My sister once described me as the quintessential ‘love child’ which is truly hilarious when I think about it for I had a mother who was either frequently angry, indifferent or critical and who took pleasure in telling me that her problem was that she loved me ‘too much’
They parted ways with great acrimony only a day or so before my 10th birthday and even though both began a new life with someone else soon after and other children appeared; neither would or could ‘let go’ of the other and I became their weapon of choice in the ensuing fight, the symbol of their toxic union, the catalyst for that disastrous marriage.
As there has been so much angst, I could write my own definitive version of one of the longest novels ever published, the aptly titled War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy but as I have neither the time nor you the patience to wade through it; I will share a couple of gems with you from the family treasure chest.
My 16th birthday gift from my father was the court summons he served on my mother as he didn’t want to contribute another penny for my upkeep, even though I had yet to leave school and although he was humiliated in court, he remained true to his word and never did give me another penny – ever!
He couldn’t even dig into his pocket to buy me a gift on my wedding day.
Even though I hadn’t wanted him to share in my special day, I invited him and his wife as to have not done so would have caused my grandparents enormous pain and this was the last thing I ever wanted.
I can remember arriving to see my father standing there with a flower in his lapel but it wasn’t the Yorkshire Rose that I had arranged for him to wear but a different one and having asked his wife about it later that day; I was told that he had thrown my rose in the bin.
Or the time before my seventh birthday when he was driving us home at great speed and as my mother screamed at him to slow down, he took a corner too fast and my head head went crashing into the wall of the van which meant another visit to the hospital and stitches to my head.
I don’t remember very much about my childhood to the age of 9 but the memory of this painful head wound and my embarrassment at being sent home from school as the wound was still bleeding days later remains terribly vivid.
And how can I possibly forget the elaborate party he had wanted to arrange for my 18th birthday but with the caveat that my mother was not on the guest list and as she has never been one to miss any party, invite or not; her response was to tell me that she should never have had me and that I had ruined her life.
In my efforts at mediation, I remember that I gave them both my best ‘please sort this out for my sake’ kind of plea but it fell on deaf ears; my father cancelled the party and told me that I had been nothing but trouble to him throughout my entire life.
I can remember feeling so heartbroken after this birthday that I couldn’t bring myself to cut my ‘special’ coming-of-age cake until many weeks later.
It’s just as well I’ve never really been a fan of any birthday, particularly my own!
And although the hostilities would continue to wax and wane in the years after and if I found myself in their cross hairs; I would inevitably be accused of behaving ‘just like your mother’ or raged at for behaving ‘just like your father’, which was ridiculous as for most of the time, I didn’t even like either of them then why on earth would I want to be like them?
But was I some kind of ‘problem child’ who hung around a street corner drinking cheap cider when I wasn’t tormenting old ladies or putting a brick through a shop window for kicks?
It may have been easier to understand if I had been but no, I’d either have my head in a book while listening to music or else I’d be drawing flowers in my sketch book, enjoying a stroll through the old streets and cemeteries of York or whiling away the hours gazing at my favourite paintings in the art gallery.
I was also devoted to my grandparents and would enjoy a friendly natter over supper after school every week with his parents and tea, delicious cake and more friendly natter with her parents. They truly were my bulwarks during these difficult years and I adored them.
I once loved my parents very much but as neither took any care with that love, I knew I had no choice other than to move away physically and emotionally from both of them as soon as I could but as there would always be one more ‘get-together’, I’d find myself returning to the family fold against my instinct for a quiet life only to walk away time and again because of their infuriatingly selfish behaviour.
And now with the death of my father last year at the age of 68; I have found myself raking over the ashes of the difficult relationship I have had with them.
My mother is now infirm through ill health, exacerbated through years of alcohol abuse and as I believe that life really is too short for feelings of resentment and that everyone has the potential for change; our relationship underwent a huge seismic shift many years ago.
My father would never change in his attitude towards me and when in the summer of 2013, I realised that no matter what I achieved; it would never be good enough, I made the decision to finally walk away from this painful relationship but I never gave up hope that one day he would reconcile himself to the daughter I was and still am.
He died suddenly in the early morning of an August day and it was left to my niece to tell me by telephone that he had died and I wasn’t invited to the hospital to see him nor later that day at his home as my family gathered together united in their shock and grief.
How many times when someone has died do we rewind to that final conversation we had with them?
For since my father’s death, I have thought often about our last conversation on that cloudy summer’s day and how when it had ended and as I was walking away, I vowed that I would keep walking from him as far as I could.
And my transgression that day?
With my mother’s rapid spiral down into alcoholism, I had been travelling several days a week from my home over 30 miles away to check up on her, clean the house, make sure that the bills were being paid and stock up the fridge until it was time to call the doctor and request another hospital admission.
And yes, it would have been easier to have walked away as others had done but I simply could not bring myself to do it and as my brother who is a vulnerable adult was still living at home; the emotional ‘pull’ was that much greater.
I can remember the day so clearly when I had walked in to find that she had taken to her bed with a vodka bottle days before, leaving the house unlocked, the heating cranked on full, the place a total mess, my brother living on cheap sandwiches and my feelings of utter desperation and panic.
Later that morning and with a car full of groceries, I had a chance encounter with my father whose only response was to humiliate me for being such an idiot in helping my mother and I knew then as I walked away from him for the final time that I was indeed ‘an idiot’ for wasting my precious time on this parent so utterly devoid of compassion and understanding; for not only was I helping my mother, I was also helping my brother who was also his son!
He only gave my brother an hour of his time every week and yet, I was ‘the moron’ for trying to do all that I could to keep a roof over his son’s head!
I had thought of attending his funeral but as I discovered the details of it from the local newspaper, I knew that my presence was not needed and so I stayed away; which was just as well judging by the looks of pity I caught after the funeral on the faces of those who had known us both.
Even in the most primitive semblance; a funeral is the time in which ceremonial practice and belief are woven into a cultural rite to remember the dead in the best way possible but it can also be the day in which old scores are settled, the history of the deceased is ‘tweaked’ and the narrative of family history changes course – and so it was for me, worthy of only the briefest of mentions, an afterthought, a relic from another era.
I work two evenings a week in a local club which pays for the rent on my studio and keeps me in craft supplies and books and many of the regulars have known my father since childhood and of all who attended his funeral, only one found the courage to talk to me about it later on and I do not think that I will ever forget his kindness when he took me by the hand and told me that he was pleased for my sake that I had not been there.
I think the thing which has most troubled me about the death of my father, is that I have been left feeling so troubled by it as I had always imagined I would be indifferent to any news of him but how else to explain my sense of rage as if he has slammed the door in my face for the final time or that profound sadness about the beautiful and charming grandson he barely knew.
Or the black void in which all of my questions about my relationship with him have tumbled into and which are now swirling around like confetti, to be forever unanswered and I have to find my way through the ‘If only’ and What if’ on my own.
Searching for the truth I find
That I am running quite short of time
And I am no longer certain of my destiny
A few days ago I was reunited with some music from an old car and the first one I plucked from the plastic bag was About Time from Steve Winwood and as I played the first song, I was immediately thrown by the poignancy of the lyrics:
Searching for the truth
I found out what I thought would be
Peace of mind
Things that should’ve stayed the same
Are prone to change
Now I’ve seen a little light.
Do you know that I can’t even recall a single compliment ever received from my father and although he and I shared little in this life other than a love of the sea and an appreciation for music, I like to think that he also would have enjoyed listening to a Different Light:
And although it may have taken some time but the day before last when my mother finally found the courage to tell me what I had always suspected but had never dared to imagine which was that my father had never wanted me; I thought not of him, but of my dear grandmother who told me many years ago that her one regret had been to consent to the marriage of her daughter and how she had wished that she could have raised me instead.
I had overlooked a part of me
I was escaping my reality
I have questioned my philosophy
So that I could see the truth in me
Even though my father had been a dreadful parent to me; I know that he was not a ‘bad’ person and maybe in another time and place, he and I would have enjoyed a relationship free of resentment and hurt but when I glanced at the tributes posted on-line about the death of this ‘lovely man’ who was always ‘funny, warm and kind’, it’s as if I were reading about a stranger and I only wish that he could have found it in his heart to have been that ‘lovely man’ for me.
And now as I leave him to his rest, the poignant words of the poet William Wordsworth return to mind in which he writes: ‘We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.’ and what remains is me – living a life in the best way I can, remaining true to who I have always been and knowing that while his blood runs through my veins and that of my children; I will always be my father’s daughter and I must find a way of living with this.
Steve Windwood – Different Light from the album About Time (Wincraft Music/SCI Fidelity Records June 2013)