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Bruce Clark Bares All at the Launch of Love, Sex, Fleas, God

Christine and Bruce Clark

Bruce Clark’s groundbreaking memoir, Love, Sex, Fleas, God: Confessions of a stay-at-home dad, was launched at Novel Books in Johannesburg yesterday morning. Audience members expecting to hear familiar tales of sleepless nights, formula and nappies, were instead treated to anecdotes around Clark’s “three topics”: Thank you, Six inches, and Jack.

Bruce ClarkLove, Sex, Fleas, GodClark began with the “Thank you”, thanking his wife, Christine, for supporting him through the two years he spent upstairs with the door closed, working on the book.

Clark said, “when you finish a book, the work of it begins. You press enter and send it to the publisher and every word that you have written gets pushed through the eye of a needle. In fact, it gets pushed through several needles with smaller and smaller eyes.” After this process of criticism and refinement, Clark was given the first proof copy and he phoned his wife and said, “Babe, it’s here,” and the plan was put into action. Clark took care of the children and Christine checked herself into a hotel with red wine and dark chocolate and read the book.

At the “big reveal” at the hotel breakfast the next morning, after the kids had been dropped at school, Christine picked up a bread plate and said, “Babe this is six inches. If I had dilated six inches, Angus would have crawled out by himself. It was six centimetres.”

Clark then went on to discuss Jack, a car guard who was the catalyst for Love, Sex, Fleas, God being written. Clark said, “about fifteen or twenty years ago when I was single and had an infinite amount of time I would get my daily fix by going to Emmerentia Dam and paddling in a canoe.” He parked in the same place every afternoon and one day he parked in his spot and found an old shaking man, smelling of alcohol, guarding that spot that he had been parking in all those years. Clark said, “It irritated me and, from that moment on, Jack and I had a hideous feud”.

Clark revealed, “I must have done something very wrong to Jack in a past life because I treated him very badly and I think you treat people really badly if you have done something to them, I think that is a manifestation of something that you do yourself. I was incredibly rude to this man. I tried to run Jack over for about five years, I would stomp on his toes and just miss him as I left and grumpily go home thinking why do I have to give this man every charity, I had been parking my car here for years and incidentally I had lost two cars on Jack’s watch”.

Clark’s attitude towards Jack began to change when he married Christine. One day he took his children to the dam and Jack started talking to them. Clark noticed how good Jack was with children and, for the first time in ten years, he started talking to Jack. Over the next few years, Jack became his friend. Clark started listening to Jack’s story – he had an alcoholic daughter who had two children and he was supporting them with the small change that Clark had been reluctantly giving him or sometimes not giving him.

One day, Jack had a heart attack near the dam and Clark realised how much he missed him. He wrote an e-mail to the canoeing group that he runs (it has about seven or eight hundred people in it) telling this story. One of the canoeists, Pieter Malan, had recently moved to Cape Town to assume a position an editor at Rapport. He asked Clark to write an article, which was translated and published in Afrikaans. There was an amazing response from the readers and Clark was asked to write several more articles.

Frederick de Jager, a friend of Malan’s and former publisher at Umuzi, contacted Clark and he told de Jager his story over coffee. De Jager advised Clark to write a non-fiction account of being a stay-at-home dad. Clark started with the ending but then his inspiration disappeared. He began to look back at why he was a stay-at-home dad – he could not get a job, because he was not properly educated which, in turn, was because he was raised by a zealous Scientologist mother who did not believe in formal education.

The book eventually morphed into part novel, part non-fiction and, as Clark delved deeper into the self-pity and anger that had consumed his earlier years, the first part popped into his mind: “This book is not about self-pity, not in a country full of angry people, is it about anger”. He had the beginning and the ending and knitted them together. Clark revealed how, if he had written the book when he was a child, it would have been about hope. If he had written it as a young adult, it would have been full of seething rage. Luckily, he did not write the book until now and, for that reason, it is a simple story about the cathartic power of love.

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