The story of my dadWhat is he hiding? I have never known and of course I have wondered about it often because he is the man most like me. I know what I am hiding because I have gone and looked for it but it has never illuminated for me who he is.
I wonder whether it should be what is he hiding from that I should ask. I do not believe it is darkness though, and I know I hide from darkness. I think he is afraid of the light. I think that if he could, he would live in a burrow, where nothing could make him feel anything at all, where nothing real could disturb his imagination. He was never happier than hidden away in his room, defeating the computer at whatever game was his current passion, or deep in a book in front of the TV.
I found it interesting that he studied history but the history he was studying was mainly constructed from lies. He studied the Greeks, who lied, and not modern history (I mean that he was most interested by that, not that he has never read any modern history).
Am I wrong to believe that he is hiding from love?
When I was small, he loved me passionately, and I am afraid to think too much about it, because it recalls for me the passionate love I have for my own son. I fear its dissolution, that I will not love mine if he is something other than the boy I picture. I know that I find thwarted expectation unbearable. Does he too? Is that why he will not put skin in the game?
Some time ago, when I was more confident about who I am (I mean who I was then), I begged him to tell me more about himself, to confide in me about his own father, to make me more real by becoming more real himself. But he would not or could not, I don't know which. He said he had never known his father, which is true. He knew him as a small child and briefly when he met him when he was grown, when his father was as utterly a stranger to him as a man he had never met at all. I imagine he imagined I was seeking something special, something memorable, a fantasia of father and son that simply did not exist. I did not. I wanted to know the mundane details, the things that seemed meaningless to him. I wanted to know how he felt.
I feel as though he is a stranger to me. It disconnects me from myself, to be so rootless. Unmoored. I often think of myself as someone who has no tethering to the world, emotionally stateless. I sometimes believe I have no other real emotion than rage that I exist, that I am who I am. It is easy to tell people you do not love yourself but close to impossible to explain how that feels, what it means concretely. I am not able to describe abstractions because, I think, they involve faith, and I am entirely devoid of faith in anything. I roleplay faith; I play a game in which I have it, yet it is entirely hollow. If I had to inspect it, I would find nothing there.
Do I believe he is more complex than he is? I do not believe that. I think he is as complex or as simple as I am, and each is a true description, depending on what angle you view him from.
I am afraid that he will die without my ever knowing him. I want it to be enough that I have never questioned my love for him and never will. He earned it when I was that small child, although earning it makes it sound much more transactional than it was. There was a process that did not have structure, in which he became the person I loved more than any other in this world. I do not understand that process. It is of course no longer true. I know that he would not mind that it isn't. He would expect me to love my children more fiercely than I could ever love him. I know that because I know that he and I are more similar than we are different.
I have to write this because it is the only way I will ever know him. I know he will never have a way to be present for me, to become real; I sometimes feel sad because it is my belief that he was robbed of it.
I will never diminish my belief that he is a good man, even if I must redefine good so that it includes him. I will do that because my love for him has not perished and will never perish. I will cherish him until I am gone because something in me, I don't know what it is, holds firmly to honour, and that is how I honour him.
I feel sorry that I am not the son he believed in. If I could relive my life, I believe I would simply become that man because ultimately nothing else really matters. Only our love for each other. Only that, I cannot subscribe to any other religion. When I read about Chinese people and their notion of filial piety, I understand that they have merely formalised something I understand intuitively.
I like to tell the tale of how my dad taught me to chase women. As far as I know, he is as useless with women as I am. But his advice has, I hope, stood me in good stead, although I haven't always been able to follow it.
He was drunk, I seem to remember, which was quite rare for him. He likes a drink but I seem to recall that he is not good at it. I can well remember his coming home from a work do, where he had drunk heavily, on a moped. His story of how he had fallen off on a roundabout made me laugh my arse off. He said a car had stopped and the driver had got out to ask him how he was. Piss off, Jack, he had cried, remounted his steed and somehow made it home. You probably had to be there. My dad's "funny voice" is truly funny.
So he took me into his room. I was downcast because some young thing was breaking my heart. I did not have the balls to ask her out (often the case in my teens). My dad looked at me with the deepest pity. I'd say contempt, but to be honest, he only really has contempt for people who are full of shit. I've never known him express it for people who are honest but misguided.
When you're chasing women, he said, putting on his I am wise voice, there's only one thing to do.
I leaned forward. Finally, my dad was going to give me "the talk". I was to receive the family wisdom. I was beyond eager.
His eyes tried to focus but they were well beyond his control. He looked like he was on the verge of collapse. He nodded. This would not just be wisdom. It would be a deep secret of manhood. Only now, drunk, uninhibited, could he share it. It felt like I was experiencing a moment of the deepest bonding.
Talk to them and don't be a cunt, he said.
I'd like to dedicate this to Don. I think he too strives to be a good man, and striving is good enough for me. When he wrote about his dad, he reminded me that we are, above all and endlessly, sons, whatever else we are.