On tough shit and real shit

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:

  1. 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?
  2. Do not disparage, bitch or whine about the other parent to the kids. Just… Don’t. OK?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

You’d think.

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.


17 responses to “On tough shit and real shit

  • wombattwo

    Oh my. I just don’t really know what to say to all that. Except that for someone who does believe in God, and has a reasonable relationship with him, I can honestly say that the church (in fact most organised religion) has got a heck of a lot to answer for. And some acknowledgement and apologies of and for the truly disgusting and evil things that so-called “men of God” have done (war, child abuse, role in the – hmm, not sure how to put this – propagation of the HIV epidemic (?), I could go on…) would not go amiss. Even if that would just be a start.
    Sending hugs, and really hope your Uterus of Doom behaves better in the next year too. x

  • a

    Apologies are most definitely necessary – to all who were directly affected and to all who have had faith in anything that has been destroyed by these actions. I am not a fan of organized religion, although I was raised Catholic.

    On another note…I know it’s really hard to do, but at a certain point you just have to give in and accept that your father is who he is and he will never be who you want him to be. (I have similar general issues with my mother) There are surely things about him that are lovable (indomitable spirit? Vaguely amusing pigheadedness?) as well as the things that must be accepted as part of the landscape. Once you adjust your expectations properly, you will never (OK, rarely) get angry with him. It just requires a certain level of detachment from the most unpleasant behavior – you don’t have to accept it or even be silent about it, you just have to separate it from your emotional reactions. Good luck – every girl is a Daddy’s girl on some level.

  • QoB

    They really do have a lot to answer for, don’t they?
    I think Sinéad O’Connor puts it well in this letter: http://www.sineadoconnor.com/

    I have a friend who has achieved a level of zen about his alcoholic father (who also pulls the first part of #4 on a regular basis) that is remarkable: mostly I think he’s quietly impressed that his dad has managed to survive so long. It is possible, if heartbreaking, to get to that place where you can love him and enjoy him but no more.

  • twangy

    It’s heart-breaking to think what your father went through. And so sad that he couldn’t offer you support now, whether these two things are related or not.
    I’ve had reason to think about this too. It’s strange that by the time you become of an age to talk to your father as an equal, take him to task, so to speak, he’s become an old man, and you have nothing to do but be glad he’s there at all.

  • Heather

    It is heart breaking. Especially that he has carried it around with him all these years. No wonder his spine is breaking under the weight of those secrets…

    I’m so sorry.

  • Womb For Improvement

    I went cold reading this. I cannot comprehend the level of suffering your dad has endured, and how this has impacted on his whole life. But also it does not detract from his pain to acknowledge that you too have been dealt a very tough hand – albeit wildly different circumstances. There isn’t a Top Trumps for this, and maybe he will never be the right person to go to for the support you need but you still deserve it.

    Take care, May.

  • Ben Warsop

    Just posting to say that I’ve read this (dammit, but you can write, woman), and that you get it all, so comprehensively, overtones, undertones, nuances and all, so there’s not anything left for me to say.

    Poor all of you.



  • mrs spock

    I was raised Catholic and have been a heretic since age 13-14 as well- for reasons such as this. I grew up in a very Catholic neighborhood, and the sainted neighbors shunned my mother after she left her schizophrenic husband. And refused to let their children play with us.

    Never mind the local priests who molested children I grew up with.

    My mother has always equated birth control with abortion, and I have always scandalized her by telling her that if God wants me to have a baby every year for 20 years, like her mother and grandmother did, then God can bite me.

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    Tired, diarrhoea-stricken and overwrought.

    But had to say summat.

    What Ben Said.

  • manapan

    All I have to offer are hugs. And bail money, should it come to that.

  • red79

    It is a terrible thing what these boys suffered..but the other side of it is the women that suffered under the hands of Nuns. For some reason there is very little said about it, but it has happened as well. There needs to be big. big changes made, and there needs to be apologies made to ALL that suffered. So many innocent boys and girls whose lives have been ruined. Makes me to mad to speak at times. I hope your Dad eventually finds peace xx

  • Korechronicles

    It is a hard, hard world and always has been. We can’t think about it too much or we’d all stay buried under the doona and never get up to face it, as we do daily. Well, I wouldn’t.

    My Dad died 21 years ago after ignoring such obvious symptoms of diabetes that I was able to diagnose it six months earlier without benefit of medical training of any kind. I was never able to establish an adult relationship of any kind with him and that fact fills me with shame and regret.

    I have come to accept that the parents you get can be like the birthday gift you did not want. You have to say “Thank you” and accept that they have done the best they could with what was available to them at the time, where they were. A physical disability is obvious to everyone and we make allowances. An emotional cripple is much harder to know and understand…somehow we feel it is all our fault.

    Think I’d better stop now. Hugs all round, lots and lots of them. And a severe finger wagging at that deranged Uterus of yours.

  • Solnushka

    Well, I cried.

    It is utterly bloody that religious institutions are not exempt from the rule of it never being a good idea to let group A have too much control over group B, especially since religion is particularly suited to setting up such situations.

    My opinion of your Dad has gone up quite a bit though; I’m impressed because he has waited so long to tell you. I mention this as he is someone who comes across as being exceptionaly self centred, and this does show quite a high degree of concern for your protection, and I am glad he is capable of that.

    Because poor little boy. Poor you and your family too.

    It did occur to me to say also, though, that if you are feeling the least guilty for ever being irritated beyond measure by some of the less helpful things your Dad has done, your shouldn’t be. There’s a difference between excusable and understandable. For me, understandable is quite important though, and so although I’m glad he waited, I’m glad he told you before it was too late.

    I also agree, mind, that actually, your super special snowflake status is pretty much intact regardless of what happened to your Dad. It’s unpleasant all round. *big hug*

  • L.

    Another ditto for Ben and Womb for Improvement at the same time. Mostly I am left speechless. After some thought I think that misery isn’t a zero-sum game, and it’s a shame, one we might largely but not entirely put upon those priests, that your father seems to feel otherwise.

    Families are rarely perfect but it’s not out of the ordinary to hope they’d listen to you and feel for you during very difficult times. I’m so sorry he isn’t able to do that for you. You have my deepest respect for trying so hard to make that connection.

  • Betty M

    I’ve been reading and rereading this post over and over again trying to think of something to say. Much of what your Dad is reminds me so much of my father in law – the alcoholism, the self centeredness, the behaviour post divorce, the super special snowflakeness, the inability to behave like a Dad to his children who despite the fact that he had been a grade A shit throughout their lives still love him BUT then the punch in the guts of what happened to your father and all my initial thoughts were rendered invalid. So now I am dittoing Solunushka and Ben. X

  • Valery

    I was so shocked reading this that I said something to my partner. His reaction? “Maybe it is not true”
    more shocked. Maybe I’m not the king of denial I thought I was. Then the newspaper this morning had a two page piece about ‘misremembering’ abuse.
    So sorry this world is not the sunshiny place we want it to be.
    thinking of you.

  • thalia

    How absolutely bloody awful for your dad. What did his parents think was going on? And why the hell did they send him to that school in the first place? Strikes me the dodgy parenting goes back at least one more generation than what you had to endure.

    But, and this is important, the pain olympics are bullshit. What you are dealing with, and have dealt with, is your own personal hell. It’s not better or worse than what your dad went through. It’s different, and awful, and yours. Please don’t get sucked into that competition thing.

    Thinking of you both.

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