For some reason, the letter to my mother was more or less chronological but the one to my father is far more jumbled. Read into that what you will.
You once told me that life would be easier to deal with if I took my emotions and locked them all up inside of me, behind a nice big wall to protect me from the outside world. You were wrong, but I did try.
You always wanted to win. You argued with us, not to debate, discuss or educate, but to win. You refused to ever admit you’d lost an argument so there were times when I would point out you had lost and wouldn’t admit and I’d walk away. I sat there quietly at the dinner table so many times watching 2sis argue with you and then leave the table in a flurry of tears.
I didn’t understand why the move abroad changed you. Before there had been bedtime stories and visits to work and special occasions. I suppose the pressure on you was enormous, that having created this job you had to prove yourself worthy. But I felt that I’d lost you.
I hated being forced to go for walks. I hated to be forced to walk quickly so that whatever there was to look at had to be looked at whilst moving. I hated the sense that this was not a promenade, but there was a target, a destination, distance and time all to be kept to. I hated having to sit outside the pub with my sisters sharing a packet of crisps while you two went in and had a few beers. I forced myself to enjoy them to the extent that I could, but that was often about getting lost in my own mind.
I hated the sarcasm, the mockery, being laughed at. You made me feel smaller than I already was.
I enjoyed the Tour de Mont Blanc that we did when I was seven. 100 miles in ten days across snow and surrounded by beautiful landscape. That was worth it. There was a moment when you showed me what to do if I found myself slipping down a deep slope when I realised that you were absolutely petrified for me. This fear of losing one of your children and eventually your grandchildren was completely unsurprising considering you’d lost a brother, but I didn’t know that. I asked you to teach me rock climbing, thinking this was something you enjoyed and I wanted to have a go at, that it would be good bonding. I eventually gave up, realising that you were passing on your fear to me and I became more nervous and unsure than I was when we started.
You would enter holiday mode and relax. We learned to recognise the signs which usually included terrible jokes we had to laugh at, just because you expected us to. I’m sure it was all a game to you. As I got older you would take me out every few months for a meal and we would talk. I would sit there in fear wanting to get the serious chat about what I was doing over and done with so I could relax and enjoy. Sometimes that moment didn’t come but I was always waiting for it.
You made mum unhappy and you couldn’t see that. You were emotionally blind. You are slightly less so now.
When I was being bullied at school you told me that it didn’t matter, that you never had any friends at school and look how you turned out. That wasn’t just unhelpful; that was scary. I had already recognised that you had very few friends and little social life. I already knew I wanted more. My mother said I cried myself to sleep for two years and that one summer she wrote you a letter that you took on board and changed my school. Finally. I however have a sneaking suspicion that you actually swapped schools because my French teacher was hell bent on getting me to repeat a year and that I would have to start learning English as a foreign language, both of which you would have seen as a waste of valuable education.
There was at some point a brief discussion about sending me to boarding school but by that time I was so unhappy at school that I couldn’t contemplate the idea of having to live there as well. At least I could hide away in my bedroom. Later there was an even briefer discussion about therapy, as mum was having some. By then I think I thought I had to go it alone and that even though you offered, it wouldn’t have lasted long. You would have kept asking me if I was cured.
If it wasn’t for your mother I wouldn’t have known you had a brother. Pain that was buried so deep the first time it came out was at the infamous dinner party where you met your soon to be mistress. She said it then took you three months before you rang her. I wonder what was going through your mind in that time. More to the point, when she suggested I was unhappy and would be better off living with her for a bit, what possessed you to say yes? How could you be so naive to think I wouldn’t find out, that she wouldn’t tell me, when we were living under the same roof? How do you think that made mum feel, that you’d not only had an affair but had handed me over to your mistress. You really did think that no one would ever know. You got that wrong. You took me out for dinner and just said that you’d behaved badly and whoops-a-daisy and that was as much detail as you went into.
The day I got my results for O or A levels, you just said that is what happens when you don’t work hard enough. We’d had conversations over the years where you would say put aside your feelings and all that nonsense and just focus on your homework. My reply was that I couldn’t. You never got that. You also never explained why you wouldn’t pay £300 for a school trip to Russia that I thought was a bargain. I still don’t get that.
You somehow expected me to understand that money was tight when we moved back to London. But we had a temporary flat before moving into a nice big house in the centre of London and you sent me to an independent school. You never mentioned that money was tight because you never mentioned such things. Somehow I was just expected to know.
We have over the years had several conversations about your big mountain climbing trip. I was six and so proud of you going off to climb a big scary mountain. You got altitude sickness and came down early and it wasn’t until years later that mum suggested it was psycho-somatic and you were just plain scared. Now you talk about how stupid and foolish it was to do something so physically dangerous when you could have left a family at home bereft of a father and breadwinner. You saw it as a failure as you didn’t make it to the top. I saw it as a success because you gave it a go and because you came back down again in one piece. We shall never agree on this and it highlights much of the difference in attitudes between us.
During my teenage years and beyond when you took me out you would ask me how mum was doing. You realised that she would tell me things she wouldn’t tell you and I would try and explain things so you could understand. I was so tempted to tell you to ask her directly but I knew she wouldn’t say anything. She did at time complain of being piggy in the middle between you and your daughters but it was a role she chose and she didn’t mind me being it for her.
You wouldn’t let me go to our uncle’s funeral, despite my having spent holidays with him and asking to go. Your excuse was that I couldn’t miss school and it was a fair bit of travelling. I wonder if you were just scared at the prospect of taking a pre-teen with you who was expressing her grief. You didn’t like death. When L died and you had to phone me with the news, as I sat there crying you told me that since she had four properties each of her children would get one so that was all right. When we all sat there in church for your mother’s Christian funeral I wondered if she was laughing at the idea that she’d managed to get you to go to church for once.
It must have been about ten years ago the last time I tried to talk to you about why I was in counselling, what I had learned about myself and my childhood. You just said it was about time I put all this nonsense to bed and grew out of it. Harsh words that showed a total lack of understanding and I vowed never to give it one last try again.
You never listened to me. I wanted to go to drama college and you wouldn’t countenance it. I was your last chance to get a child at Oxford and you wouldn’t let go of that dream. Never mind that I didn’t want to go and had no idea what to study, sorry, read. I made enquiries and pursue half heartedly an Oxford college and simultaneously buggered up my A levels so we no longer had the option. You gave me the minimal financial support for drama college and blamed it all on me when I walked out early due to poor teaching. That again was clearly my fault.
The one time I dared to have a vaguely teenage rebellious argument with you both before I moved out I complained that neither of you ever said you loved me. I think my mother replied that she thought I knew. You asked, and I’m not sure how it came about, whether I loved you and I said “because you’re my father”. You said it wasn’t a very good reason and I replied that it was the only one I had.
At some point as a child I buried all the anger I had towards you and turned it into understanding. The loss of your brother, your mother being quite cold and stopping you from having a relationship with your father, these all isolated you and taught you to bury feelings deep. But you were never able to move on from there and dig them up again. You were stuck. I recognised all that and told you once that I thought you were the best father you were capable of being. but I didn’t really mean it as a compliment.
Now there is just anger, mixed up with sorrow. I had a positive relationship with mum at times. There was honesty and openness even if it was limited. But I don’t think I ever really did with you. I always had to worry about saying the wrong thing, about not upsetting you. You just dismissed everything you didn’t want to hear.