• Roz Bellamy writes about the positive impact their father's words and language have had on their life. (Supplied)
Dad is more comfortable writing than expressing some things aloud.
By
Roz Bellamy

28 Aug 2019 - 8:31 AM  UPDATED 30 Aug 2019 - 3:34 PM

When I was three, my little sister spilled water all over herself. As she sobbed, I tried to comfort her. I turned to our father and said, “It doesn’t matter, Daddy, does it?”

I only know this story, and many like them, because Dad collects the family’s words and quotes them back to us with reverence, as though citing poets or prophets.

He loves this particular quote and reminds me of it when I am stressed. It doesn’t matter, does it?

Dad also collects words from song lyrics, film and television scripts, books and ephemera, treating all the quotes equally whether they are from the literary canon, religious texts or Looney Tunes. He has my earliest poems saved.

My love of language and books is no doubt partly his doing. I may not be observant when it comes to people’s new hairstyles, furniture or children, but I scrutinise language very carefully.

When I started to realise that my gender identity does not match the sex I was assigned at birth, words became even more important.

Mum said, “You’re still our baby girl. Oh, I mean our...”

“Baby human,” Dad contributed, to my amusement.

Soon, they excelled at using non-gendered language. They became incensed when politicians made transphobic comments.

Soon, they excelled at using non-gendered language. They became incensed when politicians made transphobic comments.

“The show Billions has a non-binary character!” Dad told me excitedly.

As my family members’ perception of me shifted, I began to think about what I had learned about gender at home.

In the 80s, nobody blinked if a little girl was raised to think of being a “princess” as the ultimate fantasy.

My parents let my sister and me develop our own interests, which, funnily enough, happened to be exactly what popular culture and advertisers were reinforcing as appropriate for young girls. Then they joined in.

Mum, a fashion designer, contributed to our love of playing with Barbie dolls by designing and sewing outfits for them.

Dad, who worked in publishing at the time, knew how much we loved The Babysitter’s Club and read some of the books.

“I wonder if Mary Anne and Todd are going to break up,” he said when he finished one of the books, and my sister and I laughed with delight. We couldn’t believe that Dad found our books interesting.

Later, when I realised he was willing to engage with queer theory and to listen as I explained the words cisgender and then non-binary, I felt the way I had when he read my books as a child.

Like me, Dad is more comfortable writing than expressing some things aloud. Some of the most poignant conversations we have had have taken place via text message, email or online chat. We exchange – and proofread – our writing.

I have learned all sorts of interesting tidbits about Dad through these personal but impersonal conversations.

I discovered that as a teenager, Dad grew his hair because of his obsession with the Beatles. In the 60s, the only haircut deemed socially acceptable was a “short back and sides” at the barber.

He explained in a piece of writing, “It may have even touched my collar if I looked up, say to see which bully was threatening to rain blows on me as I sat contemplating my lunch and humming songs by The Beatles.”

I asked him why he thinks his hair made him a target for bullies.

“Long hair was considered a denial of my tentative virility,” he replied, “which was already challenged by being the youngest and therefore the smallest of my ‘peers’ and my preference for Shakespeare over sports.”

He was accused of being “queer” and frequently asked if he was a girl.

Just as Dad’s hair caused issues for him at school, my own curly hair made me the target of bullies throughout my schooling.

Just as Dad’s hair caused issues for him at school, my own curly hair made me the target of bullies throughout my schooling.

Cutting it short or shaving it off were not options.

As a teenager at a Jewish high school, everything I knew about head shaving had come from studying the Holocaust. Head shaving was not something that young women would ever seek out, I gathered, but rather a source of intense shame, a loss of dignity and person-hood.

Dad and I never had conversations about gender or hair when I was growing up. I find it comforting to know, retrospectively, that we could have. I think he would have understood, even back then.

I used to watch as he put on his tie for work, and several times asked him to show me how to do it. I could never replicate the steps, but cackled delightedly when he put a tie on me.

I was cleaning out some papers when I found a piece Dad had written for me when I was young.

The piece is called ‘Why I am proud of Rosalind Bellamy’.

At the start of the piece, he explains that he is writing about something that “applies specifically to you, and is not something that might just occur to any doting parent.” He refers to my non-conformism and says “it takes a great spirit to resist and stay your own person.”

He concludes, “Always remember how proud of you we are. Nothing will ever change that.”

I now understand why Dad remembers and cherishes the words of his loved ones.

His words, and the unconditional love and support they represent, have been a balm for me over the years.

His words, and the unconditional love and support they represent, have been a balm for me over the years. They have been there in my email folders and old scrapbooks regardless of whatever else is going on. I still have the index cards Dad used to write notes for his speech when my wife Rachel and I got married. Some of the words make me emotional every time. 'If I could, I would get down on my knees and thank Rachel for making my little girl so happy.'"

Even when I am struggling, and don’t feel up to telling my parents, his words are archived, waiting on-standby to remind me of his love.

I hold onto his words, and him through them, just as he preserves my writing.

I’m lucky that I have language to tie me to the people I love most, to memories, and to a sense of belonging, even when things feel bleak.

I will be my parents’ baby human regardless of what comes next in our lives. They will continue to be my role models and inspiration.

Three-year-old me had it all figured out. It really doesn’t matter, does it? As long as we have each other.

Roz Bellamy is a freelance writer. Follow Roz on Twitter at @bellaroz.

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