Written during my late daughter’s lifetime :
Shall we arise late this next Sunday morning
In the time-honoured way parents do?
Shall we lie snug and warm in our big double bed
Half-listening the sound of your hesitant tread
And the peep round the door of your golden-curled head
Before clambering in with us too?
Shall we go down to egg-dipped toast soldiers
Your small hand in mine down the stairs?
To a kitchen alive with your three-year-old patter,
To a garden a-song with the birds’ chirp and chatter,
In the lull before lawnmowers grumble and clatter
At the on-set of Sunday’s affairs?
I would it were so
But it can’t be, I know
For my darling knows nothing
Mum will carry you downstairs as usual
In the small hours that are still part of night,
Knowing we face yet another long day
Of hoping the food that you’ve taken will stay
That you’ll grow that bit stronger, keep infection at bay,
In this wearying round of life’s fight.
For my darling’s not like other children,
Almost lost to us once without warning,
Cannot walk, cannot talk can’t our Treasure,
And Fate stole her sight for good measure,
Yet no-one will know greater pleasure
Than we, when she smiles, Sunday morning.
First draft, while the spirit moves.
How did you stop being mine, dad?
How did you walk out the door?
Did I see you do it, dad?
I can’t remember anymore.
I know only that you left, dad,
When I was some ten years old
And I’d have given anything to keep you, dad,
I’d have promised to be good as gold.
But the chance passed.
I know my mother was a pain, dad,
She remained a pain to me,
But I, the child, could not escape,
Couldn’t walk out the door and go free,
Til her death freed me at last.
I had to listen to her words, dad,
Had to learn how she blamed me,
For she’d sent you away, she would often say,
Because you didn’t love me
As you should.
No vitriol with that assertion,
Though she had enough and to spare,
And some of it you might have spared me,
If only you’d been there.
But you weren’t.
What kind of bad must I have been, dad,
That you could not love your first born?
And being so bad as I must have been
What wonder that God had foresworn
To love me?
I believed then, as a child believes,
And I grieved then, as a child alone grieves,
My path obscured by autumn leaves
Whate’er the season.
A darkness in me.
Half a century ago you disappeared,
Vanished, it transpires, in sunnier climes,
Had another son, a daughter too,
And, no doubt, some lovely times,
But I did not.
For half a century I missed you,
Felt an aching absence in my heart,
Missed your words, your looks, your thoughts,
And it broke me apart
Believing in no God, no Heaven,
I know we will not meet again,
That the man who died three thousand miles away
Has left me, till my death day, in the grip of pain
One conviction only, did you – in leaving – leave me,
Which is that it’s okay to not stay,
That it’s okay when you are under pressure
Simply to walk away,
And I have tried.
The night that others dread
Is naught but peace to me,
The silent darkness of the dead,
Offers naught but ease to me.
Yet I can’t get there.
Too many depend
For me to seek the easy end,
And all my life I now must spend
Why did you leave me, daddy?
Black Dog, first draft.
Working on a picture of my ‘friend’. He seems to hang around a lot.
Sick to death of being patronized by insulting television adverts. Sick to death of people shouting (metaphorically) at me on social media, “Buy my book!” “Buy my product!” “Stay at home mom in (insert own locale) earns thousands. Click to see how you could too!”
Sick to death of being showered with shit.
Sick to death of other people’s anger. Of the immigrant-hater, the Muslim-hater, the woman-hater, the gay-hater, the anyone-who-isn’t-me-hater. Sick to death of bible-bashers and Qur’an-quoters.
Sick to death that I can’t just hate them all in my turn. But I can’t. I hate what they do, but can’t hate those who do them. Yet it would make things so much easier. A black dog that bites would be easier to live with than a black dog who simply colors all one’s vision.
Sick to death of fetishized motherhood.
My mother wasn’t a good mother. There, I’ve said it. Not that she didn’t try – I don’t doubt she did. At bottom, though, she was herself too damaged. And the motherhood fetish did its part.
What mattered was not what was actually happening, but how it appeared to the rest of the world. What mattered was not succeeding in being a ‘good’ mother, but in never being perceived by others as a bad one. Whatever might happen she was not to blame. Someone else had to be.
My father did not leave her because she was psychologically damaged. My father did not leave her because he could not provide materially all that she wanted to ‘have’ materially in order to be seen as succeeding. No. He left, she said, because I was born a boy and he wanted a girl.
Succeed and she would praise you, modestly and always as if your success surprised her. Succeed and she would talk up your success, anywhere and everywhere, because your success was hers, your glory – however limited – was something to be reflected in. Be seen to fail – in any way – and she would eviscerate you with her tongue. Be seen to fail her in the eyes of any of the succession of would-be-Mister-Rights who followed after her husband and you would know, in that instant, that for that she hated you.
Never raised a hand to me. Did not have to. She could twist shame and guilt into too many deadly forms to need another weapon.
When my own first child arrived I at least knew how not to be, though more would be demanded of me than was ever demanded of her. My first born was what in older times they called a ‘basket case’. She would never walk, never talk, never so much as crawl or sit up on her own, never feed herself, never grow out of diapers, would never even see my face. I was the only one for whom she smiled though. And I fed her, nursed her, carried her everywhere and loved her as I had never loved any other being.
At the last it was my arms she died in, not her mother’s. Her mother knew it was right that my arms should deliver and feel the last goodbye.
My daughter’s full-time carer, I became her brother’s, my son’s, also. The same terror of appearing a failure to the world which had so informed my mother’s life ate at the soul of my first wife and overwhelmed her. Increasingly erratic, she left and divorced me before her brain gave way and spiraled into insanity.
Of course, no-one was watching me, judging me, as they would have done had I been a ‘mother’. Had I messed up it would only have been what people expected because ‘fathers don’t do this kind of stuff, do they?’ Being a father ‘mother’ was different, despite that the chores and the heartaches were much the same. I had, in that respect, an easier ride than a lot of mothers have.
It should not be so. Being a good parent is hard. Being a bad parent is too damned easy. And being a good parent in an increasingly materialistic and imbalanced world gets harder, in my view, year on year.
Only a fool would drive a car on a busy highway without ever having had a lesson, and even a fool would not find it too hard – I hope – to tell someone, ‘I’m afraid that I may not be very good at this’ and look for help and support. But in parenting it is assumed that everyone has a basic, natural skill set, that bad parents are features of the occasional news article and drama, and that a parent who asks for help or advice is somehow a failure.
It should not be so.