa the divorce rate is around 73%. “Broken families” are increasingly the formative reality of young people in this country.
A lot of men flee, apparently. My own father did. I’ve never met him. He’s an ongoing mystery to me. His absence has affected my work ethic. My self esteem. Can I blame him for not having a beach house? For not being all I can be? Is he behind my relative lack of success? President Obama was not far wrong in a speech he made on Father’s Day recently: “An active, committed father makes a lasting difference in the life of the child,” he said. “When fathers are not present their children and families cope with an absence government cannot fill.” He tends to blow my excuses out of the water, though, growing up without a father doesn’t seem to have held him back!
Even so my father’s absence definitely has something to do with a kind of laxity in me. A capitulation to larger forces. I tend to give up easily. Life’s too hard. It’s too demanding. I tend to take the easy route. Tend not to push myself. Countless opportunities have trickled through my fingers like sand. It suggests a lack of attack in my nature. Instead of going out and taking what I want – “making it happen” in the parlance of self-help manuals – I fold into myself and brood over what might have been. Again and again I choose the dream over reality. Regretful fantasy over actual achievement.
The CD of the year for me is Teen Dream by a band called Beach House. They’re a dream pop duo from Baltimore. Lead singer Victoria Legrand’s voice has been described as “coiling like smoke in the arches of a church”. It’s tremendously affecting. One of the strongest songs “Take Care” goes – “Feel this burning love of mine / Deep inside the ever-spinning, tell me does it feel it’s no good unless it’s real.”
Those lines are close to what I’d say to my father.