My dad is not a good man. He is not kind or gentle. He is not wise or funny. He is not cultured, sensitive, accepting or loving. He hates laughter and revels in others’ misfortunes, including any setbacks suffered by his own offspring. He is not burdened with even one quality that might have proved handy in fatherhood. My dad, unfortunately, is a grade A twat.
By now you might be expecting me to offer a qualification. “Hey, but I still love him,” or “But he’s still my dad.” No. The man used to beat me. He’s raged against me for having non-white girlfriends. I have no love for him. But neither do I have hatred.
Why do I not hate a man who punched me in the face and kicked me in the stomach as I lay on the floor when I was 12? Who tried to undermine me ever since I turned 10 and realised that the man I called ‘dad’ was a bitter, dim poltroon? The man who has never once expressed any interest in my life, other than what reflected, unearnt glory it might provide for him? The man who has made my mother’s life a misery for 62 years.
Why don’t I hate such a creature? There are two reasons. The first one is is simple – his life has been a failure. He’s a coward, a lily-livered husk of a man. His three children (none of whom now even live in the same country as him) are his only achievement. But we feel nothing for him. It’s hard to hate a man who has so signally wasted a life. He’s 89 and he’s done NOTHING. He’s never taken a risk, never gambled on life, never tried something new.
The second reason I do not hate him is because he’s been a role model for me. A role model for how not to a live a life. When an opportunity for change or betterment ever confronted my father, he froze, unable to galvanise himself. And each time the moment for change had passed, he’d grumble about how it hadn’t been the right time. I have that same conservative gene – I, too, instinctively distrust change. But my father’s example compels me to embrace risk, to push forward. My life so far has been rich. I’ve done things I would never have done without the example of my father’s abject cowardice to drive me.
He’s also made me more open to new ideas, to pursue knowledge. My father is a very stupid man. On a recent visit to see me in heavily-forested northern France he said, “I hate trees – they say they suck all the oxygen out of the air.” He has an almost preternatural ability to be wrong. Whatever the debate you can use my father as a bellwether – always plump for whichever side he disagrees with. It’s never failed me. Part of this is down to his innate dimness. Much of it, though, is due to his parroting of whatever bilge he reads in his tabloid newspaper of choice. He’s never knowingly questioned a populist opinion, however ridiculous. As a result he’s reliably racist and homophobic. The man is a fucking idiot.
But his unceasing boneheadedness has at least ensured that I’ve always been a voracious reader and his slack-jawed credulousness almost certainly dictated that I’ve become something of a contrarian, a quality from which I’ve been able to eke a living.
Now I, too, am a father. Now it all becomes very real. My twin daughters were born seven weeks early in difficult circumstances. In testing times I became aware of my father’s malevolent genes. I struggled with my patience and my temper. I fought long and hard to not be like him, to love my girls unconditionally, to not see their understandable fractiousness as being a personal affront, to not be a narcissistic asshole. I’m winning that fight but only just. Every day I begin again with just one thought – I will not be like my father. He may have not had the cognitive wherewithal to combat his faulty DNA but I must fight mine. I will become a good man.
Paul Connolly is a journalist, writer and broadcaster.