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.
“I don’t know how you can cope.”
They stood by my daughter’s hospital cot and shook their heads. Parents/carers with their own children receiving attention, some for epilepsy, some for infections, some for bone breakages or burns.
She was massively handicapped, had a cocktail of problems that nothing, in the end, but death could cure, and our hearts were broken.
Down in the waiting room, the one place you could smoke then, I listened to a woman rant at her husband about the delay they were having, waiting for a medic to get back to them about her daughter’s broken arm.
A broken arm? Part of me thought. Jesus, what’s that?
And then it struck me. This was her child. There was no scale of bad-to-terrible for her, it just hurt, and hurt and hurt.
She wasn’t making an unnecessary fuss. She was simply grieving.