Washington, Dad – remember? You drilled that story into me from as soon as I could understand language. You know, the one about the cherry tree and “I cannot tell a lie”.
I lived that motto. And do you know what? I lived it utterly. You may not think I did, but I did. I even took it to school with me. I was a proper goody-two-shoes, in fact. One of the most mocked and hated kids at school.
You didn’t notice the bruises I got from the other kids, did you? That’s because basically you didn’t care two hoots for me. Why was that? Did you blame me for Mum leaving? Or were you just too tied up with your work? Your work … ha! Insurance? I suppose that’s where you got the “always tell the truth” thing from.
But it’s funny, you know. I mean, did you practice what you preached? Did you? Do you really think I didn’t know about the drinking, for instance? You used vodka, didn’t you? To avoid the tell-tale breath, I imagine. I knew where you kept it – behind the lawn-mower in the shed. It was your little secret. You were allowed to have secrets. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Are you comfortable there? I don’t want your sciatica to start playing up. I don’t want you to suffer … not yet, anyway. Maybe if I put this cushion behind your … there, that feels better, doesn’t it?
Now, was that your only lie, the booze? That’s what I want to know. But then again, I suppose you’ll say it wasn’t even a lie really, more a … concealment of the truth. Oh, that’s very clever. So you’re going to get all semantic on me, are you? You can shake your head all you want, Dad. I know your game. You’ve always had to be right.
Remember that time you were cutting wallpaper to fit round the fireplace? I told you it wasn’t cut properly, but you weren’t having any of it. Because you wanted to be right. So when it didn’t fit, just like I told you it wouldn’t, you got mad at me and stormed off to the shed. We know what for now, don’t we?
Yeah, sure, that was a long time ago, but these little things stick, you know. So you never hurt me, physically – except for that one time. Do you think that made you a good father? The absence of physical punishment? You do have some funny ideas.
Psychologically, emotionally, how do you think you fared? As a father, I mean. Do you think you treated me well psychologically and emotionally? Well, here’s a test: how many parents’ meetings did you go to, to check on my progress with the teachers? You can tap your foot on the floor.
What, no taps? What a surprise. And how many of my football matches did you come to watch? What, no taps again? My, my. And how many hugs did you give me, ever? I think you can see a pattern emerging, Dad, can’t you? I think you could probably call it “neglect”. Oh, I don’t mean you had me locked up in my bedroom with piss-stained sheets on the bed, and only pizza crusts to eat. Not that kind of neglect.
But I think you get my drift. You didn’t care about me, and I wanted so much for you to care about me. What did you care about, then? Well there was your work, as I said. Bloody insurance policies, and books, and forms, and claims.
You’d be at it all day, then when you got home, you’d be at it all evening, too. “Don’t bother me now!” That’s what you’d say whenever I asked you to help with my homework. Everyone else’s parents helped them. Not you, though. Can’t you see how cold that made me feel? How … removed from you?
Of course you can’t see, because you haven’t changed one bit. You’ve got older, but if anything you’re even less interested in me now. I tell you what: if I had kids … but then I don’t think I’ll ever have kids. Know why? I’ll give you three guesses.
No, you’re right. That’s not really fair – you not being able to speak and all. I’ll answer that one. It’s you. You’re the reason I’ll never have kids.
I’ve been having psychotherapy, did you know that? What a silly question. Anyway, me and my therapist – nice bloke, I can really relate to him – we’ve been working on my difficulties with women. And we’ve brought the reasons down to one incident. Can you guess what it is? I’m sure you can.
I was thirteen, Dad, for Christ’s sake. The age of experimentation. Margaret Jones. I had a crush on her, she had a crush on me, we kissed at the bus-stop. That was it. One bloody kiss. You didn’t care about anything but your insurance books, so why did you care what old Mrs Henderson had to say about it?
Remember the interrogation? You had me pinned on one of the kitchen chairs – just like that one you’re on now, in fact. I wasn’t tied up, of course, but you held me down and shouted in my face: “Is it true? Is it true?” Remember that? I’d never lied to you before but I denied this. It was a big mistake. You didn’t let me go till I’d admitted the kiss. And then you took your belt off.
I think you must have been to the shed earlier. Is that right? You can nod. I said is that right? Ah, I thought so. That’s why you really lost it, then. I couldn’t walk for days. Lucky for you it was the summer holidays – if I’d had to go to school, they would have noticed for sure.
So that’s where it comes from, we decided, my problem with women. And well, if the truth be told, all my problems stem from you, really. I thought you’d like to know that beforehand. Oh, before what, you ask? Well …
Going back to George Washington, Dad. What was that story about the cherry tree again? Young George gets a new hatchet for his birthday, or some other occasion, I can’t remember – funny present to give a kid really, but anyway – and goes round chopping at everything in sight, including his dad’s favourite cherry tree. And bla bla bla, etcetera.
Well, Dad, I went to the shops this morning, and I bought some rope – as you know – and … hang on, it’s in my rucksack … somewhere … bloody rucksack, I can never find … ah, here it is.
Now, to tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, what I’m going to do with this hatchet, Dad … no, no, on second thoughts, I’ll let you guess.