My Old Man
I froze suddenly. I’d done it, what I said I’d never do. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t ever do it but here I was standing up having just realised what I’d done and what I would continue to do in the future if I didn’t stop right now.
It all began 30 years ago, when I was only three years old. My mother had just found me the sitting by the fridge, covered from head to toe in milk or cream, or something like that. Anyway, it was obvious that I was the culprit. The carton was next to my feet, the lid only a few centimetres away.
“Who has done that Harry?” my mum asked, as if she didn’t already know.
She called my father to get the camera and unwillingly he came. But he didn’t find my cheeky antics funny at all. Actually, his reaction was quite the opposite; he was fuming. Mother cowered away from him as if she knew what was coming next. Father shouted and screamed at both of us, and I started to cry, and my dad stormed out of the house in a rage. It was at that moment that I became scared of my Old Man. Very similar situations happened extremely frequently over the next 10 years and I started to hate my very own dad. As the years passed by I also realised that every time father stormed out of the house he went directly to the local pub to return a couple of hours later, slurring his words and swaying clumsily.
Things gradually got worse and worse, and I started to notice that my mum was changing. She was getting shy and more dismissive towards people. She started to wear long trousers and thick long sleeved jumpers throughout the year. People asked her if she was alright and she would look at them as if they were being nosy or knew something that she didn’t want them to know. She hardly talked when dad was around, doing everything that he demanded. My mother even agreed with everything her husband said. Dad started to work late and come in drunk and she wouldn’t say a word about it, just make him tea and ask if he had had a nice day. Sometimes, when I was in bed I would hear them arguing. Well, I’d hear my old man shouting.
Mother hardly spoke. Dad would shout.
“Do you not have a backbone? Do you not know how to speak?” and she still wouldn’t say a word.
A week or two after a big argument I wandered into my parent’s room to talk to my mum and she was getting changed. As I spoke to her, I noticed bruises all over her arms and legs. I’d asked her about them, and she just said that she had fallen over but I could tell that she was lying. In a split second my father had become a monster, and I suddenly became extremely protective over mum.
Looking back, I now appreciate how my Mum coped with the beast that was her husband. I know now that it was for my sake, to keep me strong. Unfortunately it didn’t work, as I became wary of my dad. Sometimes, I didn’t speak to him for weeks. My mother tried to make a relationship between me and my father. She tried and tried, although she knew that it was a pointless mission. Our relationship rapidly deteriorated and came to a head when I received my O-level results.
I will admit that I wasn’t the brightest of the bunch and was only expected to get ‘D’s’ and ‘E’s’. So when I came back with a B grade I was elated. I told my mum and she danced around the house, excited by my news. As soon as my dad came in from work I told him my news with a huge grin on my face, but he dismissed me and told me to leave him alone as he had had a long hard day at work. My heart shattered. Father didn’t even want to know my O-level results, the results that would control the key to my future.
I looked at mum and she just shook her head at me as if to say,
“Harry don’t. He’s not in the mood right now, try later”.
For her sake. I went to my bedroom, but I got myself a worked up and angry. I knew that I was about to explode, and that if I didn’t let my emotions free then my rage would spread like wildfire. This was not going to be forgotten, and I was going to have to do something about it myself because mum couldn’t. I stormed into the lounge where my father was sitting with a whisky in his hand and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth,
“Dad! I’ve got my results . . . ”
“Harry. I’ve told you that I’m not in the mood just leave me alone” he butted in.
“I’ve got a B grade dad!” and carried on as if I hadn’t heard him.
“Harry”, he murmured through gritted teeth, getting angrier by the second.
“Isn’t that good dad? It means I can choose what job I want to do. I won’t be stuck in a fast-food shop for the rest of my life”.
Dad stood up and walked slowly towards the dining room. So I followed him.
“Isn’t that good dad, are you happy for me?” My question was ignored
” Margaret”, he shouted my mother, “come and get your stupid child away from me!”
Well, this really set me off. My anger was boiling and I was not going to get rid of it without an argument.
“Dad”, I started, “for one, I am your child, who should be celebrating his O-level results and two, mum doesn’t have to do everything that you say. She is her own person and can do what she wants to do”.
“Don’t be rude Harry”, my mom muttered timidly in the background.
“Shut up Margaret! If he wants to stand up to me he can, but I will warn him now, he will be the one who falls first. Harry, just because you have got a ‘B’ does not mean that you can cheek me back”. By this time he was shouting in my face, his saliva at the stinging me every time he spoke.
“Anyway, why should I congratulate you? You did not get the top marks did you? No son of mine will be ever be congratulated unless he does his best and any son of mine will always be able to get the best possible grades if he tries his hardest. For Christ’s sake, you didn’t bring him up very well Margaret did you? Thank God we never had another one”.
“Well, I’m so sorry dad that I don’t live up to your standards but at least with my grades I’ll be able to get a decent job and will be coming home happy instead of drunk and supposedly stressed. And don’t blame my upbringing on mum, because if you’d have had the slightest input in my life, then maybe I would be able to be as perfect as you!”
Silence fell upon the house as dad stared into my eyes. Suddenly, his hand reached out and slapped my face with the power of pouncing the tiger, mother screamed and dad whispered with menace,
“Get out of my house. Now!” I looked at mum and stormed out of the house. I knew then how she felt.
I haven’t spoken to my dad since that day, the day when I made myself the promise; the promise that I had just broken. As I froze I remembered these times and vowed that I would never break my promise again.
Suddenly, I snapped out of my daze and remembered what I was doing. My finger was outstretched, pointing at my daughter, who was standing before me. My finger was pointing threateningly, and my beautiful little girl looked frightened. She had never seen her dad like this and she never would again. I looked at her face and saw myself. I looked at my finger and saw my father’s. I realised that I had to stop.
I put my arms around her,
“Congratulations”, I murmured.
I turned around immediately ashamed, embarrassed by my actions. As I raised my head from the ground I felt my wife’s hand on my shoulder,
“Well done Harry”, she whispered sweetly in my ear, just like any mother would. She then spoke to my six-year-old daughter,
“Good work Emily. All that daddy is trying to say is that maybe next time you could try to do a little bit better. Go and get ready for bed now. I’ll be up in a minute”.
At that moment I became appreciative of my wife and realised that maybe if mum had behaved in that loving way I wouldn’t be in the position that I am now. The position that every time my children do well I will always want more from them. The position that every time I want them to try harder, I shout and feel guilty. The same position that every time that this happens I have to remember the vow I made when I was just 17; the very same vow that will live with me until I die. In that split second when I froze, I remembered my vow that I would never grow up to be like my Old Man.