It’s the mid-eighties. My mother and father are arguing about something inane and unremarkable. I, in another room, am listening to the bickering and sniping batted back and forth until, predictably, my father gives way to his own favourite method of ending an argument, avoidance. With a flourish and slamming of doors, he decides to retreat to his car, a place of sanctuary, while shouting in exasperation “I’m going to listen to some music”. But, in anger, it comes out all wrong and what he actually shouts is, “I’m going to listen to some mutes”
It is a rare occasion on which their constant warring causes amusement.
My father was a funny man. His dry wit endures still, some twenty years after his death. Rarely does a week go by that I am not reminded of some pithy remark, an amusing anecdote, or an inadvertent mess up which left us laughing.
But he was also a stranger. The conundrum I tried so hard to work out for so long did, over the time since his death and my own flirtation with self-destruction, eventually reveal itself to be nothing more than the fact that I just didn’t know who he was.
To realise we have no solid sense of a person we love is disorienting and sad.
When someone dies we are left with questions so obvious that we wonder why we didn’t ask them earlier, when we could. But another’s obscurity is rarely due to our own disinterest and more likely because of their own insecurities about themselves.
Relationships on all levels thrive on openness and that means accepting vulnerability.
From childhood, I struggled to get a strong sense of my own worth. The obvious place to look was to my father. Surely he could teach me about self-value. But he couldn’t because he was not able to offer me something he had never found in himself.
Unsure of what we have to offer we are understandably reluctant to let others in. By preventing people from really seeing us in full colour we perpetuate the very fear which drives us, rejection and abandonment.
Fear is an isolator when it urges us to stay hidden. Much better surely to risk rejection from those who don’t appreciate our beauty, and accept it as a lucky escape from people we have no space for in our lives.
My son has just started work in London and takes the train each day just as my father did.
I used to stand on the wall outside our house in the evening waiting to see dads familiar gait come around the corner from the station. Sometimes he would be carrying an umbrella, using it like a hiking pole, and on Fridays, he would bring sweets from the shop opposite the prison gates. When I was sure it was him I would climb down off the wall and run along to meet him, hit by the rush of his familiar smell as I threw my arms around his waist and buried my face into his slim chest. Safe.
I hope Tom carries similar positive memories of me. But I hope too that I spare him from my own ironic realisation that when my father said he was going to listen to some mutes it was, in fact, me that was listening to one through all of the years we spent together.