The easiest shortcut to knowing my father, because you can’t, is Robin Williams. Picturing him gets you three-quarters of the way there; a brilliant, effervescent and erudite man with so much body hair it covers his knuckles, wrists, back and toes. An instant familiarity and ease with anyone from the woman begging on the corner to the guy running the country, a pitch-perfect ear for accents, smiling eyes diverting attention from the bilious clouds lingering behind them. Many think they have famous facsimiles, but Williams, in all his wild, hairy, hilarious glory, is it for my father. Nobody else comes close.
Like Dad, and his Dad, I’m a very hairy person. My eyebrows weren’t plural until I was 18. I had a thick moustache at 11 and was desperate to shave, scared of being teased. Dad took me to one of his patients, an Italian barber that worked next to a safe injecting room in Kings Cross, to have it waxed instead.
‘Start shaving now,’ he warned, ‘and that’s it for the rest of your life.’
Having this level of coverage not seen since ’70s Cleo spreads makes for a different type of existence. Unless we’re in company, none of the men in my family sleep with clothes on — or wear a shirt around the house. We are naturally a few degrees warmer than the average person, coated with fine fur all year round, which is both a blessing and a burden.
That heat doesn’t stop at body temperature. Seidlers, but in particular Seidler boys of any generation, are hot-blooded. We feel things intensely — and often. Confrontation is not something we shy away from, whether with one another, extended family, friends, colleagues or authority figures. This heat regularly manifests itself as indignation, which was certainly the case with Dad. Much of his life was spent eloquently and persistently arguing against those who thought heroin addicts were scum that only deserved death or prison. In letters, on television, at conferences, during dinner parties or on the street, Dad railed against small-mindedness, unsound policy, capital-G government. Half the time, he was so charming it wouldn’t even feel like a fight was on.
But that heat was baked in from an early age. This may have been the reason he only succumbed to deep bouts of the blues every few years when I was a child. It seemed like it was just too bright in there, too hot for anything pernicious to survive longterm.
Like tabby cats or certain species of dog, when you live with a hairy person, you find pieces of them everywhere. We shed unconsciously, showers and kitchens and gardens and cars carrying shards of us that fall off and are reborn each day. Perhaps aware of this, Dad was militant about haircuts and hygiene. He’d grab our hands over lunch, lament the length of our nails and drag us out back to chomp at them with his shiny silver clippers. A reservoir of knowledge and myths, one of his favourite was that our hair and nails kept growing after we died (something he knew wasn’t strictly true) which is why we Seidler boys, in our hairiness, really needed to keep on top of that kind of thing.
When Dad hit hid his mid-40s, he acknowledged the brutal reality of his hairline, gave up on the barber and started shaving his own head. A few years later, it wasn’t uncommon to find Mum in the garden running a weapons-grade Wahl over his shoulders and back. We liked to call this ‘shearing.’ Like Bruce Willis after Die Hard 3, Dad had adopted a laissez-faire attitude to hair. Everything became fair game. After a lifetime accumulating that coarse black human moss, it suddenly felt like he couldn’t divest himself of it fast enough.
I often wonder if he clipped his fingers and toes on the morning he decided to die. How much of the hair from his tremendous, baboon chest shook free as he sucked in air for the last time. You don’t need to pull at body hair to loosen it. It slides free simply through the act of being.
We sold our family home a few years after he passed away. I reckon there was still hair hiding everywhere.