Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Man Who Didn’t Go To His Father’s Funeral.

Dad, I’m not ready to get in touch. Please don’t be in contact. Leave it to me. There’s nothing wrong. Everything’s fine.

I googled: should I go to my estranged father’s funeral.

We were estranged. That was my choice.

For my entire adult life, I’ve tried to understand what happened to me.

There’s the cold palmed, sweaty, midnight horror. There’s the memory of my dad pushing my mum out of a moving car. The memory of us being locked out of the house on Christmas day, in the snow, in our pyjamas. The memory of him shutting himself in the front room, smoking three packs of cigarettes and drinking three bottles of wine and screaming at anyone who went near him.

Over and over. Over and over. And when you’re a child, your parents are the weather. 

If you want to know about affection, there were these times:

He once told me we were going to Homebase and he let me sit in the front of the car.

He once had to go to Birmingham and he took me with him and he bought me a comic on the way.

He once said to me, when I was about 17, ‘you’re a very handsome chap aren’t you?’

So. There they are.

If you want to know about Family Dynamics, there is this:

My sister protected me from him. If he hit me, she threw her dinner at him. If he bullied me, she tried to stab him with a knife. She tried to kill him on a number of occasions. They would fight physically. He would hit her around her head with all of his force. My mum would have been on the floor somewhere, having already been beaten by him.

There were no adults in our house. There was me, I was the youngest, there were two other children, there was a father who behaved like a cracked up three-year-old, and there was a mother who was absolutely incapable of protecting us.

And, when you’re a child, your parents are the weather.

If you want to know what this is about, it’s about this:

He died last Christmas eve. In the morning. He was 68. The funeral was today.

I could have gone.

I couldn’t imagine going, though, because I had decided so long ago that I wasn’t going to. But I also couldn’t imagine not going.

If you want know about the questions I’ve asked myself, I’ve asked myself these:

What is the statement I’m making? What are my reasons? What have I decided? My sister said that she didn’t care what my reasons were, that she wanted me there, and that if I wasn’t going to be there, then that was it and there was nothing more to talk about. My other sister said she didn’t understand my reasons, but that she didn’t need to understand them, and that we should all stop dissecting what the other one thinks. 

If you want to know about some of the things I think about and some of the things I feel, there are these things:

People say that decisions are difficult but I don’t buy that. I think that decisions are fucking easy. What’s hard is getting to the point where you know you can live with the consequences. I felt massive relief when he died. I felt like it was my birthday for about a week. There was a lightness in me that I hadn’t felt for fucking years. But I feel incredibly sad for him. I don’t think death is sad, I think loss is sad and I think that sadness is sad. 

If you want to know what the story is, it is this:

It was in September last year that I told him not to call me again. But the estrangement is actually a lot older than that. Through my late teens, we’d hang out. He’d re-married and I’d go to his house and there was a very brittle attempt at him being a dad. And then it all kind of went wrong. He turned up at the pub one day. I was with my friends. He got really, really drunk and he asked me what I thought of him and I said I didn’t want to talk about it. And he said, ‘oh, come on, I know your childhood was difficult’ and I think I said something. And the next thing I knew, he’d punched me square in the face.

I was 18.

And that was kind of it for me. The estrangement happened after that.

His mother bullied him and was violent with him and his father was very distant. He went to university and became a chemist. He ended up working on the stock market. And then, he basically turned into a total fucking bastard somewhere along the line.

The last time I saw him was at his mother’s funeral, last year. He looked like the deadest person there. Before her funeral, I was telling myself it wouldn’t be as bad as I was expecting it to be, it was just an afternoon with an old man I hadn’t seen for a long time. But, fucking hell, it was so much worse than I could’ve imagined. It was awful. I was sitting there thinking, you’re going to kill yourself.

And now he has.

He drank himself to death. 

I cut off all contact with my dad. I was estranged from my him. And now he’s dead. And today is his funeral. And I’m not there. And this is what I’m doing. To mark him. 

Before I told him not to get in touch with me, I was having rolling panic attacks for about three months. A lot of my anxiety was to do with the belief that if I stopped trying to be perfect, stopped trying to work hard all the time – to do everything perfectly –  if I just relaxed, I would turn into him. When I was estranged from him, it was impossible for me to have a problem with him. So, I realised that actually, the problems I had were the parts of him that were embedded in me as memory, or as habit.

All those realisations are very difficult. 

If you want to know what I consider to be the truth, I think it is this:

People who feel hurt, cause hurt. If someone is hurting you, you can’t be the one who stops them hurting. That’s how abuse happens. If you can’t move away from someone who’s hurting you, that’s abuse. And the ‘can’t’ can be for whatever reason; it could even be because you don’t want to. If someone chooses to be in an abusive relationship, it doesn’t make the relationship any less abusive, it just makes it more fucked up. 

If you want to know a bit more about me, there is this:

I went through phases of my life when I was in proper trouble. I went to live in Japan. I did a lot of drugs and a lot of clubbing. Every day, really. I didn’t eat. I was being abused by my partner. He used to hit me and throw my dinner at me, which obviously made me feel like I was back at home. And I remember thinking, ‘this has to stay an abusive relationship. I can’t allow this to become a relationship that’s just two people fighting each other.’ Because if I’d done that, I felt as though I would have lost myself.

It wasn’t epiphanic, but when I was about 24, I started to try and sort myself out. It’s taken 15 years so far and I’m still going. More recently, during the time when I was having a lot of panic attacks, I studied my condition really hard. I did a lot of reading. And I got to the point where I understood exactly what was happening to me. And before all this studying, I imagined that at the moment when I understood everything, it would be like a magic spell and everything would unravel. Of course, it didn’t. And that’s a false belief that I lived under for a long time: that I could just understand my way out of some very big problems.

I’m a Buddhist now. Not religiously, but just because it works. It’s a way of inhabiting the present that doesn’t drive me mental. I discovered that my anxiety was an attempt to stop time. My undeveloped self – the fearful, snotty four-year-old who gets to control things when it all goes to shit – was terrified of time passing and what that meant. So, he attempted to stop time magically, with the muscles of my body. I try to notice the passage of time now, I try to notice that each moment has a different quality from the next.

A lot of my periods of being anxious were characterised by extreme dislocation from reality, and I think that was a place I went to a lot when I was a kid.  A state of freeze. Of shock. Of feeling, quite literally like nothing was real, like I wasn’t there. 

I cut off all contact with my dad. I was estranged from him. He was abusive. And now he’s dead. And today is his funeral. And I’m not there. And this is what I’m doing. To mark him. 

If you want to know some of the things I remember, I remember this:

I used to spend a lot of my time in the garden, away from him. I’d be constantly looking at and studying all the tinniest things; we had a pond with all these tiny animals in it and I remember all the flowers and all the plants in minute detail. And my dad would come into the garden and mow the shit out of it all. So, there’s a quite painful symbolism in that, looking back. There’s a lot I can’t remember but then there’s a lot I remember in photographic detail.

Some of the most painful memories I have are of him being really cruel to animals. There were loads of tiny froglets in the garden, thousands of them that had just hatched out in the pond, and he just mowed them up with the lawn. I can remember being absolutely distraught, begging him to stop. And he wouldn’t. He told me to fuck off. 

If you want to know about anger, there is this:

My sister feels vast, seething cauldrons of anger towards my mother. It’s taken me quite a long time to feel anger of any description; it would immediately channel into fear or despondency or depression or anxiety. My sister channelled her pain into fury. But I think doing that kind of thing only gets you so far. If the only way you can cope is though fear, then you end up with a serious anxiety issue. If the only way you can cope is through anger, then you burn everyone. 

If you want to know what this is all for, it is for this:

Some parents are so fucking shit that you shouldn’t go to their funeral. 

I wasn’t even sure if I should tell anyone that he’d died. Because it would have been like ‘I feel like I need to tell you that my dad’s died because my dad’s died, but, you know, it’s fine because I didn’t like him.’ 

I cut off all contact with my dad. I was estranged from him. He was abusive and violent and a bully and an alcoholic. And when you're a child, your parents are the weather. And now he’s dead. And today is his funeral. And I’m not there. And this is what I’m doing.

To mark him.