No, Goodbye. Really.

It’s the deaf folk that are the worst. They either can’t, or won’t hear anything you say. The most you’ll get out of them if you try talking is …

‘Eh?’

‘I said I have to be going, Granddad. I have a plane to catch.’

‘Ha ha ha. You’re funny. You really are, Harold.’ He flung his head so far back when he laughed that I literally thought his neck’d snap and his head would go rolling across the TV lounge of Rosedale Mount (warm and welcoming home, with luxurious social spaces). Luckily, it didn’t.

‘Hamish,’ I quietly corrected. Harold was my Dad. Easy mistake. We looked like each other if you squinted.

Granddad’s teeth fell out when he laughed. I don’t mean all the way out. Just to the bottom of his mouth. But it looked weird, like one of those people with really long gums that you see on TV just before thinking ‘how do they ever want to smile that much?!’

I had no idea why he was laughing but I didn’t have to because I knew him; and I really did have to go. The plane wasn’t going to be leaving for another three hours and I was only thirty minutes away from airport, but you know what they’re like at the check-in desk. It’s, like, you can literally see the plane on the other side of the window with the steps attached and you can see people walking up the steps, but they’re all, like ‘yeah, Mr Jenkins, you’re too late. You’ll have to catch the next flight.’ Useless to argue. Especially if you’re built like a brick shithouse like what I am. If I so much as sneeze too loud their eyes snap open and you can just tell they’re seriously thinking about reaching for that button to call security.

‘You’d want to go too if you were here.’ He said once he’d finished laughing and his face had fallen back into morose.

For once I knew what he meant. Care homes aren’t bad these days if you still have something about you. But Granddad had lost it. All of it. He couldn’t walk and his marbles were all over the place. I’d just sat for two hours and listened to him repeat his usual stories and I was amazed at how much he remembered. But, frick it was scattered. Listening to him was like finding a toe growing out of your armpit. Bits of him were in Shropshire, where he grew up; pieces on Moonbase Alpha, which was his favourite show on the box; then parts of him in the Yorkshire Dales where he did his labouring; but most of him was in the twilight zone, where he lived now. His mind was proper shot.

I got up and looked around to see if one of the attendants was hovering and could distract Granddad for a bit while I slipped away. Yeah, I know; cruel. But I’d been here before. Every Sunday in fact. This could turn into the longest goodbye ever if I didn’t get a grip. But instead, surprisingly, it was him that gripped me with a claw-like hand that didn’t look like it should have been capable.

He used to be a real hard-man. I’d inherited all his size, but none of the fury he used to have. The fury he turned on my gran when he’d had a drink. Yeah, I know; that old stereotype. But it happens. And when it does, it’s always the kids that suffer too. And that meant my dad. And guess what Dad was like? Yeah, same. I’d tried to forgive him. Tried to forgive them all, but it wasn’t easy when none of them ever showed any sign of regretting the beatings that we all had to hide. Cause you never told anyone. That was the first and last rule. But then, when Gran had died, it all suddenly changed. Granddad slipped away inside himself and never came back out; so that was that.

‘Listen, Harold.’

‘Hamish.’

‘Harold, Hamish, he shook his head, ‘who give a shit? Just listen.’ His eyes were sharp for once and all his attention was on my face. He pulled me towards him, so close I could smell lunch. ‘Listen,’ he insisted quietly.

This was it, I thought. He was going to apologise for all the shit he’d brought down on the family. He was finally going to come clean and admit it all. I held my breath.

‘My dad was hard to be around.’

I waited.

He nodded, searching my face for a sign that I’d understood. But I didn’t. Not then. It wasn’t until I got back home a week later and saw that family photo on the wall – four generations of Jenkins, with me nothing more than a grinning toddler – that I got it. But by then the phone had rang and the news had come and, just like that, it was too late.

My Parents Part One – My Dad

My dad is a bit of a sourpuss to be honest. He’s the kind of guy that you can’t have a proper conversation with because he takes everything to heart. Whatever you say to him is always about him. And if it’s not, then he turns the conversation around so that he’s back at the centre of attention.

He’s been like this as far back as I remember. You might say that he’s sensitive but that’s not quite the right word. He’s more brittle than sensitive. He breaks easily when you touch a raw nerve. And he’s all raw-nerve.

Physically he’s always seemed like a big man to me. He’s always been strong and he’s always wanted to show that that’s how he is. And if that means hurting people then so be it. He hurt me plenty. Made me cry a lot. And then he scorned my weakness. And that’s when I was a small child.

We used to play rough-and-tumble games where he would pick me up and throw me around and play like he was fighting with me. And I would always get hurt. I guess he was a clumsy sort of a guy when I think about it. Not really the kind of person who should be around kids. But, like I said, it was his reaction to my tears that hurt me the most. He would go sullen and grow angry and this made me feel like it was my fault that I got hurt. Like it was my weakness that led to my pain. Like I should be stronger and bigger and more able to taken it. It was like he was disappointed. And so he scorned me.

It was as if he was competing against me, even when I was small. You know, like, when you play with kids, you have to let them win. Something to do with nurturing their self-respect or something. Well he never did. When I ran and he chased me, he made sure he caught me. When we ‘wrestled’ he made sure that he physically humiliated me. When I was small he made sure that I knew I was small. Smaller than he was. Weaker than him.

And he’s still like that now. Whenever there’s the slightest sense that I know something that he doesn’t, along comes that same truculence that turns into anger. Honestly, it’s like he’s a small child. And actually, maybe that’s it. Maybe back then, when I was a child, perhaps he thought that he was one too. And so when we wrestled, it felt right to him that he should try to win.

Am I the same as him now? Well, I don’t have kids and so I can’t make a direct comparison. But children do seem to like me. I try to treat them with respect. As if they are small adults. They seem to like that.

Perhaps that’s what my dad did. Perhaps he treated me like an adult when I was a child. Maybe that’s why he felt he could compete against me. Who knows.

I could ask him, I suppose, but I don’t think that it would work out. It’s precisely this kind of question that sends him over the edge into defensive behaviour. Which typically means aggression. And I’m too old for that kind of sh…tuff and so I leave well enough alone. Mostly. Like I say – he can be a bit of a sourpuss.

Best to let him keep rolling the anecdotes out like he does. Stories about this or that part of his life. And they’re good stories actually. So, yeah – just let him be. Not a buddy or a sounding-board for my inner-work but just what he is: my dad.

Fambly Dynamics

Inky Fambly

Fambly dynamics are easy when you’re in charge because you just say leap and they say how high and you say that you’re making me so angry right now and then they get that look in their eye that says that they’ll do anything you want if only you’ll calm the frick down and so you do. Because that’s all you wanted. Respect.

But that’s not really respect, is it, Dad. No. That’s just fear.

So anyway, I walked away. That’s me to the right of the tree walking away. I went in an away direction for eight years and then I visited. You were pleased to see me. At least, that’s how you played it on your face. But who can tell what lurks behind the skin, muscles and bone? Me? Nah. I know nothing.

I mean, sure, I can guess. I’m as intelligent as your next estranged son. I can look at the life you had and look at the life I had and I can extrapolate from me to you. Guesswork.

The dog dies early in the story. It’s called Sam and that’s him between me and the tree.

Sam howled in the night at things that I could never see and hear. Perhaps the neighbour’s cat teased him through the porch door. Maybe the trees swayed in just that way. The way that puts shadows on the inside of your dreams. Hey, we’ve all had those dreams, right? Well, for Sam, they were a little too close and a little too real and … well, I would have howled too. I guess.

I stomped my foot on the floor and Sam picked up the ears that were laid flat to his skull and stopped howling. For a while. So I stomped downstairs and I did things that didn’t help either me or Sam. But at least I didn’t turn him out into the dark and beat him when he tried to come back until he stopped coming back and we heard of a dog killed on the road and maybe it was Sam and maybe it wasn’t but he never came back.

And, despite visiting, neither did I.

Not really.