BEFORE I BEGIN, I need to stress: There is no better father than you. You’ve shown me how to be devoted and funny. You treat your children as people, not as time-slots and mini-beings to be ferried off to whatever after-school activity.
You’ve been the poster boy for your crocs with socks mantra and I’m pretty sure, you’ve been cracking a big bag of cans with the lads before it was ever an online sensation. A big bag of cans.
I don’t blame you, I never could. How can you blame a person with a medically-certified, mental illness? How about we harass a lady pensioner with a chesty cough? No, of course not, because we’re better people.
I don’t blame you
We know people are more than the demons inside them, more than puppet versions they become once they enter that dark space, where their bad actions happen without control. Dad, I don’t blame you, I never have. Everything you’ve ever done has been consistently archived by me as a decent story to tell over pre-drinks or something quippy to laugh at before the start of a lecture.
You’re liked by all my friends, valued as the hard-up, soft-hearted man. There’s a multitude of things I don’t blame you for, things that I find funny in their own way. Events that give me a coy smile when re-telling them.
Other people have often asked me if everything is okay. I’ve always said yes, because it always has been. Everything, the good, the bad – even that Christmas when Mam made you sleep on the sofa and I worried if Santa would still come – has been branded okay and character building.
“Character building” has been the great Irish euphemism for things that might not break you, but certainly mould you in a certain way. I think it may have done both.
I rebel by conforming
I didn’t get my taste for travel from those manic after-school trips to Belfast or Wales with no foreign currency, or my sense of justice from the time you brought me to a grim court case and you were told to exit the court with your seven-year-old child.
I didn’t get my sense of rebellion from you either, as highlighted when you urged me to forget the CAO and inter-rail for a while. Do Europe, you urged, while nodding at the stack of past papers on my desk. My rebellion came by conforming.
Some of my friends drank in a field to rebel against their parents, I did honours French. I don’t think I’ll ever have a mad drugs phase. I won’t become skinny like Iggy Pop and chew my jaw all over Dublin.
I might just end up wearing a lot of green and brown, and take up a cosy job in a tax office or something. In the eyes of my ex-raver Dad, that’s the beast of true rebellion.
I get my nose from you, though. I get my off-kilter sense of humour, my hunger for discounted supermarket bakery food and my beguiled sense of servitude to those I surround myself with. “Are ye alright for tea and everything?” I might ask a person as they sit on their own sofa. In a house where I am their guest. Yes, they’ll tell me. I’m grand.
I’m the family oddball
If you look at the crew you and Mam made there’s a definite Berlin Wall of personality division within our tiny house. I’d argue that the dog is more like Mam’s side of the family, but I’m already the family oddball and don’t want any more arguments in favour of this title.
What I do know, after many morning-after-the-night-before headaches, hazy last buses home and white-noise hangovers, is that I am not you. No matter which drug I try, what drink I’ve snuck into a nightclub in a water bottle, this isn’t my illness.
It’s yours Dad. And I won’t say sorry, because it’s not me. Perhaps this is a question the entire Irish nation must deal with, how much of a drinker do you have to be before you become a drunk?
Without a doubt Freud would have a right Austrian field-day with the issues expressed in this quasi-letter to you. They are exactly what I called them: issues. I am not the perfect son, and part of me feels a weight has been lifted now that I’ve written this.
I could never blame you, you’re my Dad. My weird, troubled Dad. A man so consumed with the pressure of the human experience, the forces of the human mind that I can almost do nothing more than hold gratitude for everything you’ve done so far. Your person is so full of the technicolour angst of your mental illness that your destructive actions are miniscule in comparison with the daily fight you face.
Remember Dad, crocs, no socks.
The author of this piece has requested to remain anonymous.