My old man isn’t self-portrait photography’s number one fan. To say he’s got beef with having his photo taken is an understatement. I don’t know if this is out of vanity, or because even in these twilight years he still needs to max out on security because of the coke racket he’s eyeballs deep in. He took me aside once when I was four and with a look on his face I’ll never forget said, remember this hijo mio, it’s not getting in that’s the hard part, it’s getting out. I thought he was talking about the front door, which was confusing. Now it all becomes clear.
I shot the below straight from the hip as I pointed to the right and screamed WHAT THE HELL IS THAT at the top of my voice. He never saw it coming.
Anyway, I was hanging out with him the other day in his study at home, and told him I wanted a photo of him to take back to my flat and put in a frame.
He turned, and looked at me in the manner of someone placed on the earth for the sole purpose of answering a question they have waited their entire life to be asked. His lips trembled. He held himself together. Claro, he replied in the porteño of his youth. And reaching down to the second draw of the desk he pulled it open and fished something out, his voice cracking imperceptibly.
Are you sure?
I can’t take this one I protested, it’s such a great photo, I don’t want to take your only copy. He shook his head gravely and insisted. No, I want you to have it.
It was a moment. It felt like a symbolic changing of the guard, my father giving me a photo of himself – that rare thing – and one he was evidently proud of, I mean with reason, he looks great. Who doesn’t cherish that kind of photo of themselves. One that evokes more than the person you are, the person you want most to be. It was a little faded and clearly old, with a lovely quality to it.
And yet it felt like I was taking something away from him. It saddened me. I couldn’t help imagining it as something he would keep close to him always, in the second drawer down, as a testament to his youth, a memento, to clutch onto as the dark clouds of old age drift across the horizon. It’s not like he knows what the hell a scanner is.
But he insisted.
And as I descended the stairs it was remarkable how touched I felt.
I vowed to find a frame worthy of it, so whenever my father came to visit, it would be there, in pride of place, shining out like a beacon for all to see.
On the way out I saw my mother, and opened my bag to show her.
Look what papa just gave me.
A peculiar pained recognition traced its was across her face.
Oh God, she said.
And she groaned, and I watched her eyes roll alarmingly far back inside her head. That photo. About thirty years ago your father, for the only time in his life, set foot inside a photo-shop, and had 45 copies of that photo made. Forty five. Your father has had a thirty year love affair with that bloody photograph. Our marriage has suffered because of it. The bloody profile. That wistful look. That yellow coat, it comes to me in nightmares. He hands them out like sweets. He’s trying to get rid of them. There are drawers full of them.
In their droves.