I hadn’t seen my Dad since February. This is normal, he does, after all, live a Very Long Way Away. But we haven’t been communicating much either (this is also normal. For us, at least. We’re a tad dysfunctional, as families go. We can all happily not talk to each other for months. Happily? Maybe not happily. How would we know if each other was happy with it? We’re not communicating. Ha).
My Dad is not hugely well. He’s, what, 65? and he has smoked since he was 14, and drunk too much since he was 17. He has been in several car-crashes. He had ulcers for years until someone noticed the little fuckers respond to antibiotics. Now he has angina and arthritis, and all his old fractures play up in the cold, and he is in pain most days. We know he is, because he tells us so. Every hour or so. And then he complains that the doctors told him to give up smoking and stop drinking every damn night, stupid doctors, what do they know? And as I am well past the age of coming back from school in tears because the teacher said we had to tell our parents smoking was BAD and turned your lungs black and she’d clearly never met my Dad… I nod and grimace sympathetically.
My Dad is also one of the toughest, most contrary little sods on the planet. On being told his heart was damaged and his back screwed, he got dogs and took to yomping up mountains in his spare time. When we arrived at The Parental Mansion (no. It’s a cottage), he was building a stone wall single-handed. On his knees. And it is certainly this bloody-minded testing of his battered person to its freakin’ limits that is keeping his muscles strong enough to support his crumbling spine, and his heart tough as old leather despite the abuse he has heaped upon it, poor beleaguered organ. However, one fine day he’ll be heaving split logs about or some such and he’ll snap in half. Like celery.
As you may have gathered, my general attitude towards him is one of mingled affection and exasperation.
And then there’s history. He and my Mum divorced when I was five or six. After which time, my mother spent years and years scraping along the borders of serious financial hard-ship on a farm with no heating, and, for a while, no electricity or running water either, and my Dad got a cushy well-paid job and a cushy well-off new wife back in the big city. And Parents! If you do get divorced, there are certain things you must not do, for the sake of the sanity of the children. And my parents, all of them, to be fair, did these things:
- Do not use the children as go-betweens. Especially not when being hostile or asking for money. It never works, the kid is miserable and ashamed and cries, and then you get to have a humdinger of a row via telephone anyway. Why not cut out the middle-man?
- Do not disparage, bitch or whine about the other parent to the kids. Just… Don’t. OK?
- Do not accuse the other parent of keeping the maintenance money for fags and booze. Not in front of the kids, anyway. Scares them shitless and makes them feel unloved. Especially when they’re being sent to school in hand-me-downs of advanced decreptitude and ridiculousness and their half-siblings are being sent to school in fucking taxis.
- Do not tell the kid you’re still in love with the other parent and it’s the other parent who wanted the divorce. Especially when you’re the one who was banging the other parent’s friends in the kitchen on the rare weekends you came home at all.
Anyway, we’re all grown-ups now and it was all a long time ago and we’ve all passed a lot of water since then.
Dad managed to pull every single one of the above-listed stunts on this last visit. He and my mother have been divorced for 30 years. They’ve both remarried. They’ve both remarried twice. And had more children. And yet, from somewhere, my Dad drags up much bitterness, most of it unworthy of him and hypocritical in the extreme (especially the bit about money, given that when he was well-off and we were dirt-poor, my mother was raising his children). I think he was drunk. I hope he was drunk.
Meanwhile, in the present day, Dad is also being, well, himself, about my health and welfare. His latest stunt is to grill H, who nobly stands forth and said, well, yes, RM clinic with The Professor, so we’re more hopeful, but May has been quite depressed about all the miscarriages, you know (and once he phoned while I was lying in bed contemplating ripping my uterus out with my bare hands and setting fire to the bitch, and H pretty much said ‘well, you can’t really talk to May right now as she’s got her period and is pretty woozy on pain medication’, so he knows that’s an issue too). Dad then asks, yes, but how is she? and H, baffled, what with having given a pretty comprehensive answer, suggests Dad talk to me himself, whereapon Dad announces ‘Oh, I can’t talk to her, she never tells me anything,’ and waltzes off.
And doesn’t talk to me.
I decided I’d be all brave and sturdy, this visit, and bring up the matter of my Uterus of Doom (‘but I’m being terribly, terribly brave and not in the least a super special snowflake about it’ edition). Especially as Dad technically knew all this already, and does, after all, keep asking how I am.
The conversation was derailed thus:
Time the first, with the rant on my mother’s wicked, wicked ways, which made me so very fucking angry I announced through tight lips that I was very tired and going to bed and then I went to bed and totally failed to get any sleep.
Time the second, I was interrupted by a woeful tale about a close relation’s sudden diagnosis with a rather horrid chronic condition that will limit his mobility for, like, ever. After which, I was too preoccupied with thoughts of close relation to remember where I’d been going with this.
Time the third, apropos of the Anglo-Scottish succession (we’re geeks. We all are), Dad went into a looooooooong and completely unnecessary digression through how people used to lose babies ‘all the time‘ and ‘life went on‘ and ‘people just got on with it‘ while I sat there with my mouth open thinking ‘alas they still do‘ and ‘I fucking know it does, what?‘ and ‘what in buggery fuck do you think I’m doing if not getting on with it you giant arse?‘.
Fourth time, we had a mini-repeat of the ‘life goes on’ theme with chorus of a thousand teeny-tiny violins as he interspersed it with tales of his angina and vertebrae.
Fifth time, the fifth time, he broke my heart. You-all may know the Pope visited Britain last week. Naturally the airwaves and newspapers were awash with endless, endless burble and fudge all about it, and constant bringing-up of the child abuse cover-up scandals. On and on. Most upsetting. And Dad and I were talking alone together after dinner on the last night, and I was just saying how the past year had been really hard for me, when Dad, who clearly had not been listening, started to talk about his experiences at school – a Catholic school, for reasons too complicated and easily-identifiable to go into here. I had always known his school-days had been bloody awful. I mean, for a start he was Jewish, in the 1950s, in a Catholic school run by monks. I knew he had been beaten regularly, often for minor cheekiness. And I had guessed, and then pretended I hadn’t guessed, that it had been worse than that. Something Dad had said once hinted that some of the monks used to get visibly aroused when beating little boys.
Anyway, I knew very bad things had happened, that made Dad feel bitterly angry with all organised religion and especially Catholicism, and I knew Dad felt somehow ashamed of his school-days. And I tried not to think about it.
But Dad told me, last week. Not much, not in detail. But I know now. There’s no un-knowing it.
My poor Dad. That poor little lad, with his wild curly Jewfro and his smart mouth and his affectionate, happy-go-lucky heart. And his classmates. Boys between 12 and 16. Oh, God, in God’s name, they brutalised and abused them and made them over from children into broken men. Those that weren’t abused, knew what was being done to the others. They’d scheme to make sure that it wasn’t them next time, knowing it’d be another child instead. These men of God took away their innocence in so many, many ways.
(And no Pope, not the last one, not the current one, has actually apologised or acknowledged the Church’s part in covering up and perpetuating these crimes. It is very much just as well we were never in the same city as his Holiness on this trip, or this’d be a message from H begging you all to help post bail for me).
(I am an atheist and have been since I was 13 or 14. And I have never in my life been so angry at any faith, or at this God I don’t even believe in. I am so angry I think I will have an aneurysm if I don’t stop thinking about it. Which I can’t do. So, sorry, brain, nice knowin’ ya).
Anyway (she continued, inadequately), I think my father completely and utterly trounced me, Game, Set and Match, in the annual family competition of One-Downmanship (also known as ‘No, I’m The Snowflake’ and ‘It’s All About MEEEEEEEE‘). I was perfectly happy to award him the trophy anyway, on the grounds (completely alien to my family) that I didn’t actually want to have the crappiest life going. But this, this was spectacular. And, I don’t know, if my Dad needs to act like a giant dillweed over relationships, or be unavailable and petty, or not in control of his impulses, well, now, after this, I’m too tired to argue. And he’s probably been too damaged for too long to change now. And this makes me so very, very, sad and angry. For him, for the boy he once was, for everyone that loves him and is utterly maddened by him.
And then, as we were coming home, I got the news that the father of a friend of mine had just died. He was of the same age, and frankly the same disposition, as my Dad, and had died of, basically, being an idiot about his health all his life, as my Dad has been and is being.
I don’t know how to end this post. Just, I don’t think I have time to waste wanting Dad to be a Dad. I may, if I’m lucky, have just enough time to love him for being at all.