My fiendishly cunning and manipulative plan to keep my eldest son, Dave, in Tasmania, has gone terribly wrong. Last year he left me. The little redhead, for years my best mate, was always up for an adventure, splashing around the shallows of my favourite Tasmanian trout lakes in waders many sizes too big. Little Dave was always the first into the water and the last out. But now, at the age of 22, he has gone.
This is an Australian predicament so I know I am not Robinson Crusoe on our remote island/continent. Many of you, are parents who have already suffered the heartache of your kids spreading their wings and in time it will surely come to all of us. It’s the price of living here. And I have to admit that they would be dull and unexciting offspring if they didn’t follow that impulse to fly away and see the world. The problem is, too often they don’t come back, or at best they stay away too long. I did it to my parents and now it’s happening to me.
My clever plan was to imprint Tasmania’s beautiful watery landscapes deep in little Dave’s suggestible young mind. From the age of four I would fill him full of irrepressible memories of our highland lakes in the slanting afternoon light when the grasslands glow golden and the white gums reflect blindingly in rippled waters. Or of trout finning in the shallows at first light with the tentative fingers of dawn creeping across the eastern hills while a cold wet mist rises like an army of wraiths from the slate grey morning waters. Bird chorus and the sound of lake water lapping would surely be the siren song that would forever keep him home. Like some controlling religious zealot I believed if I got him early enough I would have him for life.
Two things I got wrong. The genetic wanderlust that has for generations afflicted my family, is seemingly a call that cannot be denied. And then there is an even more potent and unstoppable force – Love! My boy has left me, not just to see the world, but even more confounding, he has left me for a woman. Veronica is a beautiful and charming Italian girl and my lucky boy is hopelessly smitten, just as she is with him. Only my maudlin selfishness stops this from being a happy story.
As a man whose frequent travel meant I was rarely home for important occasions, it was ironic that I was actually back here in River City and having a beer with Dave on the night he first met his ‘inamorata’. I was also with a visiting colleague, Ray Martin, when Dave came back from the bar in Salamanca with a round of drinks and announced, “I have just fallen in Love!” The girl who had served him was on a working holiday from Italy. Ray and I laughed at what we thought was a cute and amusing youthful infatuation.
I little realised that all my hard work, all those long years of brainwashing and conditioning, had been undone in just an instant.
From that moment, until Veronica’s working visa ran out, the two were inseparable. When finally she had to leave Tasmania, Dave took a month’s holiday and joined her in Italy. There, things got much worse. Now, not only did he love the girl but he loved Italy as well. And remember how I had made him susceptible to the watery charms of lakes? Well that part of my plan had gone most horribly astray. Turns out her parents own a hotel on Lago di Garda or Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy and one of the most beautiful in the world.
If all of that is not confounding enough, Veronica’s parents have also out-schemed me. Defecting children are, apparently a universal problem. In order to keep their daughter at home in the mountains of Northern Italy they had given her a 25 percent share of their beautiful Hotel Stella d’Oro, in the Lombardy region. Travel writers over-exuberantly gush about the town, Tremosine, (‘one of the most beautiful villages in Italy’ and ‘the most spectacular drive in the world’) where the family pub overlooks a dramatic 150 kilometers of mountainous shoreline. Grudgingly, I might add, the hotel also has a most inviting looking swimming pool and a reputation for local wines and cheeses and cured meats. Google the joint, as I did on tripadvisor and tell me if you think my little boy will ever be seen back here in River City. I have serious doubts.
Children are such heartbreak! Fortunately I still carry a few spares, among them, two daughters who have now returned to the Tasmanian coop. I still have two younger boys, one of them a fourteen year old, red-headed version of Dave the Defector. I might have to change my strategy though. Perhaps making them wade for hours on end in ice-cold water, in a sometimes-fishless lake, in the teeth of a southerly gale, is not after all the very best way to ensure that kids never leave home.