Reflections On My Father: A Repost

When I wrote one of my ‘Short Thoughts’ about my dad this week, it reminded me that I am now the same age that he was when he died. In 2014, I wrote a blog post about him, and the difficult relationship I had with him. Very few of you have seen it, so I am reposting it in full today.

His name was Arthur, and he was born in Bermondsey, South London, in 1920. As a young man, he joined the army, and was posted to Woolwich Barracks, home of the Royal Artillery. When he was still just in his teens, the Second World War broke out, and he went to the Kent coast, to operate anti-aircraft guns near Dover. After Japan entered the war in 1941, he volunteered for service in the far east, and was posted to India. Promoted to sergeant, and eventually to Regimental Sergeant Major, he enjoyed a relatively comfortable war. He lived in his own bungalow, and even had servants, who lived under the porch. He went big-game hunting, and played both cricket and football for army teams. He was in charge of Indian troops, and he came to have a great respect for them as soldiers.

During this time, my mother, like many young women during the war, was writing to soldiers overseas. He received one of her letters, and met up with her after the war. At the end of hostilities, he stayed on in India for some time. On the voyage home, he stopped in Durban, and developed a great fondness for the life in South Africa. Arriving back in England, he told how he wanted to join the police force there, and start a new life in the sun. My Mum was having none of it, and refused to consider such a wrench from her family. I don’t think he ever forgave her, but he stayed in London, and they married in 1947.

He found work as a maker of tea-chests and boxes. He was always good with tools, and the work was regular, and reasonably well-paid. He was popular with almost everyone, and had a wide circle of friends, as well as a large extended family. At weekends, they would all meet in local pubs, where he would sing on stage, often accompanied by my uncle. My first memories of him are of a man smelling of hair oil and tobacco, with jet black wavy hair, and an olive complexion.

I didn’t take after him, looking like my Mum’s side of the family. He was dark, and looked continental, easily passing as Jewish, or perhaps of some foreign extraction. There was talk of a Spanish connection way back in the family, but I never could confirm that. He was always smartly dressed, and as far as I was aware then, a good provider. But he wasn’t a settled man. He longed for something more, a better life somewhere.

From early on, I was a great disappointment to him. Somewhat spoilt by my Mum, I did not display the aptitude for sports that he would have liked. I didn’t seem to be able to learn to swim, no matter how hard he tried to teach me, and my abilities at football, or any sport, did not reach his standards. I didn’t ever run fast enough, or act tough enough, for his liking.

My white-blond curly hair and blue-green eyes marked me as one of my Mum’s family, not his. I didn’t realise this of course, and as a child, I thought he was amazing. I watched him work on his car, and studied how he drove it too. He dressed me in suits and ties, and I accompanied him on visits to relatives and friends. When he took us on our annual seaside holidays, he played for hours on the beach, constructing ‘cars’ from sand for me to sit in, or helping me build ambitious castles. Yet still, something inside me always sensed his overriding displeasure with me, and I wanted him to like me more.

As I got older, our relationship grew steadily worse. He often argued with Mum, and I only found out decades later, that she had discovered he was having various affairs with other women. I spent a lot of time in my room, reading books and comics, and writing on an old typewriter. In an effort to get me out of the house, he bought me a bike, and taught me how to ride it. As he did so, he hurt his back, slipping a disc. This was to cause him great pain, and necessitate operations later on. He never let me forget that he did that teaching me how to cycle.

By the time I reached my teens, he tried to get me interested in car mechanics, and various jobs around the house. When I showed little aptitude or interest in such things, he became angry, regularly declaring that I was ‘useless’ and that I always would be. There was some redemption when I did well at school, and he seemed genuinely proud of my exam results. I got the feeling that he resented my academic leanings, and comparative success, but he never let on, if he did.

He would get his own back, by making me help him do jobs and chores. Hard manual labour in the garden, or hours spent in a freezing garage, holding tools or torches as he worked on cars. At some stage, I would invariably do something wrong, or with insufficient enthusiasm, giving him the opportunity to once again exclaim that I was useless, and I might as well leave him to do it alone. One particular evening, he added the words ‘I never wanted kids anyway, you were a mistake I was tricked into.’ I let that go at the time, but it always returned in my thoughts.

By this time, he had changed jobs, and had spent many years working in the record industry. This gave him a boost in social status, and the chance to work away from home a great deal. On his return, he would present me with dozens of records, all the latest hits. But this was more about showing his ability to source this bounty, rather than the genuine desire to give me gifts. Once I was in my twenties, we hardly spoke at all. He was always out, often staying away overnight, and his relationship with Mum had deteriorated noticeably.

When I was nearly 24 years old, Mum told me that she had seen our house up for sale in the local estate agent. She thought it must be a mistake, and confronted him when he got home. He told her that he was moving in with a male colleague, and could no longer live with us. As his was the only name on the deeds of the house, he was entitled to sell it, and would give her half the proceeds. Mum asked me not to get involved. She was so shocked by it all, she didn’t even bother to fight him, and awaited her fate once he left.

Despite the disruption to our life at the time, I was actually pleased to see the back of him. As we suspected, the ‘male colleague’ turned out to be female, and he had rather boringly just left my Mum for another woman, without having the courage to tell her the truth.

A few weeks later, he was returning to collect some things, and his car broke down. He phoned the house, and Mum asked me to collect him from Sidcup, where he had left his car. I didn’t speak to him as I drove him home, and he got a taxi back to his car later, when I was out. I never saw him again, and never spoke to him again, after that day.

In 1989, I received a call from his cousin. He told me that my father was dying in a hospital in Northampton. He had Motor Neurone Disease, and was not expected to last the week. ‘You ought to go and see him’, the cousin suggested. ‘Did he ask me to come?’, I replied. ‘Not as such, but I am sure that he would want to see you’, he insisted.

‘I don’t think so Roy’, was my reply.

62 thoughts on “Reflections On My Father: A Repost

  1. I’m sorry Pete! These “old generations” of the war period (s) sometimes still had very antiquated ideas. My father was similar. I wasn’t enthusiastic about football either, but I was interested in manual work. Again, he didn’t like that. 😉 My father thought he would have to part with my mother at the age of 70. Well, he died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, so to speak, “all alone” in a retirement home. There are some people you cannot change, even if you are very closely related to them. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘Useless’. That is one of the meanest words a parent could say to their child. But you already know that. I’m so sorry, Pete. The good news is that you rose above, and became your own person- a very fine one I might add, light years above your father.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cheryl. I decided soon after my dad leaving that I would be kind. I might not know how to build a shed, or fix a car, but I did know how how to be kind. I wanted to be remembered for kindness, when I am gone.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry to hear how you and your mum were treated. We’ve all been shaped by our early years and family dynamics, for better or for worse. Sometimes that negative example is a positive, teaching us what NOT to be. It’s amazing how resilient human beings can be, overcoming many obstacles over which we had no control.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A sad story, and I sympathise with your pain at this non-relationship. It makes me realise that I’m lucky to still have my Dad – he’s 93 and getting frail, but he’s still my hero.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pete, my friend-I am speechless. My heart broke with compassion for your mum and you too. . .even your father. He just did not realise what he had. It is so sad when people just can’t get it right. I am so glad you had your mum-and no matter you didn’t have the kind of dad you deserved . . .you turned out beautifully. x Michele

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Not an easy read Pete. I’m sorry that your only memories aren’t pleasant. The mental health professional in me wonders if talking to someone would help but then again do you want to drag all that up again. It might help in that it’s a repair active process should you decide to go down that route but I do know that counselling isn’t for everyone and maybe you would rather leave things as they are. Either way know I’m thinking of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Siobhain. I think that between me and my mother, we worked it all out. In 2000, I reconnected with my dad’s family, and built bridges. It is all good now. 🙂 x
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  7. I really am sorry to read this post, Pete. It is terrible to tell a child he was a mistake and unwanted. My dad is not my biological father but a step father. He has always treated me exactly the same as his real children. He is a wonderful man and I know I am very lucky. Interestingly enough, he and my mother live with my family [in their own house on our property]. That was their choice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In three marriages, I have had no children, which I am sure was partly because of the issues with my dad. But for the last 20 years, I have tried to be kind and understanding to Julie’s kids, and to always encourage them.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mary. Over the last few years of their marriage, my dad’s behaviour drew mum and me closer. She even asked me to move back in from my rented place, to support her at home.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I picked up from your posts that you had a troubled relationship with your father, but I did not know the entire story. Sadly, this is the way of many marriages, but never fair to the people lost in the fray of it all. I am truly sorry this was part of your life, Pete. My children could tell similar stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was sorry for my mum. The whole thing really broke her spirit for some time. And although she was only 52 when they divorced, she never went out with another man again, not once.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  9. (1) “He lived in his own bungalow, and even had servants, who lived under the porch.” They weren’t great servants, but at least they weren’t as horrible as The People Under the Stairs.
    (2) I used to go big game hunting back in Missouri. I killed quite a few crickets!
    (3) Arthur was in charge of Indian troops. The U.S. Army cavalry used to charge Indian tribes.
    (4) Arthur wanted to start a new life in sunny Sunderland. He’d been told the Sunderland docs provided great health care.
    (5) Did he also make a seaman’s chest in which to put tobacco, hooks and reels, a carved elephant tusk, and his collection of gold mohurs?
    (6) It appears that the relationship with your father didn’t go swimmingly.
    (7) In the Transgender Age, a male colleague may very well be a woman.
    (8) Ironic that a man who excels at car mechanics should die of Motor Neurone Disease.
    (9) I thought you would Rob Roy of the answer he expected.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing what is obviously a very personal story Pete…I was also estranged from my father from my teenage years on…life is what it is sometimes – it did, however, make me work hard so that my kids would never be ashamed of their Dad the way I was…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose I was never ashamed of him, not until he sold the house from under my mum without even telling her he was going to do that. After that, I didn’t care what happened to him.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t think I would have picked him up from Sidcup – I’d have made him get the bus, lol. What a shame though, that your relationship with your dad wasn’t good. Mine wasn’t either, but then I was only 19 when he died and I didn’t really know him at all.

    Liked by 3 people

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