Dad

Herein is a piece of my life, some of it may make harrowing reading, and it may not be suitable for minors, or people of a sensitive disposition.  It’s about my Dad and my relationship with him, and as such is personal, but there may be lessons to be learned here.

My Dad died on 1st November 2005 after what I think was about a six month fight with Prostate Cancer.  He chose not to continue treatment, which was distressing for him, and he died in his own bed about 8 in the morning, as far as I know.

I’ll go backwards.  You need to know some things.  I’m called Friday because I changed my name, ALL of my names when I was 21.  It is who I am.

I last saw my father during a dash to Scotland, far northern Scotland where he was living with my Mum and my Uncle in an old mill.

My last words to him were “I love you Dad.”  It cost me, because I still do not know, even now if they were true words, but he was a dying man, and I knew well that I was seeing him for the last time, and I could not be so cruel as to make him believe that I did not.  I got a few minutes alone with him at the last, because my wife, as I was still married at the time, intervened with my family.  Until that point, I was not trusted, for reasons I have yet to discern properly, with him, to speak to him alone.  Maybe it was because of our history; for all the punches and kicks and beatings I endured as a child, I never backed down, never gave in, not once did I ever say or do the things he wanted me to simply because he wanted it.

Why would I say it, is it because I’m better?

We have a duty, I feel, to be better than our parents, our greatest gift should be to see our children surpass us; as in some important aspects my boys surpass me.  (For another time).

But no, not because I am better, I’m not sure I am; but because he reached out to me.  At the last I understood that he wanted me to be proud of him…

__________________

I learned to read by myself, essentially.  My father could not read and write, and my mother’s vision was so poor that she could not see anything I was reading; but these factors pale compared to the idea that I was a natural reader.  I started reading for myself at the age of 1½.  How do I know this to be true?  Because in those arguments that families have about what is right, the truth comes out, and the boasting Dad to the new wife of his eldest son was corrected by the realistic Mum, who said:-

“Don’t be foolish, Dad,” in the habits of parents a a generation ago, they often called each other this because it was a title as much as anything, “Don’t be foolish, no child reads at 1, he was six months older than that before he started reading off the jars.”

Naturally I investigated this; I could read most books by age 3, and newspapers, including broadsheets.  Apparently I was insatiable.  My vocabulary was broad, much broader than it is now, and I would even solve crosswords that my Mum who WAS very literate, could not solve.

My dad, in his dying days bade me look at his kitchen.  I didn’t get it, but he was insistent, he used up a great deal of strength to insist.  My wife made me go and look.

My father, who has been a lifelong car mechanic, a very good one, a sprayer, a body repairer; in fact a car restorer when the occasion called for it who was matchless in his attention to detail, his care and love of the vehicles he was working on, had turned in the last three years of his life into a master woodworker.  I have worked informally with such people, I know what to look for, even though I have not the skill to do it.

He built a new kitchen not from units and sections and chipboard covered with veneer; but with the care of an artisan making the doors and panels from Oak, raw Oak one step away from the tree.  In fact, when my Uncle showed me the raw material, it was still tree shaped, just cut into 4 inch thick planks and dried out.  My Dad and Uncle had made their own drying room and dried the Oak out in a year, rather than the four it should take.  (This is why hardwood is expensive, it must be kiln dried or air dried, if it is air dried then it takes about a year per inch of the thinnest dimension, but I’m not an expert, so YMMV).

He plumbed, rewired and built the entire kitchen from scratch, (it needed it, including floor), in six months.

I examined it, because I wasn’t sure what I was looking at.  It was the work of an artisan.

He made the bed he died in, in the same way.

This is a man who couldn’t read and write anything except his name.

I had surpassed him in this respect by the time I was three, in fact, by that time in literary terms I had surpassed every adult I knew.

So I was an arrogant little shit at times.  It might have been nice if I hadn’t felt so patronised all the time.

________

An aside.  I didn’t learn to write until I was 12, it took me nearly three agonising weeks to learn, and I count myself as semi-literate now because I barely write anything down in handwriting.  It’s an essential skill, but sorely neglected because we type and tap.  As a programmer and technophile I really do this, handwriting isn’t very valuable for me on a day to day basis.  When I need it though, I really need it.

________

I knew my Dad couldn’t read from age 3 and I was required to keep this knowledge a secret.  That was hard. It was an adult responsibility in the hands of a child, a child who knew things, (I knew where babies came from and how they were conceived from age four, Encyclopaedias are a great source of knowledge; what I didn’t know was the social complications involved in procreation, because I was too young to understand, or even know what I couldn’t understand when I read books about human social interaction and mores.

Dad was a control freak, and a very violent man, with a violent temper and a low frustration threshold.  (I have that, see me code, I’m easily annoyed by things that don’t work when I think they should).

He thought discipline came from a bloody good hiding, and wouldn’t take any lip from us.  Well, that wouldn’t do for me, I was at one and the same time a sensitive child but FULL of lip.  Because I knew stuff.

I was curious about the world I wanted to know everything, right now, and he was not well read, well educated, or patient enough to explain to a child what the world was doing.

And he was a big man, as a car mechanic he was stocky and his muscles has muscles.  He did things manually, including, on more than occasion picking up a Mini, yes, the car, and turning it around in a confined space.  Little wonder then that he had perennial backache.  I have seen him like up an engine with one hand, it was about to crush my Uncle because a chain failed, I have seen him catch a car that was about to fall off the end of a ramp, it was about to crush HIM.

It was with this strength and this anger that he “corrected” us.

BUT….

This was not his parenting failure, though it may seem strange to say it.  While the physical punishments were damaging, time softens these so that they are not the focus of memory and angst.

It was the possession.  We were, including Mum, HIS.  His chattel, his possessions; a position I never gave in to, and the cause of more of his anger and spite, and yes there was spite there too, than anything else.  The beatings meant nothing, I was not his possession and he could never understand that.

___________

This is a shame really, because it colours all of my memories of him, and poison my relationships with the rest of the family, wherein I don’t any longer have any contact with them, because they cannot accept who I am, my name, the way I dress, how my relationships are; and I cannot take the inevitable emotional damage any more, so I stay away.

And yet, I say, it is a shame, because I never went to his funeral, because I was barred, mis-trusted for I might “say the wrong thing, or harp on about the past”, so I never got that closure, and I never got to say the important thing, the thing that would have made it ok.

____________________________

My Dad was great artisan, his ability to turn his hand to anything that was mechanical, metal or wood or plaster, was matchless.  He wanted me to be proud of what he could do and in his dying days this was important to him; more important I think than anything.  He wanted me in particular to be proud because he saw that at the age of 3 I had surpassed him and it galled him because he was a proud man who wanted more than anything to be sufficient to anything as head of his household.  He told me, at the last, during those few private moments I had with him, that he was proud of me that I returned to study, (my undergraduate degree), that I was doing at last what I should always have done, that it was the right thing for me, and that he hoped it would go well.  I was proud of what he could do, irrespective of anything else, I was always amazed and awed at his skill.  I have never had those skills, (though I am “handy” and can do things that I would be able to, were I not his son), and I was always aspiring to be that person, the one people turned to because he knew things.

I know that despite his behaviour, my good opinion was the thing he waited for before he died.  I know now, that he loved his eldest son.

________________________________

I have left out many facts that might be considered pertinent and I shall not apologise for it; but you may wish to know that were essentially estranged since I changed my name, so for 20 odd years.  I saw him four times before his death, and on two of those occasions I left prematurely because the visits did not go well.

Leave a Reply