I stand pointing upstairs looking as furious as possible as I try to remember where I’ve heard the phrase I’ve just used before. Oh yes. It was my father.
With the possible exception of being behind the wheel of a very large truck, you don’t want to turn in to your parents. However, the chances of avoiding it, when they’re the only consistent guide to parenting you’ve had, are slim.
For me this isn’t helped when each morning I look in the mirror and all I can see is my father staring back. Not only that, he hasn’t even bothered to shave. When my wife wakes up she doesn’t just look like her mother, she proceeds to tell me how she was always too good for me, I should get a proper job and that there were a lot less darkies around during the blitz.
My only consolation in my patermorphis is that I’m not turning into someone else’s father because, flawed as my one was, this week has proven there are far worse out there.
Take poor Ray Bond who failed to pick up the clues when he allowed Hannah, his 13 year old “emo” fixated, goth, daughter with a history of self harm, unmonitored internet access. Hannah “was always very protective of the screen whenever I came in to the room,” he told a Coroner after finding her lifeless body hanging from her bunk bed.
Of course he didn’t choke his daughter to death by stamping on her throat in an honour killing as Abdel-Quader Ali did after seeing her talking to a British soldier. “Death was the least she deserved,” he pronounced.
But even that pales when the kindly old father figure from Amstetten said, “It was a beautiful idea for me, to have a proper family also down in the cellar.”
Suddenly I’m wondering if I’m not being a little too authoritarian. I mean dads have hardly had a good press this week. It’s like someone’s been running a campaign for Fathers For Injustice. And here I am looking stern and maybe it’s scarier then I think.
I do realise that, like nipples and Calpol, terror has a key role in the psyche of the young, it trains caution before they’re old enough to understand danger. An ugly witch in a fairy tale used to do the job but since Shrek came along they’re all cute and rehabilitated; ogres no longer seem to eat children.
When R’s school project on Zeus revealed that his father ate most of his siblings as babies and Zeus ate his first wife with his unborn child inside her it was greeted with the same indifference as if that was just another option on a Happy Meal.
So now we have the news to broadcast our ogres and the terror is distributed indiscriminate of age. Madeline McCann is a cautionary tale, but mostly for grown ups, and where story monsters were always marked by their differences, now what makes them scarier is that they’re just like us.
“I wanted to have many children. Not children that would have to grow up alone… but children that would always have someone to play with.” It’s a simple caring notion, what parent hasn’t let it idle through their brain at some point? But, oh my god, I’ve just shared a thought with the mind of Joseph Fritzl – and here I am about to imprison a defenceless child in her room. What kind of father am I?
As I stand there praying I won’t have to mete out punishment, it dawns on me that I’m no longer one of the kids, I‘m not one of us, I’m one of them. I’m the brick wall my children will try to tear down. I’m the cause to be rebelled against. My love might be unconditional but any chance of friendship is overloaded with conditions. I’ll be your friend if you obey my rules: sit up, don’t slouch, speak up, get your feet off the chair, lean over your plate when you put food in your mouth, say sorry like you mean it…
“Four and a half”
She still hasn’t apologised. I look into J’s determined eyes, hero of her own adventure, facing down the punishment monster. I try to keep my angry dad face and not let on how much I admire her bravery. She’s only three and I know I’ve got to teach her how to respect people because it will keep her safe when she’s out in the big world. But I hate knowing that I’m reinforcing our differences and the memory of moments like this will eventually drive her away to the happier company of her un-judgemental, non-conditional, peers.
“Fi-i-i-i,” I say, menacingly, my arms reaching towards her, ready to snatch and whisk her screaming to her room.
“Sorry” she quickly whispers grabbing my hand and burying her face in my arms.
I kiss her tiny hot head, “No, I’m sorry,” I whisper back.