Sitting up into the wee small hours with my newborn son I can’t help reflect on the cycle of fathers and sons. And it’s these times I can conjure up images of my own father – at times from the look my son gives me, and at times from memories that are jogged.
There he is sitting with a pint in hand. Me next to him with a coke. Feeling like I’m in Spain because it has a slice of lemon in it. Picking at the dry roasted nuts. Not saying much. Even when another guy tries to make small talk all that enters the room are sighing ‘ayes’ and nods of the head. This is every Saturday while my sister is pony trekking in the nearby farm. Our pastime while we wait is less adventurous and a bit dreary. A visit to St Conval’s graveyard to check on his mum and dad’s stone. A quick tidy up, pulling out the weeds and some more small talk. And even though this is pretty routine it still takes us ages to find the plot. All the rows and stones look the same. And then, spending time with the dogs from the neighbouring kennels barking at us. Some allusions to reincarnation – which is by the way against Catholic teachings – that dog might be my granda come to say hello, that one my granny. And then as the years go on and the family starts to thin we replace them with a menagerie of reclaimed animals – that wasp that came in on an anniversary, those crows, that spider. But these things are never articulated like this. Just allusions. Nods and sighs.
There he is on the back step: his line always “don’t make waves, don’t bother” as he walked out for a smoke. Exiting as calmly as possible with the smallest amount of fuss. I like to think I inherited his sense of calm, or was it apathy? When really what you mean is you can’t be bothered. How much of it is the building of a wall?
This is how I remember my father: his anchor tattoos folded in wrinkled skin.
There he is, as usual, standing in the kitchen with a can, exhausted after his endless roll call of jobs building ships in Govan. Thick overalls and thick socks, thick soled boots and thick skin. Hard skin on palms and fingers.
There he is… sighing, picking at the bits of chicken in the soup mum would make every Saturday. Silent words between them. Silent understandings and traditions. I try for emotion, but it never comes. Make myself cry as I know I should but he would dismiss that with a turn of the back and an exit out the back.
Are the dogs still barking and is one of them now him? Or is he still hanging in the air as a wasp, a crow, a spider?
As for mum, she occupied the kitchen in another fashion. Orbiting my dad with care and years of knowing they still are feeding together, smoking together.