Many of the easier-to-recall memories I have from my childhood that are coming back now are to do with fathers. Not just father-figures, in the friends I’ve often looked up to and modelled myself on, but other people’s fathers.

One of the earliest recollections is of a friend’s birthday party. It must have been pre-’90s but I’m not sure how much earlier. My friend’s father had a batch of indoor fireworks – the sort of match-lit curios I don’t think I’ve seen since then, like the picture card with a wriggling worm on it which, when lit, spurted forth a long black wormish tendril. Hideous when you think about it.

The image persists, and I can’t even remember any of the other cards, though I know there were several. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking at the others – my friend also had an awesome board game called Thunder Road. But this memory isn’t really about indoor fireworks, it’s about my friend’s dad. Unsurprisingly I can’t remember his face, but I remember his prescence. Perhaps this is all the more poignant because my friend’s dad died not so many years afterwards.

It’s my mum, not my dad, who would perform for a room like this – and perhaps more so given the young boy birthday circumstances. So I remember that, I remember there being a different ‘dad’ template to my own. Interesting now that I start wondering what memories I can find of my father interacting with me on a child level that isn’t ‘providing’, ie food, transport, that sort of thing.

Another equally vivid memory, although with less sad overtones, is of the father of my best friend as a child giving me a serious though brief telling off. I had been chasing the family’s dog around while swinging a cricket bat over my head. To this day I have no earthly idea why I might be doing this, other than just acting like a silly boy. I certainly had no intention of hurting the dog, but my friend’s dad was furious.

When I think of being disciplined or told off as a child, it’s my mother who carried this out. Right now, with just a quick check of the memory banks, I can’t bring out any moments where I was really told off by my father. Among friends I find this stereotype of the dad figure always saying he “wasn’t angry, he was disappointed,” rather than of the stern patriarch, always allied with the strong ‘enforcer’ mother type.

Did my dad ever shout at me even? Once, soon after he’d bought a huge hifi, I was alone in the house and thought I’d experiment with how loud the thing would go. I stepped out for a moment but was rushing back in seconds later when there was a sickening crash as one speaker threw itself off the mantlepiece under the influence of a particularly heavy bass section, crunching in a corner of the speaker cage.

I was worried, obviously, though not overwhelmingly – this was hardly the first thing I’d broken, damaged or lost which belonged to someone else. One record I had as an early teen was taking less than two days to vanish a good watch my dad had trusted me with, leaving me so convinced I had stupid wrists (and dafter brains) that I didn’t wear another watch until I received one as an 18th birthday present and obsessed about hanging on to it.

But when my mistake, brought on by an enthusiasm for experiment rather than malice, was discovered I can remember my dad being upset. Properly upset, as if I’d damaged one of my sisters, or had wiped his work for the past week. I guess it was that he wanted it to be ‘perfect’, he wanted to value it for its wholeness, and I’d messed that up. Honestly, it’s as silly as people fussing over their trainers getting dirty.

Yet I know, surely, that he must have been angry, perhaps even significantly angry, and still it never showed, it never rose to the surface. Where did it go, that force? In the end there are just several moments when I’ve done something which has made my dad disappointed and I’ve just felt awful and sorry for him and upset, probably far more so than if he had blown his top and bellowed at me for being such a feckless idiot.

I share my mother’s temper, but I had seen how that manifested itself between them and it wasn’t the path I wanted to take. And even then I think perhaps it’s my mother’s way of expressing forces which I had repressed that I share, not the temper – the temper is simply the easiest and most efficient way of blowing off steam, if not the most constructive. I didn’t have a male example of that, though.

This is a post I’ve been writing for a few days now, and I think it’s best to get it up and out the way with. I sense I’ve quit just as a point started to rise, about anger and examples and my mother’s temper in a relationship, how men manage their temper, how my father never showed anger – if he ever felt it – and how repression seems to be as big a theme in my life as breathing or eating. And perhaps this is me repressing something right now.

All I know is I’m weary and need a breather.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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