On Monday evening I was in one of my favourite bistros in Paris and suddenly I found myself thinking 'My father would have liked this.' Maybe he would have done: according to what I have been told he was a francophone, francophile, foodie, before he latter term had been invented. But that's the thing; I have to go by what I have been told, because my father died when I was nine, having had a serious illness that changed his personality for two years before that. So in effect I have a seven year old's view of him. Those of you who have or have had seven year old children, or can remember what it was like to be one, may see the problem with this. How much can someone of that age really understand what an adult is like?
The odd thing is that I know nobody else whose parent died when they were a child: it must be very rare these days, or maybe everyone feels the same strange sense of shame as I do, so doesn't want to discuss it. When you're a child people talk in hushed tones about how you 'lost' your father: I wonder whether, as a result, I learned to feel ashamed of having been so careless. But, for whatever reason, there are not many of us about, it seems, so I don't know whether my experience is at all typical. But it came to me that I would sell my soul just to have one adult conversation with my father. Perhaps others of the early-bereft may feel the same.
There are so many things I long to know: whether he really did love the same wine as me (or whether I've made myself do so, having heard of his preferences); whether I like Stolychnaya because as a teenager I found a long-extinct bottle of his at the back of a cupboard. I'd love to know whether he, like me, would revel in the ambiance of a genuine Art Deco bistro, and what kind of food he'd like to eat there. I'd like to hear what kind of actresses he fancied, be told a slightly off-colour joke, bitchy story, salacious bit of gossip. I'd like to know about his mentors and the people he admired, and hear some stories about his career, how he grew up and his heroes. I'd like to know whether we'd disagree about politics, music, art: I think we would about religion. I'd like know what he was like when he'd drunk a little too much, to see him slightly the worse for wear the next morning, and threaten him with a fried breakfast, or find out whether he'd already have done the same to me. I'd like to talk about books and disagree about Dickens (I hear he loved him) I'd like to know what he thought about my life and what I have done with it, even if that caused a blazing row.
All of these things probably sound normal to grown-up people who managed not to mislay a parent in the process. But it's impossible for me to know what just one go at such normality might feel like, so I can't tell. I think, though, that it would be pretty good. Josephine Baker once sang 'J'ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris.' I agree, and I think my father probably would have too. But, in the end, there is no way of knowing.