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Buckling under the facts of life.

When I was young and I asked a "grown up" question, my elders would frown severely and sometimes even banish me from the room. 'Not until you're much, much older,' my uncle would say in a voice that made me think at least another 40 years would have to pass before I was admitted into this inner sanctum of the All Knowing.

"Ask no questions and you'll be told no lies", one of my aunts would warble remonstratively. "Children must be seen and not heard", said a third very senior relative, adding through parched, pinched lips, "And preferably not seen."

Run along and play outside, I would be advised. Play what and with whom, I would enquire, being an only child at that time. "Bounce your tennis ball against the wall," uncle would say, in what strikes me as the depths of creative thinking.

"Oh, go on, child, stop being obstinate," aunt would join in as she too lost patience and dearly wished to get back to discussing things in their adult "hush hush" voices.

It was left to me to go out and imagine the answers. My imagination has done very well as a result. My knowledge of all things adult and worldly, however, took a considerable time to reach a par with my peers. I lagged far behind my friend Geoffrey who, evidently, even as a child, sat on the Privy Council in his home. I wished dearly that I'd had uncles and aunts like Geoffrey's. But how? I would often ask, when Geoffrey told me something startlingly adult. Or, "But why?" "Because you're an idiot that doesn't pay attention, and because that's what happens," he would say, laughingly but sagely.

Over time, you could say Geoffrey became my mole on the inside as he fished out from his house all the "intelligence" I was denied in mine. Needless to say he embroidered events and information lavishly. When I told my father once that Geoffrey's dad had finally revealed to him the Facts of Life and asked was he, my dad, planning something along the same lines for me, he did his impersonation of a beetroot and fled behind my mum for sanctuary.

Mother, left fending for dad, whimpered that all would be revealed in due course, making it sound oracular. I went outside expecting to hear a deep voice speaking from the ether, or a low cloud, filling my juvenile ears with answers to the perpetual mystery of things.

Dear father

No clouds spoke that day. Nor have they since. The ether, for its part, continued to stay consistently invisible. My dear father "crossed over" in January this year. My mum preceded him by 17 years. A lot of my uncles and aunts too are somewhere out there in the great beyond, happy I would assume and laughing their heads off with amusement as I plough the furrowed path of parenthood myself and try to be there for my son especially when he grapples with issues that appear temporarily beyond him. Right at this moment, Australia's discussing this rather bizarre story of a dad who left his family shortly after his daughter was born and returned to the town about 30 years later, a stranger in a changed place, only to meet and settle in with this woman who turned out to be his own daughter.

The courts have stepped in and ordered bans on conjugal rights. I, meanwhile, am bracing myself because I can already - like a trained Indian - sniff the wind and sense the first question being fired in my direction. "But in the beginning wasn't there only one man.....and one woman?"

That's how it's going to start, this discussion. It will be too late, stranded in this desert of thoughtlessness, to try to change horses and answer, "It's just possible we may have... evolved."

It's never easy dismounting from one system of beliefs and galloping off on another, even if another horse - a night mare - was available.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jun 12, 2008
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