Father’s Day is a day of mixed emotions for me. My own father was absent from my life and remains so dating from when I was very young. My stepfather who followed him was also emotionally abusive and physically domineering so it would be fair to say that I do have a lack of decent male role models in my life.
He used to come and visit every Saturday without fail. Saturday was Dad day. But there was one Saturday with my biological father did not turn up. For as long as we lived in the house 19 Bogside I had a memory of that day. For some reason, call it fate, call it what you will I had picked at the wallpaper in my bedroom. It was a very gendered bedroom; sky blue for the boys. Underneath this wallpaper there was now a bit of brown wall visible where my hand had been.
I expected as was reasonable for my father to turn up, on a Saturday but on this one painful day he did not. By 5:15 PM that evening there was still no explanation. At 6 PM the phone rang. It was my biological father’s sister. She dropped a bombshell. My real father in fact was not in Scotland, he was a short distance away in America. Yes just like that! He abandoned me and my mother without a second thought.
The only contact I have had with him since was a huge crate of toys which were delivered. The best of these was something called a baja beast. It was a sort of large toy car with a motor which I could sit in and drive around. As well as the car there were toys and gadgets galore from America. The crate was piled high, with gifts stretching from the bottom to the top.
However what my real father failed to notice is that even a never-ending torrent of toys and gifts does not make up for a lack of presence in your life. There can be just as much love in a bar of chocolate as there is in a crate of toys. Many labour under the misapprehension that physical objects are more substantive than emotional qualities. I am here today to scotch that myth.
Let me state the obvious for a second; I was my father’s child. He played a part in creating me. I can never understand what goes through somebody’s mind when they abdicate responsibility for a life which they have helped to create. It is like composing a piece of music and abandoning it halfway through.
It also means that there is a massive gap in my knowledge base. Somebody who I cannot turn to, somebody I cannot say whether they would be proud of me or not. The simple answer to this is that I don’t know because he is no longer present in my life. He made an active calculated decision not to be and this is what enrages me the most. He did not abandon me at birth. He came into my life and then bolted for the exit when it suited him.
I tell you one thing both men in my life has given me. A desire never to be like them nor to imitate their actions.
My real father did give me something. When I moved from Yorkshire to Winchester for my stepfather’s job, I had to write a mini autobiography about myself. I wrote a piece titled “My Saddest Moment” and it got an A*.
“Very good emotional piece” my teacher wrote. She told me later it made her cry.
My stepfather then went on to abuse me emotionally and knocked the stuffing out of me. It took many years for me to recover, to believe that I was a worthwhile competent human being worthy of inhabiting the Earth.
Emotional abuse may show no scars, but if somebody painted a portrait of my psyche and sure you would see them there. Generally, he was the sort of person who nothing was good enough for, and I certainly was not good enough for him. He branded me a disappointment and a sissy for not measuring up to his definition of masculinity. Now that I can live with. What I found extraordinarily hard to live with was the fact that this had a bad effect on me. It made me trust no one and fear everyone. It made me hate my home and trade school holidays. It cost me the carefree childhood which many enjoy. Whilst others were thinking of their first relationships I was going in a taxi to social services to be counselled. The contrast here is intentional and undeniable.
If I could speak to my real father today I don’t know what I say to him. He’s a stranger now. But I would probably want to know how much he’s missed out on, what I’ve achieved. The fact I’ve got a writing gift. The fact I’ve had pieces published. These things make up who I am. And what incenses me even more is that he doesn’t know that, and it would seem he doesn’t want to. That hurts when somebody has created a life with somebody else and lives in total ignorance of it.
However that is not to say they have not been good men in my life. I would like to single out two in particular for discussion. The first is Dennis Northmore, adoptive father to 2 childhood friends of mine, Louis and William Northmore. They were a lovely family and I am sure they still are..
Dennis always included me in everything in spite of my disability. He made sure along with their mother Jane that I could participate in everything they did and be included as much as possible. Louis and William had bottle collections; a hobby encouraged by Dennis. Jane was always very homely, always to be found as the centrepiece of the family with her apron on cooking. I have to say the aroma of the kitchen was always very tempting.
There were a unit and when growing up there were also my sanctuary. They showed me what a good family life looked like through the normalcy. The lack of arguments and collective decision-making were always a feature of their life. They preferred discussion over conflict and fought hard to create a stable family life.
Regrettably Dennis passed away after committing suicide due to depression. But his impact and the cumulative impact of the Northmores as a family upon my life will always be imprinted on my memory.
Secondly, there was Roy. He was a role model of how men should be. He was kind and gentle and never boorish.
There was one kind gesture in particular that sticks in my mind. He and Anne took me to a restaurant one Saturday afternoon for something to eat and also to see the film Aladdin. Now you may not see the significance. But Saturday afternoons were the day on which my stepfather made life unbearable for it was when he was left alone with me due to Mum’s Saturday job.
Roy and Anne knew that Saturdays were difficult and created a welcome diversion. By allowing me to spend time with their family it took my mind off what was going on at home. A whole new world, you might say.
Roy was tragically killed in a motorbike accident. But he and Dennis were both role models for men in general, and for the kind of father it is desirable to be.
There is also a man in my town who has mild disabilities but he manages to get about with the aid of a scooter. He has a daughter and the two of them appear to have a very close bond. His wife died and he was left to care for the child alone. However he has overcome his own challenges to rise to that challenge and I find that very inspiring.
In society then there are a mixture of good and bad fathers. The good ones are the example for the bad, but tragically, as was the case in my life the bad ones never follow it.
Today is a day when those who have good fathers celebrate them. While we can be pleased for others though it is not a celebration that all of us can engage in wholeheartedly.