Author Topic: Short Story: Dad  (Read 8204 times)

Offline Ken100

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Short Story: Dad
« on: September 25, 2012, 04:49:14 PM »
I was reminded of this story whilst discussing the sensitive subject of euthenasia, started by Lin, here

http://www.mywriterscircle.com/index.php/topic,45051.0/topicseen.html

I talked about the relief I felt waking up the morning following his death after a long and painful battle with cancer. The following story, written over 20 years later, acted as a kind of catharsis for me, although it is not entirely autobiographical.

Thanks for reading.


The first time I saw my father after he died he was lying in his coffin at the funeral home, family and friends standing nearby in small, tight groups and talking in hushed, muted whispers. The second time I saw him, some twenty two years later, he was sitting in a café, smoking a cigarette in defiance of the smoking ban and drinking a mug of tea the consistency of soup. He looked how I remembered him much earlier in his life, probably around his mid to late forties, around the age that most of our family photographs were taken. We weren’t a family that took photographs really, only on our summer holidays, and so my memories of my father are mainly of him posed in front of a tableaux of castles, lakes, seasides, etc. Sometimes I am with him in the photo, sometimes he is with my mother, once or twice on his own. Always with a cigarette dangling from his lips, or held lightly between his index and middle finger. Always that lopsided smile, the result of contracting polio as a child, freezing the left side of his face in a permanent droopy expression.

That was the smile he gave me then, that lopsided, craggy grin.

I’m sitting here right now, opposite the space he has only just vacated, thinking back to that moment. Not your usual, everyday kind of moment. I’m thinking, if this had been a film, how would it have played out? Would I have expressed shock, horror, disbelief? Perhaps I would have walked over and sat down opposite him, reaching across the table and clutching his hands in mine, and saying, “Dad, I can’t believe it! You’re alive! You’re alive!”

Well, I did walk over to him, and I did sit down, but I couldn’t say anything. That wasn’t a surprise, really. Even the passing of twenty two years hadn’t weakened the grip The Great Silence had on me. Emma had come to realise that, eventually, perhaps before I had. She knew that we can’t escape our parents, can’t break free from the grip they have on us. Like zombies in some B movie they always reach out from the grave and drag us down, wreak their havoc all over again in our own families, on our own children.

“Hello son,” he said.

He took a gulp of his tea. The Clock Tower café, of which I had recently become a regular patron, served tea, coffee and hot chocolate in the same faded, cracked mugs. No fancy ‘Pots of Tea For One’ served in floral china cups with a dainty little jug of milk on the side here; no, you got your teabag dropped in your mug, hot water poured on top, and there was the milk carton over there if you wanted to help yourself. I noticed that Dad had taken the teabag out of the hot water, ripped it open and dropped the soggy tea leaves back into his mug. That was how we used to drink tea in our house when I was a youngster. A spoonful of loose tea leaves dropped into a cup and hot water added, just like you might make a cup of instant coffee. Many a visitor to our house was caught by surprise when drinking the dregs of their tea to find themselves choking on a mouthful of tea leaves.

“So, how are you?” I said, rather lamely. It was the best I could do, a miracle really that I managed even to drag out that pathetic specimen of polite chit chat. Once I reached the age of 10 or 11 I lost all conversational ability I ever had with my father. Of course he was dead by the time I was 21, and absent in spirit if not in body for most of the years in between, so I never had much chance to practice did I?

“Not bad,” he said, and shrugged. “Fair to middling, I suppose. I don’t need to ask how you are. You look like you’ve been run over by a bus.”

I rubbed a hand over my stubble and through my bedhead hair. I supposed I didn’t look too good but, to be honest, I’d stopped caring these last couple of weeks. The Clock Tower café management did not require me to have a shave and comb my hair before I frequented their premises. They didn’t even require I have a wash, but some habits are harder to break.

“What are you doing here?” I said.

“You look as though you need some help.”

He took a drag on the cigarette. Benson & Hedges, the only brand I saw him smoke.

“Thought I might give you some fatherly advice, you know, shoulder to lean on, that sort of thing.”

I grunted, and said, “That would be a first.”

He took refuge behind his mug of tea, looking more embarrassed than I had seen him in…well, a long time. Actually it was difficult to remember a time when he showed any sign of embarrassment, so maybe today was a first. There was that time when I came home early from school and found him and my mother having sex. He should have been embarrassed, she certainly was, but I don’t recall that he appeared so. I do remember him looking at me from beneath the sheets (thank God for small mercies!) and saying exactly what he had said just a few moments ago: “Hello son.”

Of course that memory led me back deeper into my subconscious, to a couple of weeks earlier, when my parents had argued bitterly and furiously over the course of Sunday lunch, and then let the disagreement simmer until I caught them at home when they should have been at work. The weekday, mid-afternoon sex had been a way of making up, forgiving and forgetting. Only we couldn’t forget, could we? Not that particular argument, no. Especially not me, I still carry the emotional scars of that humdinger some 30 years later, can still feel the pain welling up inside of me as I think about it.

My father stubbed out the last of his cigarette, unfiltered, and lit up another. I remember someone saying once, it might have been my mother, that he had started smoking when he was fourteen. Got through 60 a day at one point. Smoked until he was 56, when he was admitted to hospital for surgery to remove the tumour in his windpipe. Even back in the mid 1980s patients weren’t allowed to smoke in hospital, and so when they finally let him out three months later he had managed to kick the habit.  Not much good it did him by that point though, he was dead two years later.

He put his mug down and looked at me, no, he squinted at me through a hazy cloud of smoke.

“How’s Emma, everything all right?”

I took a breath, fully intending to speak, to say something, maybe even go some way towards answering the question. But nothing happened. As usual. So for a moment or two I said nothing, glancing sideways as though something had caught my attention across the room. There was nothing of any particular interest there, just a fat old woman eating a plate of sausages and chips, the steam curling around her red, blotchy face and lank, greasy hair.

“Well,” I said, finally, dragging the words from my chest like a rusty nail from a wound, “not good, really. She left me, a couple weeks ago.”

Now my dad grunted. Or was it a laugh? I risked a quick glance in his direction and we locked eyes, just for a split second, before I looked away again, looked back at the fat woman, see how far she’d got through her meal.

“Me and your mum almost got divorced once, you know.”

“Yeah I know,” I said, still averting my gaze. “I remember on a trip to the library once, her picking up a book on divorce and waving it at you.”

That, I suppose, had been an attempt at humour, but it hadn’t been very funny, not for me at least. Living in a house where the peace had been fragile at best for the last few weeks hadn’t been easy. Living in a house of messages communicated through the only child, tell your mother this, tell your father that, had been worse still. Tell the child something he wants to hear, for God’s sake.

“Me and Emma aren’t going to get divorced. We’ll work it out.”

“Like me and your mum did?”

No, not like that, I thought, and it seemed to me that I didn’t know if I was speaking the words out loud now.  Not like that. Perhaps that mid afternoon bout of hanky panky had been a last ditch attempt to save a relationship, but it didn’t work did it? The Great Silence began to creep up on us then, and reigned over our family for the next decade, until all that smoking and beer drinking, and all those fry ups took their toll, and The Big C arrived and usurped The Great Silence for pre eminent position in our happy little family. Some children live with years of physical and sexual abuse, but there are other, unintended, ways of abusing a child. The little, subtle, inadvertent ways, the emotional distances, no one to hold you, no one to hug you, no one saying, I love you.

I must have loved him once. There’s one particular photograph I have of my father, this one taken not on holiday but in somebody’s back garden I think, and he’s standing in front of a rather large hedge, cigarette in hand, smiling at the camera. I’m there holding his other hand, I think I’m about 2 years old, but I’m not looking at the camera. I’m gazing with utter devotion up at my father, absolutely nothing else in the whole world matters at that particular moment; I can’t see anybody or anything else. Just him, my dad.

Why can’t I remember that feeling? All I remember is his short temper, the evenings he spent down the pub, the Saturday afternoons sat in front of the telly, watching the racing or the boxing. That’s it.

Oh, and the arguments. Like the time when I was little and he locked my mother out of the house, and it was snowing. It sounds trite, I know, but it’s true, it was winter, and it was cold, and it was snowing outside, and I could hear her banging on the door, shouting, pleading to be let in. I remember asking him, as he sat in the chair feeding the fire with lumps of coal, what that noise was. I knew full well what it was, but I didn’t want to admit to that, it seemed wrong somehow to let on that I knew he had locked my mother outside. It’s a ghost, he replied. A ghost? I wanted to say. But you told me ghosts aren’t real, I wanted to say. But I didn’t. I just kept silent, and so did he.

Or that Sunday afternoon when you argued over lunch, and you pushed her off her chair. At least that’s what she accused you of doing. You said it was an accident, you just bumped into her. You both went at it then, didn’t you? Shouting and screaming at each other. And then you brought me into it, the 10 year old pawn in your screaming match of chess. Told each other you didn’t want me, threw me back at each other like an unexploded bomb in your stupid little war.

Well, I suppose neither of you actually said you didn’t love me, did you? But then neither of you had ever told me you did love me, so what’s the difference? The 10 year old boy I was burst into tears, and looking at you now the 44 year old man I am felt like doing exactly the same thing. My mother apologised almost immediately after, told me she didn’t mean it. I had to wait another hour or two, wait until things had calmed down and you and I were sitting in the lounge together, just the two of us, for your apology. Only you didn’t say you were sorry, did you? No, all you could drag out was, “All right, son?”

Hello son.

All right, son?


No, you never said much of anything to me, did you? Neither of you. That particular incident was never mentioned again, just buried under the metaphorical carpet like all the other shit. Some children grow up watching their fathers hit their mothers, or even getting hit themselves. Not me, I grew up in silences mainly, an absence of things unspoken. I love you, I hate you, I want to leave you, I can’t live without you, I can’t live with you.

And the worst of it all? Despite all the years I have travelled from that point I can now see history repeating itself. The arguments I have with Emma, the distance growing between Johnny and me. When was the last time I told him I loved him, cuddled him, picked him up? I was slowly changing, calcifying into my father, and powerless to stop it.

I looked across the table at him, locked eyes again, only this time I didn’t glance away. I think he was probably reading my mind, because I could see the regret, the sadness, in his eyes. He reached out a hand, palm up. I hesitated, just for a moment, and I took it in mine. His flesh was warm and dry.

The last time we held hands was 22 years ago, sitting by your sickbed in my bedroom. We’d moved you there because it was on the back of the house, and quieter than the spare room on the front, which got all the traffic noise and disturbed your fitful sleep. We used to take it in turns, my mother and I, to sit by your bed. We never said much, it seemed like there was so much to say that we couldn’t say any of it, so we sat in silence. And then one afternoon you held out your hand, just like now, and asked me to hold it. And so we used to sit in your room, my room, holding hands, and saying nothing, because there was too much to say, while you slowly died in front of me.

I felt a great convulsion in my chest. There was another one, and another. For a moment I wondered if I was about to have a heart attack, but then hot, salty tears were suddenly rolling down my cheeks and over my lips. Not a heart attack after all; I was crying.

That photograph, me gazing with an expression of love and adoration up at my father. Up at my daddy. That’s how I wanted my boy to feel about me. Those were the memories I wanted him to carry of me the rest of his life.

My dad squeezed my hand. I thought he was going to let go, but he didn’t, he held on.

“I love you son,” he said. “I always have, and I always will.”

He let go of my hand, picked up his mug and drank the last of his tea, being careful not to drink right down to the bottom and get those tea leaves. He picked up his newspaper, open at the racing results, and stood up.

“Got to go now,” he said, holding out his hand once more.

We shook hands and he left.

And so I am sitting here now, gazing at the space he has only just left, and feeling healed somehow, cleansed. Thinking that maybe, just maybe, history does not need to repeat itself. That I can escape the worst shackles of my parents, and maybe become the man that they intuitively sensed in me that moment they first saw my wrinkled, scrawny little body, dark eyes peering up at them in the delivery suite.

Thinking that I have been given a second chance, and it would be sinful to waste it.

I pull out my mobile phone and call up Emma’s number. I only hesitate a second before pressing the dial button.

“Emma? It’s me. Emma, I…”

I love you.
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Offline Laura H

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2012, 06:42:14 PM »
Thanks for sharing this, Ken.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

“Don't be like the rest of them, darling.” ― Eudora Welty

Offline Ken100

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2012, 02:52:10 AM »
Thanks, Laura.  :)
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Offline Daniel J. Pitcher

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2012, 08:53:51 AM »
Very powerful, Ken.

This struck a chord with me. I went the best part of two decades without seeing my father too, until four years ago. In the interim I also made a conscientious decision to walk a different path and not make the same mistakes he did. I particularly liked the part where you spoke about remembering him as he was in family photographs. I always picture my late mum like this, as the thirty something woman from the photo albums and not the older lady she became.

Just out of curiousity, did Benson & Hedges ever make unfiltered cigarettes? If they did I missed out on them during my smoking career.

Offline Ken100

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2012, 02:59:27 PM »
Just out of curiousity, did Benson & Hedges ever make unfiltered cigarettes? If they did I missed out on them during my smoking career.

Ha!  ;D You may have caught me out there, as I didn't do any research on that and just pulled that fact out of thin air.
To be honest, I can't remember what my dad used to smoke, just that he smoked a lot of them! But now that I think about it, they definitely had filters.

I tried smoking once or twice as a teenager, but never really got on with it, thankfully. My father died far too early, and never got to meet my wife, or my two children. And it is strange to think that now I am only ten years away from the age that he died at. It's not something I worry about, but it's a strange feeling having more years behind me than I probably have ahead of me. Not unless I live to be about a hundred!

I plan on sticking around a lot longer than my father, though...  :) My children are 6 and 8, and I want to see them grow up.

Good for you on giving up the cigarettes. I respect anyone who can kick that habit, I'd be useless, as I have enough trouble controlling my chocolate bar intake!!! ;D

Anyway, thanks for your comments, I appreciate you taking the time to read.  :)
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Offline ma100

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2012, 03:28:26 PM »
Ken this struck a lot of nerves with me. I don't know if it was a thing back then, but I can never remember my mum ever saying she loved me, that is until the day she died. I always felt like I was second best to the boys and only there to help keep them fed and groomed. I know that sounds like whining, but I never got past that. Though, don't get me wrong, I had 4 dads. ;) My dad died when I was seven and their marriage was fiery to say the least.

When ever I speak to my kids now, the conversation always ends in I love you. I don't ever want them to feel as inadequate as I did.

Offline Ken100

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2012, 03:38:45 PM »

When ever I speak to my kids now, the conversation always ends in I love you. I don't ever want them to feel as inadequate as I did.

Hi Ma!  :)
Yes, I know how you feel. My parents never let me want for anything, and they were never unkind to me. We had some fun times, too.

But, you know what, just like you said, I never remember my parents telling me they loved me, or giving my hugs. And yes, I too give my boys lots of hugs, and tell them that I love them. I have a thing going at bedtime with my eldest right now, that goes like this:
I say, "I love You."
He immediately says, "Love you more!"
I say, "No you don't."
"Yes I do!"
"That's just not true!"
"Yes it is!"

And on we go, until I let him have the last word, and I leave his bedroom, close the door, and whisper, "No you don't, I love you more."

OUr childhoods are precious, aren't they? And what happens then often affects the rest of our lives.

Thanks for reading.  :)
Nice to chat with you again.  :)
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Offline Daniel J. Pitcher

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2012, 04:08:15 AM »
Ken 100 said:

Quote
But, you know what, just like you said, I never remember my parents telling me they loved me, or giving my hugs. And yes, I too give my boys lots of hugs, and tell them that I love them. I have a thing going at bedtime with my eldest right now, that goes like this:
I say, "I love You."
He immediately says, "Love you more!"
I say, "No you don't."
"Yes I do!"
"That's just not true!"
"Yes it is!"

That's lovely. I do a similar kind of thing with my daughters that I got from a book of theirs (the title and author elude me and there's no way I'm going upstairs to try and find it in their messy hovel bedroom). It's a story about a daddy rabbit and baby rabbit and throughout the baby rabbit says things like 'I love you to that gate and back' and the father replies 'I love you to the river beyond and back'.

This goes on throughout, with the daddy always topping the baby- until the end when he lets the baby have the last word, 'I love you to the moon and back,' before he falls asleep. But wait! There's a twist! When the baby is asleep the daddy whispers something like 'I love you to the moon and back'.

Anyway, we perform a variation of that. And I've just Googled it and the book is called Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and they're Nutbrown Hares, not bloody rabbits, lol.

Offline Ken100

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2012, 03:20:52 PM »
Yes, we have the same book, and read it many times as a family. It's a beautiful book, isn't it? With some lovely artwork too.

And we used to do the same thing, only ours would get silly, my son saying things like, "I love you to the end of the universe and back again an infinity amount of times."  ;D

I think perhaps our current little ritual evolved from that book.

Children are fantastic, aren't they. I just don't want ours to grow up... Not too fast, anyway.
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Offline Jovine

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2013, 05:07:14 PM »
Hi. I have to make a few comments on this particular story, that seems very close to the the Author's heart. I love the way that the narrative follows through the process of 'healing' and in the final stages, he is encouraged to take action in resolving personal issues. I feel an affinity with this story, as my own personal circumstances were not dissimilar. Great read, an emotional roller coaster and totally kept me interested. I would like to read more from this Author. Thank you. All the best, Jovine.

Offline bri h

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2013, 05:39:31 PM »
hello Ken, are we brothers separated in our infancy? ha ha. you described perfectly what happened in our family life. I won't bore you with my war story but suffice it to say it had the same ending. Both are passed on now. I was closer to my Mother than me Dad, I never got the chance to tell me Ma how I really felt, but we did say I Love You regularly, before she passed. Your descrip of Dad was spot on, even to the bit where I (as a small boy of 10) bought a look down(camera) and took a photo of him, but in my amateurish way, I took it facing into the sun, therefore all you can see is the outline of his form, a bit like how I really knew him, just his outline. I did get the chance to talk as an adult with him and I discovered things I thought I already knew, but actually I didn't. His life was so much more remarkable than mine will ever be. Sometimes I feel like a footnote in his or my kids, or other people's lives. I don't really mind, I'm happy to just be alive and able to experience it. Thanks again for this provocative read. I look forward to more in this vein. Respec, Bri.
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Offline Dawn

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #11 on: January 28, 2013, 03:48:26 AM »
I enjoyed this, Ken. Very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.
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Offline bowmore bill

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2013, 03:13:39 PM »
Hi Ken, a compelling read from start to finish. It had a great flow to it making it easy for the reader. 

Offline Ken100

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2013, 06:21:51 AM »
Hi. I have to make a few comments on this particular story, that seems very close to the the Author's heart. I love the way that the narrative follows through the process of 'healing' and in the final stages, he is encouraged to take action in resolving personal issues. I feel an affinity with this story, as my own personal circumstances were not dissimilar. Great read, an emotional roller coaster and totally kept me interested. I would like to read more from this Author. Thank you. All the best, Jovine.

Hi Jovine,
Thank you for your comments and thoughts. This particular story does seem to strike a chord with people. And that's partly what writing should be about, isn't it? Being able to reach across time and culture to touch people's hearts and minds. Certainly it help me when I originally wrote it, and had a cathartic effect for me, helping heal those past hurts.

Thanks again.  :)
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Offline Ken100

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Re: Short Story: Dad
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2013, 06:27:31 AM »
hello Ken, are we brothers separated in our infancy? ha ha. you described perfectly what happened in our family life. I won't bore you with my war story but suffice it to say it had the same ending. Both are passed on now. I was closer to my Mother than me Dad, I never got the chance to tell me Ma how I really felt, but we did say I Love You regularly, before she passed. Your descrip of Dad was spot on, even to the bit where I (as a small boy of 10) bought a look down(camera) and took a photo of him, but in my amateurish way, I took it facing into the sun, therefore all you can see is the outline of his form, a bit like how I really knew him, just his outline. I did get the chance to talk as an adult with him and I discovered things I thought I already knew, but actually I didn't. His life was so much more remarkable than mine will ever be. Sometimes I feel like a footnote in his or my kids, or other people's lives. I don't really mind, I'm happy to just be alive and able to experience it. Thanks again for this provocative read. I look forward to more in this vein. Respec, Bri.

You know, Bri, I always thought you looked familiar! ;D ;D
Thanks for your comments and sharing a little of your story. We all have our battle scars don't we, whether they be minor wounds or life altering injuries. I know I carry mine around with me like a bloomin rucksack full of rocks. But, like you said, it's good to be alive, happy, enjoying life, and able to share these things with like minded people.
Thanks again for reading and commenting.  :)
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