I know you wanted to talk some more about your father’s email this week, but I was wondering if we might explore your parents’ lie that you walked out on them for 25 years?
Yes, that’s fine.
I should warn you, though. It’s complicated.
I don’t mind. I can handle complexity.
It’s also rather convoluted.
I don’t mind that either. I can handle …. er … convolution?
And it’s tedious.
You’re not exactly selling this, are you! Maybe we should just get on with it.
It all happened in 1991. The first significant event of that year was, I suppose, the dissolution of my Limited Company.
Goodness! You had your own Limited Company!
That makes it sound a whole lot grander than it actually was. I was the only employee. It was a very small-scale affair.
Nevertheless, you must have been quite upset when it all fell apart.
Absolutely! I was devastated. It had been my dream to make a success of it.
I’m guessing that you told your parents about this.
Yes, I did.
What did they say? Were they sympathetic?
No, not in the least. Dad just laughed and made a joke about it.
How could he have possibly turned that into a joke?
He said “Oh dear. That’ll cause a stock market crash.”
And he laughed about it!
Actually, dad is a master of the art of schadenfreude. He’s able to interleave scornful laughter within ordinary speech. And I’m not talking about the natural, rhythmical contractions of the diaphragm that result from a genuine response to humour.
No. He feigned laughter by mockingly extending words with ‘ho‘, ‘ha‘ or ‘he‘ as appropriate to the originating vowel.
I’m not sure I know what you mean.
I mean like this:
“Oh-ho-ho de-he-he-hear! Tha-ha-hat’ll cause a sto-ho-hock ma-ha-harket cra-ha-hash.”
What about your mother! Did she also laugh about it?
Yes she did.
Although she doesn’t have anything like dad’s facility for jeering contempt. She had to confine herself to a few mildly explosive exhalations through her nose. As in:
“Hmmph, hmmph, hmmph, hmmph!”
Hmmmph, hmmmph, hmmmph, hmmmph?
No, it was more like: “Hmmph, hmmph, hmmph, hmmph!”
That’s what I said.
No it wasn’t! Your “hmmph”s were far too elongated. Your “hmmph”s were more like “hmmmph”s.
How about this then? Hmmph, hmmph, hmmph, hmmph!
Now you’ve got it.
Did they have anything else to say about it? Anything at all?
No. That was it. That was the sum total of their commentary.
How did that make you feel?
I cannot believe you just said that! … “How did that make you feel?” … We both know you’re not a real therapist.
I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, and ask you again – How did that make you feel?
Hollow. Empty. And a sinking, no …. plummeting sensation. Rather as if a hole had opened up beneath my feet, and I was tumbling down through it.
And the next significant event of 1991?
Just a couple of weeks later, when I was still struggling with the failure of my business, I learned that there was subsidence in the street where I lived.
Tracey and I had bought an end-of-terrace house in Leamington, and the house which was next door but one was having to be underpinned.
There was also evidence to suggest that the ground was unstable beneath our neighbours’ property.
So yet more stress, in other words.
You’re telling me!
I’m almost afraid to ask this, but …um … did you tell your parents about the subsidence?
And what did your father say?
He laughed about it, and said: “Oh dear!”.
Did he do that fake laughter thing that you mentioned before?
You’re getting the hang of this now aren’t you.
Yes, he said it like this:
And your mother?
“Hmmph, hmmph, hmmph ,hmmph.”
I hope you don’t mind my asking this. Why on earth did you associate with your parents at all, given the way they behave towards yourself and others?
Because they’re my parents.
But suppose you had a friend who was always putting you down, laughing at your misfortune, treating you like dirt, lying about you. What would you do?
I would no longer regard that person as a friend.
So why did you put up with your pa…
Because they’re my parents.
I’ll try and explain it another way:
It’s like there’s a voice, at the back of my mind, saying ‘This isn’t happening‘, or ‘This is just temporary. They’ll one day remember that they’re my parents and I’m their son.‘
But it IS happening … I mean … WAS happening. Your internal voice is clearly wrong.
I know it is.
But YOU try arguing with the voice at the back of my mind, and see how far you get.
Very well! OK, so your limited company has folded and you’re worried about the possibility of house subsidence. Then what happened?
Well for all that I’ve said, this was a period where my parents were being surprisingly agreeable.
By their standards, anyway.
But at the beginning of autumn, September I think, something happened to put dad in what must have been his worst Mood to date.
Why do you capitalise the M in Mood?
Because normally, when you think of someone being ‘in a mood’, you imagine them as being a bit grumpy, snappy. Or sullen and quiet even.
But dad’s Moods were different. They were raging torrents of hatred. Pure hatred. Solid, three-dimensional hatred.
It was best to avoid him completely at times like that. If you were unlucky enough to be in his path, you would merely be presenting him with a vessel into which to pour his venom.
Blimey! And what was the cause of this … the mother of all Moods?
It was to do with Granny. He had banished her from his life in 1980, with no intention of reconciliation.
But, sometime in the autumn of 1991, she became seriously ill and had to be installed in a nursing home in Kenilworth. For some reason, dad was obliged to visit her once a week or so.
Why did he do this though, if he’d had no intention of resuming contact with her?
I don’t know. There must have been some powerfully coercive pressure from somewhere. And dad hated having to do it. It consumed him.
Hold on a minute! Your say your father had ostracised his mother for 10 years by this point. Why? What had she done to deserve this?
It’s all explained in the post called ‘Dad’s Family‘, but I’ll go through it again if you want.
Back in early 1963, our family was homeless. So Grandpa (dad’s father) obligingly lent dad the money to buy a semi-detached house in Chalfont St. Giles.
After living there a few months, my parents realised they could buy a much better house if they refused to pay the money back.
Which is what they did.
What has this got to do with ostracising your grandmother?
Just bear with me please. I did tell you it was complicated.
Yes. And convoluted.
Anyway, Grandpa died a few months later, in October.
But before he died, he disinherited dad. He wrote him out of the Will.
Because your father had reneged on the loan.
It must have been.
However, Uncle John (dad’s brother) arranged for dad to receive a sum of money ostensibly from Grandpa’s Will. This was to protect dad from any emotional distress.
That was kind of your uncle.
Yes it was.
And dad’s immediate family – Granny, Uncle John and Aunty Sue – agreed between themselves never to tell him about this.
But I still don’t see what this has to do with…
Might I so bold as to continue?
Sometime in the mid 1970s, dad fell out with his brother. From that moment on, he hated John with all the supernatural intensity that only dad can muster.
I’ve no idea. Dad never needs much of a reason to hate someone. At a guess, I’d assume it was because John had said something to dad that he didn’t like. That’s all it usually takes.
Is there a chance of a denouement any time soon?
Yes. Here it is…
A few years later, in 1980, Granny had become so upset by dad’s animosity towards his brother, that she made the fatal mistake of trying to take on the role of peacemaker.
She told dad the truth about Grandpa’s Will, and how John had been the prime mover in protecting him from being hurt. She assumed, with spectacular misjudgement, that dad would then be moved to see John in a new light, and ‘make up’ with him.
It didn’t quite turn out that way.
Why not? What was the result?
Dad immediately and summarily banished Granny from his life.
Oh! … Ah! … I see! So her imposed exile lasted until 1991, and now your father has been somehow forced to interact with her again.
That’s right. And dad was light-years beyond livid about it.
But how did this affect you?
Dad has a kind of scattergun approach to hatred. Once in a Mood, everyone becomes a potential target for his bile.
Marianne was the first in line because she was living with them temporarily at the time. However, she was about to start a job working as a housekeeper up in Scotland. The day she left, dad said to her:
“I HOPE I NEVER HAVE TO SEE YOU AGAIN!”
Charming! And what about you?
Dad broke off communications with me, and there was very little contact from mum.
Until Christmas Day.
Mum phoned me at around 7 o’clock in the evening to ask if I would do them a favour. They wanted me to go to Kenilworth and deliver a present to Granny.
Christmas Day though! Wouldn’t you have been drinking?
I was OK to drive. I was careful that day because I’d driven Tracey and myself to her parents for Christmas dinner.
Seriously. I was OK to drive.
I arrived at New College and mum let me in. Dad was there, in the hallway, fuming and seething. Any cartoon representation of him would’ve had to feature steam issuing horizontally from each of his ears.
He said, or rather, shouted:
“YOU’RE NOT TO DRIVE THERE BY THE BACK STREETS.”
That’s an odd thing to say.
It’s meaning isn’t immediately clear, is it.
He was implying that, since it was Christmas Day, I must have been drinking. He was therefore telling me to drive along the main roads so that I would be more exposed to the risk of being stopped by the Police.
This doesn’t make any sense.
It does when you’re familiar with the way his mind operates when he’s in a Mood. He has to cause damage in some way. He has to cause distress. He has to try to unbalance you. He wants something bad to happen to you.
He grasps at any opportunity to be vile, however tenuous.
What did he do next?
He slammed Granny’s present onto the sideboard, the one by the front door. Then he turned around and stamped away down the hall. Back to his office I imagine.
Which left you standing there with your mother…
Mum did her usual thing of trying to justify dad’s behaviour. She said, indignantly:
“Do you know! Your father has had to drive to Kenilworth thirteen times!”
She stressed the thirteen times as if it were an outrageously large number.
I don’t understand that either.
It’s hard to grasp, isn’t it.
She was saying, in effect, that he was perfectly within his rights to be an unpleasant bastard, because he was regularly having to deal with the persistent imposition of driving the five miles to Kenilworth (a round trip of ten miles) to visit his dying mother.
Thirteen times ten. That’s one hundred and thirty miles in total over a period of … what? … about 3 months.
Believe me, he bitterly resented every single mile.
And by the way, have you managed to figure out the implication contained within mum’s words?
Er … no. IS there an implication?
Yes, there is.
The implication is that mum and dad were diligently counting the exact number of times that he had visited her. They were actually quantifying the inconvenience. For each excursion to and from Kenilworth, they were religiously incrementing this integer, and nourishing dad’s resentment.
I see. But anyway, you took the parcel to your grandmother’s nursing home.
When I arrived there, the receptionist said that Granny had gone to bed and was asleep. She told me to leave the parcel on the desk, and that it would be given to Granny in the morning.
And then I drove back home.
It looks like we’re finally coming to the end of December 1991.
Yes we are.
For New Years Eve, mum and dad had arranged to go away for a few days to see Marianne in Scotland. She had returned to favour with dad presumably by virtue of geographical separation. Their idea was that I would stay at New College to look after the place during their absence.
Dad phoned me, the evening before they were supposed to leave, and told me that I was to come round to the school the following day. There was no “Would you mind…” or “We’d be grateful if you could…“. There was just this:
“YOU’RE COMING ROUND TOMORROW TO LOOK AFTER THE SCHOOL WHILE WE’RE AWAY!”
And I said I wouldn’t do it.
Why did you refuse?
I’d had enough of their callousness.
What with their behaviour on Christmas Day, and their presumption that I would do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, they had finally exceeded my threshold of tolerance.
What happened next?
Take a wild guess!
He went ballistic, bellowing down the phone at me. It was so loud that Tracey was able to hear him in the adjacent sitting room, even with the door closed.
He finished his insane rant with this incomprehensible declaration:
“IF YOU THINK I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU £10,000 FOR YOUR HOUSE, THEN YOU’VE GOT ANOTHER THINK COMING.”
At which point he slammed the phone down.
Are you certain that it was your father who put the phone down first?
I’m pretty sure, but can’t be completely certain. To be honest, I felt dizzy for a few minutes afterwards, having been on the receiving end of his megawatt stream of abuse. I have a memory, almost comical in retrospect, of still holding the phone’s handset to my ear for several moments following his breaking the connection.
As for his parting remarks concerning £10,000 for my house, it took me a while to figure out what he meant.
Yes, the subsidence!
He must have been referring to the potential cost of remedial work for subsidence.
But it would have been covered by your Home Insurance policy, surely!
Exactly! The cost was never an issue. I was certainly scared that an avalanche of bricks might one day fall down on top of me and Tracey, but there would have been no problem with paying for it.
This still doesn’t make any sense. Your father would surely have known that this kind of thing would be covered by your house insurance.
You’d have thought that, wouldn’t you. But’s it’s a mistake to assume that rational thought plays any part in this.
Dad, from the subterranean depths of his rage, would have been fantasising that the subsidence had indeed reached our house. He would have conjured a cost, in this case £10,000, that he knew we’d be unable to afford. And then he would have wished it into reality.
He was actually hoping for this to be true.
That’s how his mind works.
There’s a considerable amount of speculation in that theory of yours!
Which speculation is solidly based on my experience of dad.
And so, following on from that telephone … er … conversation…
That’s it. There’s nothing more. From that moment on I was exiled. Erased. Banished.
Yet he claims that it was you who walked out on him.
Yes, that’s the lie which my parents propagate. And it’s just one of many lies that they spread about their children. They lie on an industrial scale.
It’s gross misrepresentation.
It’s a hateful thing to do, and they are hateful people.
I’m sorry but I can’t think of anything to say to that.
That’s alright. You don’t have to say anything.
See you next week.