I am a little in love with Buddy Franklin. On TV I watch him playing for the Swans, his magnificent body and little-boy face. I love the way he marks the ball with his wondrous flying reach—he is a Nureyev, a Nijinsky, leaping across his football stage. I love the way he looks up at the big screen to see himself after he’s kicked another goal, so young, so sweet. And the tattoos on his arms; he is a living gallery, a tattooed titan.
Of course I don’t know Buddy any better than you. I do know his name is Lance, not Buddy. I also know he suffers from a mental illness in one of its many forms. Until recently this was a secret.
On national television, he is a football hero, and yet the real Buddy, the real Lance, lives somewhere away from the screen. Somewhere safe, I hope, with people who love him, and help him, because we all need help and if you’re that much of a star it must be very difficult not to lose yourself in the fantasy of what people want you to be instead of who you are.
I live in a suburb where we keep our secrets hidden inside big houses and behind high fences, and instead of tattoos, people decorate their bodies in designer clothes, gold and diamonds and pearls. To my surprise, it is an armour-plated shield, just perfect for secret-keeping.
In my street, there is a man with a bossy wife who I know was raised by a mother and aunt—his father died, or skedaddled, when he was young—interesting how that skedaddled word has ‘dad’ right in the middle, sitting there like a secret.
In this age of single mothers, it is not politically correct to say that boys need fathers as well as mothers, but I was a single mother, and my mother before me, so I think that gives me some authority to speak my truth on single mothering. Boys just long for the love of a father. If we did more talking about boys and their need for a father’s love, boys would grow into more comfortable men and be a lot better off.
Secrets have a way of getting out. According to our local secret whisperer, there is another man in our street, recently estranged from his mother. It happened after his father died—and what does that say about grief and sons needing fathers? Apparently this man told his mother that he’d hated her every single day of his life and they’ve not spoken since.
Did he hate her when she changed his dirty nappy? Did he hate her when she held his hand on his first day of school? Who knows. He is obviously angry and grief stricken, and who better to dump all that anger on than a mother? They can take it. Mostly.
But angry words can easily get stuck on the surface and it’s often hard to see the secret grief beneath. This estranged man is getting fatter. He is trying to eat his secret away. And although he daily dons his designer running gear, he can’t seem to get rid of the fat and anger and grief.
The best thing to do with secrets is to give them some air. Once they’re out of their hiding places, they stop being shameful and they lose their secret power. But how to balance disclosure with privacy? The media machine can be a vicious, non-caring monster. No wonder Buddy is one person on the football field and another in his life as Lance. Perhaps we all are, in our own ways.
I would like to be less secret about a lot of things which is probably why I write fiction where my secrets are given to my characters. I am not nearly as brave as Buddy who has disclosed the secret of his illness.
I suspect a lot of people now look at that big man on the footie field and think: Mental illness? If Buddy has it that makes it an ordinary everyday illness—which, of course, it is—and not a shameful secret that has to be kept hidden.
It takes a lot of courage to let our secrets out. Buddy Franklin has that sort of courage. It’s another reason why I’m a little in love with him.
Go Buddy! Go Swans!