Good Reading : August 2016
‘Yeah, definitely,’ Tim says. ‘A guy dropped over the other night who I didn’t know particularly well, and he said, “I loved your book – it was fantastic. My brother has a ser ious mental illness. He’s schizophrenic. I really want to thank you for the book.You broached all those really thorny areas that are hard to talk about.” ‘This guy was the last person I would have expected to say that. Other people have said similar things. Not so much friends, because I knew their backgrounds anyway. But people who were on the per iphery of my life – people at work.They were coming out and saying, “Something similar happened to me.” It’s really common. When I was young I assumed it was a rare thing, that we were just living in this weird, isolated little island of stress and tension in the middle of a perfect world. But this shit was actually going on everywhere.’ By 1987, when Tim was studying for the HSC, his three siblings – all older than him – had already left home. Only Tim and his parents remained in the Mosman house. In the last half of the year, Max flew into a rage and grabbed Tim by the neck.Tim and Rosie fled the family home and went into hiding. At the end of this period of exile – in early 1988 – Max Elliott killed himself at home. As tragic as that event was, it looked like the nadir of their suffer ing was past and that things could only get better for Tim now that the source of most of the stress in his life was no longer around. But as Tim wr ites, his father’s presence was still pervasive: When Dad died, he moved out of our home and into my head, where he strolled about, doing as he pleased, putting his feet on my fur niture, offer ing his opinions, unsolicited ... I heard him all the time ... occasionally shouting but mostly whispering, saying the same things over and over. ‘You are an idiot.’ Or ‘You are no good.’ ... After a time, the voices wear you down. They exhaust you. Having completed a university degree, Tim started working for a magazine. But at the age of 23 he suffered the first of many depressive episodes. Whether this was caused by a genetic legacy from his father or was the result of growing up in a stressful environment – or a combination of both factors – is a moot point. Tim had wanted to tell the story of his father for some time, but Rosie Elliott asked him not to write about it until she had died. She had very close friends to whom she had told nothing about her husband’s suicide, and up to the time she died, in 2009, most Australians still weren’t ready to freely discuss domestic violence. But after Rosie died, Tim published an article about his father’s mental illness in the Good Weekend, the magazine that accompanies the Saturday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Tim received hundreds of letters and emails; the story resonated with readers because many of them had similar experiences. A cache of more than 200 letters, which Max Elliott had written to Rosie in the time after Tim and his mother had fled the family home, helped Tim to piece together the past and write the book in the following years. He notes that they were ‘deeply, excruciatingly intimate’, and although his mother wouldn’t have minded him using them, his father would definitely have objected. But Tim had decided to put an end to the pernicious influence of his father on his life – and decided to use the letters anyway. As he writes toward the end of the book: I imagined him, clambering doggedly out of his metaphorical coffin to rebuke me, while I stood there, with one foot on the lid to keep it closed. Farewell to the Father by Tim Elliott is published by Picador, rrp $34.99. GOOD READING AUGUST 2016 45 AUTHOR PROFILE It’softensaidthatwhateverhappensinourchildhoodsresonatesthroughouttherestofourlives–forgoodorforill.ThiswascertainlythecaseforTIMELLIOTT,whogrewupwithafatherwhosufferedfrombipolardisorder.TIMGRAHAMspoketohimaboutthelingeringeffectsofatumultuouschildhoodandhismemoirofpaternalmadness,FarewelltotheFather.