Tuesday, July 24, 2012


The 2012 Tour De France.

That's my dad's old copy of Catcher in the Rye just there. He's the one who coloured in Salinger's name, who filled all the gaps in the lettering, who wrote his name roughly the same size as the author. Inside, in red pen, is written "Roo Bailey". The red pen makes sense, because he has red hair, but I've never heard him called Roo. His brothers and all the folks from Woomelang - his home town - all call him Blue, due to the aforementioned follicular affliction and their penchant for irony. Occasionally, when my own brothers and I are up there, we are referred to as Blue's kids.

Sometimes, around Stawell, where my folks settled and where I was born and bred, my dad gets called Bails. Michael, the older of my two younger brothers is often called that too, perhaps a result of staying involved with the Stawell Footy Club, where nicknames are almost mandatory. It's a name Steve and I mercifully avoided, though I was once or twice called "Young Bails."

Mostly, however, he's known just as Ron - which is, incidentally, his name. I've called him by his name ever since I was about fourteen. He's always hated me doing so - he reckons it makes him look like a stepfather. Given I don't extend the same informality to my ma, he may have a point. I don't know why I started doing it - probably just my teenage tendency to niggle, the same impulse that drove me to refer to my brothers by their Spanish names, Seve and Miguel. No one in my family speaks Spanish, and we have no Spanish heritage (apart from maybe when the Moors went over to Ireland, but that's really too far back to count). I just started doing it because the whim took me one day, and then stuck to it.

This "Roo" at the front of my copy of Catcher, however, confuses me, mostly because it's a part of my dad's life that I don't know. I've spent thirtythree years with the guy and there are still stories he hasn't told me, either through neglect, unwillingness or forgetting. That's unsettling, in a lot of ways. Most of the stories I know about him I only know through his brothers, and they're the tales of bawdy mockery that brothers specialize in - drinking too much, driving too fast, raising hell. While they're still important stories, they lack substance, they aren't the stories that we use to construct who we are.

So last night I tried to call my dad. He and Ma are away on some grey nomad style excursion into the Australian countryside, huge SUV towing their caravan into red dirt landscapes. I don't really know why I wanted to call. Even when I do chat to him, it's only usually some cursory small talk before he hands me off to my Ma. He's from one of those red dirt landscapes himself, and even though he's a teacher, serious conversations about personal matters don't come easy to him. We talk about the football, the weather, people we both know. But last night I couldn't even do that - wherever he is at the moment isn't receiving any mobile signal.

So I was thinking a lot about dads today. Even if he hasn't told me everything, mine has always been there, will always be there. But a quick look through the list of recent Tour de France winners reveals a lot of absent fathers. Cadel's dad was still in his life, sure, but lived three quarters of the way across the country. When the guy started getting serious about cycling it was just him and his mum in the tiny pockets of Eltham or Montmorency not yet gentrified. Lance's dad was famously absent, even if he did attempt contact once or twice (yeah, ok, I wasn't paying that close attention to "It's Not About The Bike."). And now, just today, perhaps desperate for an Australian angle, the press drags out the stories about Wiggins' dad, drunk and defeated and ultimately dead in a bar somewhere. I'm certain there's no causal link, probably not even a direct correlation. I also don't know anything about Contador's dad, Sastre's dad, Andy Schleck's dad. It may not mean anything at all. It is, however, an interesting thing to note. I wonder if Wiggins ever wishes he could call his dad up and ask him some awkward questions. I wonder if he ever resents the story being told, his family taking on all of this added importance now he's won the biggest prize in cycling. I wonder if he looks in the mirror, like I do sometimes, and see the bags under his eyes, the flecks of red in his beard, the wrinkles in the forehead, and know exactly where they came from.

I've written a lot about change over the past three weeks, and the process of getting used to it. I'm pretty sure I even wrote that change is constant. But that's only true for the future. Despite the best efforts of the revisionist historians - me included - the past is fixed. Our interpretation of it may change, our knowledge of it may change, the facts we are aware of may change, and our understanding of it may change, but what's done cannot be undone. My dad will always be my dad, even if he once had a nickname I don't understand. Wiggins' dad will always be his dad. And now, Wiggins will always have won the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. Even if he is later found to have cheated, he will have always crossed the line three and a bit minutes ahead of the next fastest guy. Whatever else happens in his life, he will always have won.

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