By Hans Ebert
It’s very tough going writing this, but there seems to be an invisible force pushing me to finish it as if it’s my last will and testament. Maybe it is. Nothing matters more to me than saying what I have to say. Perhaps it’s about living on borrowed time where I have to be totally honest with myself and try the best I can not to hurt anyone in the process. But I will because the truth hurts. We try to escape it, but it always catches up with you no matter how hard you try to mask it.
Bottom line: You come into this world alone and you leave this world alone. The filling in the rest of the sandwich is just stuff that, in the end, was given way too much oxygen until it suffocated you.
One of the plus factors of living in Hong Kong is being able to afford a live-in domestic helper. Though our combined salaries being barely HK$6000- less than a US $1,000- and still having to pay rent of HK$1,200 for a small two bedroom apartment in Bonham Road plus the arrival of our daughter Taryn and having our cat Kitty and dog Mini, Conchita joined the household. From the Philippines, Conchita became part of the family and had her own quarters next to the kitchen.
Again, it shows just how much Hong Kong has changed- the obscene rents paid for shoeboxes today and the neurotic obsession with money by even those with plenty stashed away. This obsession plus the addiction to social media with its focus on self promotion and flaunting “happy snaps”, is a world gone mad and with no sense of priorities. We’ve become a degeneration of dullards.
For myself and Trina, we were careful with our spending, but we didn’t obsess about wealth. Somehow, we more than managed to have everything needed and to be extremely happy. I can’t even remember if we had mobile phones at the time. Life was simple and little things meant a lot.
Conchita was constantly massaging and straightening out our baby daughter’s legs. The last thing Trina and I wanted was for Taryn to inherit those spindly “Sri Lankan legs” we’d seen way too many representing my motherland in those beauty contests that were once such a big drawcard for television viewers.
There was a problem and I still think about it: When she couldn’t get her own way, Taryn had extremely scary temper tantrums where she would hold her breath until she passed out. The first time she did this, we all panicked. I thought she had died and completely freaked out. Trina, always in control, kept any signs of panic under lock and key. A few minutes later, Taryn would come back from wherever she went. We were to find out later from the paediatrician that this was quite common with some infants. The remedy: ignore them. Don’t panic. Taryn pulled this trick a few more times, especially when being fed, until it fell on deaf ears with Trina telling her, “Go ahead, hold your breath, pass out. See if I care.”
Trina was coping very well with motherhood. I was the biggest child in the family. I was the worrier and hardly the warrior. I worried about everything to do with Taryn- if the air conditioning was too cold, if she had a fever. I worried even about carrying her in case I might hurt her. I was protective to a point of being obsessive. Our pets Kitty and Mini were far more chilled than I was. They were making sure their little sister was fine.
With two elder sisters and two younger brothers, Trina’s maternal instincts came naturally. Not ever having really known my parents, and certainly not seeing any signs of affection as this seemed to be the job of Podi, the servant “designated” to me in Ceylon, I was not only totally ill-prepared for fatherhood, I didn’t understand the steps needed to reach this point. It’s always about taking steps to reach somewhere.
Writing this reminded me of the time when, somehow, a fly got into my ear when a kid in Ceylon. That fly lived in my ear for three days before I was finally taken to have my ear syringed. Until then, my parents asked Podi to keep pouring hot oil into my ear to kill that fly. But this was the fly that refused to die. That rhymes.
As for my relationship with my parents, it was my mother who came to Parents Day at kindergarten, won sack races with me, talked to the teachers about how I was doing and helped with my homework. My father? I really don’t remember him even holding my hand or even playing marbles with me.
Many of us are caught up in the mistakes and lessons learned from our parents. Perhaps my obsessive worrying about Taryn had much to do with the strange relationship I had with my father. Of course he loved me, but having taken seven years to enter this world at a time of great uncertainty in Ceylon and with us moving to Hong Kong with nothing for us there, my father always seemed more interested in how I was doing and, later on in life, constantly asking if I was a “Hong Kong dollar millionaire”.
It’s why I loathe people talking about making money and then more money without realising that you can’t take it with you. But I definitely inherited my father’s insecurities, which no doubt had a bearing on my relationship with Taryn. I can’t blame her for being her mother’s daughter as I was probably more of an elder brother than capable of playing the role of a father. Fatherhood in the traditional sense wasn’t a role I was prepared to play. I was the cool dad. The problem with Cool is keeping it in check along with ego.
I became even more cool when the ad agency I worked for won the McDonald’s business, and meeting the person who would be my first mentor- Keith Reinhard. Keith was the head of Creative with the worldwide ad agency for McDonald’s. We first met when he came to Hong Kong to oversee our first McDonald’s shoot. He’s pictured below with Trina.
With Keith’s support, I rose through the ranks, learnt about marketing, understood the McDonald’s business back to front and with the local ad agency now being part of the powerful multinational DDB, it offered me the opportunity to create award winning work for very different clients that took me to Chicago, New York and Amsterdam. And with my freelance writing, Trina and I had the opportunity to meet some of the greats in music- Herb Alpert, Peter Frampton, songwriter Jimmy Webb, and Taryn going on the set of “Bad” and being carried by Michael Jackson. For me, meeting Quincy Jones, below, right after he had finished producing “Thriller” was much more than an interview. It was an education.
Back in Hong Kong, things were unraveling fast. While in LA, I suffered a terrible bout of depression after being prescribed what was then a new anti depressant on the market- Ativan, the same drug that was to lead to the suicide of singer-songwriter Chris Cornell.
For the first time, I saw Trina panic. My mind was racing like trains heading in all directions. I felt my head was going to burst and how, if it did, what would happen to Trina and Taryn. This made my anxiety worse until the mind told itself to settle down. But I was always waiting for that next anxiety attack. The solution: more and more self medication. Whatever gets you through the night…Depression is a bitch and we hide her well.
Like The Night Of The Long Knives, the start of The Days Of The Long Lunch had begun and it had a huge impact on my life, lifestyle and personal life.
It was de riguer for creative types to drink. And discover the underbelly of life. Apparently, it made us more creative. As the head of creative at DDB, I had to show leadership in this role by partaking in this lifestyle. It was something I had refused to do. But temptation is a dark mistress…
From the first Long Lunch with seasoned drinkers of bottles of red when I had to be taken home blotto and was forgiven by Trina, long lunches became easier and easier- so easy that I would take the whole creative team out to the restaurant in the same building as our office called Landau’s supposedly to brainstorm. These became a heady mix of some good ideas before everything kicked in and it was time to see where to go for dinner. Thus began a one way ticket into the abyss with Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hide. One was with everyone and no one.
With my obsessive personality, The Long Lunch became binges without thinking how it was impacting my marriage or being a good father. On the good days, I would take Taryn to filming and recording sessions, sometimes feature her in commercials and even have her sing on jingles. It was my way of giving her confidence and shedding any shyness to become a stronger person. But she was just a little person and maybe I wasn’t allowing her to enjoy her childhood. I think about it, but what’s done is done. Constantly looking into the rear view mirror stops anyone from moving forward. Instead, it’s a series of U-turns and taking yet another guilt trip.
My mind is changing course again
It always heads back your way
My heart is beating faster than a
roller coaster drum
It’s chasing after all those romantic days
A time when nothing else mattered
Except for you and me
When no one else came in the way
There was no one else with that second key
To be continued…
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