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About My Father

I am waiting for the death certificate; waiting because I want to believe that there was something physical that changed my father's brain chemistry. I want to believe that maybe he had a syndrome, toxins from liver disease or some problem on the foetal alcohol spectrum, something that explained the way he was.

A few months ago, it occurred to me that Dad might be afraid of some huge accounting ledger in the sky. He was brought up a Roman Catholic. Some time ago, he told me that he had done some 'very bad things.' So I sent him a note to tell him that if he was worried about such stuff he didn't owe me a thing; that I was having a grand life, and I thanked him for the gifts he gave me. I was honest - said I couldn't speak with regard to Mum and my brother - but on my own account, he had no worries. So we are done and no ill exists between us. His second wife told me that this made him very happy.

Once upon a time, there was a boy born in wartime Glasgow. His family were poor and drunk, uneducated, very Catholic. The boy was going to be a priest, passed his exorcism exams, saw 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, decided he couldn't be a priest ('I had no idea such underwear existed in all the world!') He ended up joining the forces. One story is that he did something quite wrong, and was given this as an optional alternative to prison, but I have only heard that very recently, and don't know how true it was.

He was an arrogant, clever, charming, bold, quick-witted, quick-tempered golden haired boy. He liked to jive, he liked to read, he liked to blag and tell stories. All his days I never saw him show anything other than very great kindness to animals, helping them in need, including Blackie, a kitten he rescued from a gang of children who were pulling out its whiskers. He was a fearless individual, possibly too angry to be afraid of anything. When I was a baby, crawling over his sunday papers, Mum tried to remove me, and Dad said, 'Let her read,' possibly the most formative words of my life.

He introduced me to Puckoon, to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, to poetry, to Spike Milligan and Billy Connolly. He loved words and he loved that I loved words.

After the RAF he began working on the oilfields as they were developing, the great pipelines through Saudi and the middle east, through Russia and other places; he worked in deserts and lived in soviet blocks, and life was dull and hard for him, and he smoked/drank/ran off with mistresses unendingly, but he made loads of money, enough to buy cars as he liked, and holidays as he liked and anything he liked. I don't think he ever heard the word 'No,' after he reached the age of 28. He was unstinting and overwhelming in his generosity. He paid for university for me, and always encouraged me to learn.

He either changed, or we became aware of the dangers of him. His temper grew worse and worse. He was cruel of word and deed, and broke hearts and minds many times over.

He would shriek for no reason, desperate to find something at which to be angry. I laugh at any woman who is anti-feminism; a couple of years of my father demanding that all his shirts be hand-washed every night, ironed and ready for choice in the morning, each night a cacophony of a man screaming abuse having checked the house to see if there was anything at all he didn't like, and on finding nothing, making something up... then make that a couple of decades... one would either turn into a battler, or, if one had any tendency to mental disease that could be triggered by extreme stress, become very ill. And my mother became ill.

She would hide in my bed behind me. He would burst into my room. 'Pathetic,' he would growl, and go away. Sometimes she would push me towards him to say nice things to him and kiss his cheek and persuade him to relax so that he would be kinder to us all. I hated having to do that, and I began to hate them both. He was toxic, racist, sexist, homophobic, drunk, sneering, hate-filled... And after I left home, my mother told me of domestic attacks, of being dragged down the street by her hair, of being humiliated constantly, of so much stuff. She finally left when she was afraid that he was going to leave a permanent reminder of his anger on her face. She was very afraid by then, and the paranoia which has become her life's signature was manifest, though it had its roots in real experience. Who could stay sane in such a household?

We were all touched by the insanity, the unreality of our home. Mum didn't treat him like a bullying angry small town drunk. She treated him like some powerful devil, who couldn't be fought or disempowered, always lucky, always favoured, always winning, always lying. It was like catnip to his ego. I was the one who told him 'No.' I was the first to fall out of love with my dad, and I became as dragonish as he was, because he only respected strength. If he wanted war, he could have war every day of the week from me; I was younger, very angry, vicious of wit, and not easy to tire. Time came when he did not want battle with me. When I was little he told me that by the time he had finished with me, I would fear nothing. That didn't quite work, but he taught me some ability to face up I guess, and that's worth having. Don't think he ever meant me to be able to turn it on him, but that's the way it goes, being a tyrant's daughter. He respected it.

After long and protracted difficulties, they divorced. He could no more live without a servant than without oxygen, and married his housekeeper. They had a girl, 5 months premature, severely disabled with cerebral palsy, and possibly because this little one was so in need, or perhaps because his new wife's family were close by and he was accountable, his bad behaviour modified. His mood swings were very extreme, but he had chickens and cats and dogs, and I think he tried.

Examples of him; Once, when my brother was a teen coding for the father of a friend, Dad got furious and threw his PC down the stairs. But when Dad learned that the same friend had never had garlic in her life because her mother was allergic and couldn't abide the smell in her house, he took out said friend to a place that served excellent garlic prawns and bought her a meal of them. They were delicious and she stuffed her face.

We are, all of us, contradictions and opposites. When he was drunk, he would sit me down and coach me in questions about Christianity. At one point, he told me that this world belongs to the devil. 'How else could the devil have offered Christ the world if only he knelt down and worshipped him?' Asked my dad.

'Because the devil lies?' I answered back, like a good little girl. He chuckled at me.

Did I love the man I knew?
I don't think so. Actually for a long time I hated him, and often wished he didn't exist. But I grew older and more gentle. And his lessons, however horrible, were worth learning.
Truth is, Dad wasn't going to be invited to my wedding next year, just in case the old nightmare returned, and I can't be sorry for that; I don't regret it. He and I both knew what he was like. His presence would mean drama.

But I recall or half dream of the golden haired man so full of adventure and spark, so funny, so in love with books and life. I think of the boy who used to take the Waverley (was it a train or a paddle steamer?) to the beauties of Tighnabruaich. He loved it there. He loved the islands and the seas. He was a boy of imagination, maybe of my imagination. I loved something of the man once, but what it was or how real it was I just don't have the wisdom to know. I don't know what breaks us and bruises us til we become distorted images of ourselves, but whatever it is, it need not enslave us. If there is a god judging you, Dad, s/he will know there's no need on my account. Without sentiment or pretending you were something you were not, we wipe the slate clean, you and me.

I don't think I ever knew the real you. But for all that has happened, you were a foundation of my understanding. I wish you atonement if your soul requires it, and may kindness, justice and your God go with you thoughout eternity.

Bye Dad x


A Cranhill Teddy Boy


In the RAF


Mum and Dad


Bro, Dad, Me, Imagining


Dad Grown Old

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
nyarbaggytep
Oct. 8th, 2015 12:15 pm (UTC)
Beautiful.
smokingboot
Oct. 8th, 2015 12:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you Cam X
romney
Oct. 8th, 2015 04:22 pm (UTC)
That was... complicated. And a piece of prose that was a disturbing delight to read. That you for sharing his life, and so much more of your own.

> he told me that by the time he had finished with me, I would fear nothing.

He now has finished with you. Was he in fact right?



Edited at 2015-10-08 04:22 pm (UTC)
smokingboot
Oct. 9th, 2015 06:49 am (UTC)
Thank you.
I know it sounds strange, but I am glad you enjoyed it - In a way, I think Dad would too. On the one hand, he might be very angry at people knowing what he was like, but on the other, no-one loved a story more, and he has become quite a story.

About fear, I don't know. I left the School for Psychopaths before my finals, even though I was the headmaster's daughter! But he certainly helped me to avoid fear as a default paralysis, among other things. For that I have every reason to thank him.
november_girl
Oct. 8th, 2015 11:00 pm (UTC)
What a lovely, balanced, tribute.

You may already have seen this, but https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PS_Waverley might have been his way to Tignabruich

Also, Billy Connolly is playing at the Hammy O in January. I was thinking of going. Would you like to come?

xx

smokingboot
Oct. 9th, 2015 06:53 am (UTC)
Thank you so much!
I think it was!

So there were these fields in or near Glasgow, where they would catch the train/bus to the Waverley, or they got onto the Waverley there... and from there to Tighnabruaich. I think this must have been the steamer!

These fields are where he wanted his ashes to be scattered. His second wife told me the name of the place but I can't remember.

I would love to come see Billy with you, though much of January will be spent in Oz. Have you fixed on a date?
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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