Monday, 18 June 2012

'My cold mad father, my cold mad feary father...' quote Finnegans Wake. Families are funny things. I've popped back to Canterbury for the weekend, and walked straight into a saddening row with my dear old father.

A little background. My dad is an odd fellow, and over the years I've learned---have had to learn---that the price for his splendid beholden-to-no-man, I'll-do-as-I-please eccentricity is a certain tendency to enter a bewildering state of fugue when confronted by any emotional obligation. (The minute my grandmother died, he went off to play his usual Sunday game of tennis; my mother, bereaved of her much-loved mother that very hour, was left to drive herself home from the hospital.) In other words, he will sometimes behave as if the feelings of other people close to him do not exist, and as if any attempt to argue for their claim upon his time is an outrageous form of persecution. He's also, I should add, a generous, kindly, amusing and reliable man, who loves nature and gardening; in many ways I resemble him.* I love him very much.

Anyway. On the 18th of August, my mother and father are coming to Oxford to attend a half-cousin's wedding (my grandfather's second wife's granddaughter). They are staying overnight in my college, which I've arranged, and the next morning are going to see the wonderfully-refurbished Ashmolean Museum, which is five minutes' walk away. The row happened because dad made it clear that he would not want to---and would make no plans to---'socialise' with me while they are in Oxford, despite staying in a room fifty feet from my flat: 'If you can just get us the room and the parking space, that would be great.' He was actually quite angry at the suggestion that they might walk up the stairs to have a cup of coffee with me and see my flat. (I feel rather upset writing this.) 

Further background: my mum and dad have never visited me anywhere I've lived since I left home at 18, and never expressed any desire to do so. They never saw my old house and garden in Lake St; they never visited Cambridge. And yet this time they are staying the night in the building in which I live and yet dad seems horrified by the idea of dropping in. Why?! He's always delighted to see me when I come back to the family home. 

I think I understand it a little. Like me, dad's a committed Taurean and he just really hates disruption to his routine, or (worse) any sense, as I noted above, of being obliged to take someone else's feelings into account in determining how he behaves. (My friend Bill aptly quoted Auden at me today: ' obsessive a ritualist, / a pleasant surprise makes him cross'). He will have things on his own terms or not at all. Nevertheless, I found the idea that when I see mum and dad we are 'socializing' particularly odd, as though I cease to be their son when not chez eux, but become something between a meddling nephew and a tiresome golfing acquaintance. Talk about alienating. I find it bizarre that they had decided to stay overnight in Oxford some months ago but clearly weren't going to mention this fact to me; until I got them the room in college, the idea that they might visit me had clearly simply not occurred to them. It's all just a bit...mad, and rather reminiscent of the time I was trying to help my dad access his voicemail and found that my number is in his phone under my full name, complete with surname. I mean, wow.

I'm trying to decide how to proceed. Mum, of course, would love to see where I live and have a tour of Lazarus College; Father Williams wants to be out of there as quick as possible, ideally (and this has been made overt and explicit) without seeing me at all, even for ten minutes.

I suppose you just have to take people as they are,  don't you?

* * *

* When I got home on Saturday I went to open a door near the front of the house. 'Don't open that!!' hissed my father. 'It's full of bees.' What next? A gnu under the stairs? Clockwork Nazis in the attic?! It baffles science.


Gordon said...

Last week, my father finally learned how to post photos on Facebook of our recent dive trip in Fiji.

He tagged a photo of me; that he personally took; as being my partner and then proceeded to publicly argue the case with me. Mother had to be roped in to adjudicate: "yes, that is your son whom you have known for almost 31 years."

Dads, man. Incomprehensible.

Robin said...

I thought my family were odd! Is there some sort of autistic issue at play?
The oddity of people never ceases to amaze and no, you don't have to take them as they are. There's no obligation to indulge anyone's inadequacies, not even family.
I'm currently bewildered by my ex's habit of repeatedly telling me how awful the man he dumped me for is... because he has nobody else to talk to. Very odd.

Bo said...

Gordon: good God!

Robin: tell your ex to grow up! That is damnable behaviour.

Cerdo said...

Fathers are indeed a breed of their own. If it's any consolation, my parents haven't been to visit my home (except once) since I was 18 either. Both of my parents are avid readers yet my father dismisses where I live being "probably just full of books". The occasional time they visit the UK, I am lucky if I see them for an afternoon. Same goes for answering the phone, the rare time my father answers, his third sentence is invariably "I will get your mother/You mother isn't here".

Yet, when I return to the countryside, it is open arms, suggestions of long walks in the vineyards, good books to read (though, invariably, about a historical period that doesn't interest me), and food aplenty.

Strange inconsistant creatures, fathers.

Unitas mirabile vinculum.

Aelred Patrick said...

I wonder if it's a generational thing - if you mean folks in their 60s, 70s etc - a relic of mores long since relaxed in other settings. My father never spoke of his emotions much, but he was very shy and never had the opportunities he provided for his children. My mother, on the other hand, was a family networker par excellence. We never went anywhere without dropping in on a third cousin or some such.

From here in the Antipodes, it also sounds very British - routines, custom, stiff upper lip? Or is that too much of a stereotype?

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