Earlier today my sister sent me a photo that, while undated, would have been taken in 1985. Based on all the things that happened that year, the photo may have been taken in late August or early September, shortly after my father collected Christine and I from the foster home where we were staying after our mother left. My youngest sister at the time is not in this photo as she would have either still been staying with an aunt or had just recently been retrieved by my mum1.

My father, sister, and I in 1985

What immediately strikes me about this photo, aside from how thin we all are, is that only my father is looking at the camera. Christine and I are looking off to the side at someone else. I know it has to be a person we're looking at because the photo was taken in the 3-bedroom apartment we moved into shortly before I started attending elementary school2. The person who took the photo would have been standing directly in front of the table where we had a 12" black and white TV3. Whoever we were looking at would have been sitting at the dining room table, as that would have been the only other furniture in the apartment at that time. Judging from the grin on my face and Christine's exuberance, I have a feeling it was either my mother — who my father always allowed to visit us despite whatever feelings he may have harboured — or her brother Leo. Unfortunately, my memory of that day is practically non-existent.

Photos were not all that common in my family before the advent of the "camera phone"4 so, for this picture to exist, there must have been some occasion to celebrate. My son hasn't gone a day in his life (outside the womb) without at least one photo being taken. Will he one day look back at these digital memories and remember a simpler time? Will he wonder why there are so few pictures of him and I together but thousands of him with his mother?5

The boy and I Looking at Cherry Blossoms in Kasugai Alongside the Hatta River

There's no way to foresee the future and how the boy will remember his early years, but I do hope that if he looks at these pictures, he sees that I'm just as invested in him as my father was in his children.

  1. My youngest sister was just a few months old when Mum left all three of us with a babysitter and a note to give our father after he returned from work. Because she was so young, my Aunt Vicky stepped up to take care of her rather than send her off to foster care. I never learned why Christine and I weren't picked up by other aunts and uncles, but then I never really asked. My father doesn't really talk much about this time in his life aside from how hard it was to climb out from under all the debt.

  2. Not just any elementary school, but an English-speaking elementary school! Prior to this, I attended French schools as that is my mother's first language.

  3. It was this 12" TV where I watched a whole lot of Star Trek and Saturday morning cartoons. This was also the TV where my father and I would play the Atari for hours on end. I didn't realize just how strange it was for people to have a 12" black and white TV as their living room TV until the early 90s, when my father finally paid off the last of the debt from the divorce and received a tax refund. We went out that weekend and bought a 26" colour TV with a remote and a VCR. So much luxury. TV shows had colour!

  4. Flip phones with a really awful camera completely changed the way my family approached photography. Once they saw the advantages of digital pictures, they took dozens of photos every day.

  5. The answer is pretty simple: I'm the family photographer.