Today is the centenary of the birth of my father. If it were possible to communicate with the dead*, I don’ know how I would begin to explain to him what I am doing now.
Dad was born in a horse-drawn cab in one of the main streets of Sydney, New South Wales. His parents were old-fashioned, and dressed him in velvet and lace, with waist-length ringlets, until he was six. (Photos of that were purposely destroyed – he hated it. The one above is the first after those ringlets were cut.) He became a double orphan at age twelve, and rather than see himself and his sisters put into orphanages he pretended to be fifteen and got a job pushing barrows at Sydney’s Paddy’s Market. After he had paid for the education of his sisters, he set about getting himself educated. He worked as a telegraph operator, translating the ticker tape messages into English at 120 words per minute. Riding out the Great Depression in the Navy as radio officer, he got his education at Duntroon Naval College. After he left the Navy he trained as a draughtsman and later became a design engineer in his forties. That’s about when I turned up. Dad died in 1982, an era ago.
Dad worked in electronics at one stage, so he would comprehend some of the science behind the technology I use. If I showed him how easy it is to use this stuff he might even want it himself – after all, I did get my late mother-in-law onto the internet. But explaining the social changes that have taken place since computers became a communications medium via the Internet would be daunting. Explaining the political issues at stake would be as difficult. As for the cultural effects – dad wasn’t really into culture, he had been preoccupied with survival – so that would be harder still.
“I’m doing Internet Studies.” That didn’t exist then. Nor did much of the vocabulary I use every day (even if I avoid using kittah). “I’m doing it because…” Communication would be lost about there.
One thing dad would understand for sure about today is climate change. He often told me that the climate was changing, based on his detailed memory of his early years. He blamed it on industry and pollution. He used to get put down for saying this, but he wasn’t wrong.
“Andy” as he was called by his Navy mates.
Image restored in MacPaint years ago by my son
* I don’t believe in that, I’m just trying to stretch my imagination across an epochal gap.