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Clement's Corner: Where's My Daddy Gone

Owen Clement tells the story of family conflict resulting from the global financial crisis.

The blossoms gently fell from the jacarandas carpeting the nature strip off Sarah’s back garden. An occasional Rainbow Lorikeet and Eastern Rosella flashed their brilliant plumage as they darted in and out of the lavender-coloured blossoms.

Sarah however hardly noticed as she sat on the verandah with her early morning cup of tea, her mood a mixture of sadness and bewilderment. Judd had just driven off scattering the stones of their driveway. An argument had developed, from what Sarah thought, had been an off-hand comment of hers about their economic circumstances. All she had meant was that they may need to start working on a budget.

Since the global downturn the cost of living and the threat of unemployment had risen significantly. It was not confined to Australia, or to where they lived. Other countries, she had said, were far worse off. Judd’s reaction took her completely by surprise. He slammed out of the house after accusing her of having no faith in him. He didn’t even give her an opportunity to respond. He had always been oversensitive, especially when they were first married. When Emily came along he seemed to become more placid.

Now that Emily had started kindergarten Sarah had been contemplating going back to work on a part-time basis. Her ex-boss, a solicitor, had said to her on many occasions that she was very welcome to return, even if it was just one day a week as her research skills for him and his colleagues were second-to-none. Whenever she had mentioned this to Judd he had either ignored her or changed the subject. Now that his income alone would barely cover their daily needs she had thought he would be more amenable to the idea. She knew there was something on his mind, if only he would talk to her instead of bottling it up.

Soon after he had driven off Emily came racing along the verandah to her mother, “Where’s my daddy gone?” she cried out, her face streaming with tears.

Being Saturday, Sarah could not say that he had left early for work. Instead she said calmly, “He’s just gone out for a while Darling, he’ll be back soon”.

“But he promised we’d go to the beach,'' Emily said through her sobs.

Sarah hugged her saying, “He will be back soon I’m sure. He would never forget a promise to you sweetheart.”

Emily shook her head, “He’s gone, really gone, like Nita’s Daddy,” and then started crying again.

Sarah rocked her little daughter. Nita’s father had left his wife and two young daughters to move in with his secretary who, having realised that she was pregnant, had issued an ultimatum that he either chose between his family or her. Emily now believed that her father was about to abandon her as well.

No matter how much Sarah tried to reassure her the less she herself felt assured. She continued to rock Emily as much for her own comfort as her daughter's. And then her anger grew at Judd’s behaviour at causing their child such anxiety.

She remembered the pain her own father had caused her when he had left when she was a teenager. How much more distressing it must be for little Emily.

She was startled out of her reverie when she heard, “What the hell’s going on.''
Judd stalked up to them. Sarah was about to react equally angrily when Emily flew out of her arms and ran to her father. He gathered her up into his arms, his expression a mixture of deep concern and fury toward Sarah for causing his daughter’s unhappiness.

Sarah stood, marched up to him and said her voice barely audible, “I’ll talk to you later.''

She then walked inside, fighting to keep in control.

A very sheepish Judd found Sarah lying on their bed after settling Emily down with her toys in her room.

“How dare you dash off without saying a word and then use that accusing tone when you finally deign to turn up again.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Some day Judd you’ll grow up.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean “

Her anger rising she started to say something and then thought better of it. This was not the time to say what she had wanted to say for some time. Instead she said, “Look, we are both too upset to have a meaningful discussion but we must talk. What I would like to say though is that I am your wife. What does get me down is that you will not discuss things rationally. You either say nothing or change the subject whenever I try to bring up the subject of my going back to work, for instance.''

He sat down on the bed his expression of utter desolation, “I’ve been desperately trying to find a job.''

“But you have a job.”

“Had, I was fired.”

It took some time before this registered with Sarah, “What do you mean you were fired - when?”

This time he hesitated before saying, “I was given my notice three weeks ago.''

She looked at him in stunned silence. She sighed, pulled herself together, moved up and took him in her arms. He stiffened monetarily before breaking down. At that moment Emily walked into the room. Neither parent realized this until she cried out, “Daddy” and ran up to him.

They made a sad tableau, father, mother and daughter clinging to each other.

© Clement 2009


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