Thursday, September 22, 2011

There's Something About Dad

My Dad's really going downhill, and I'm - I dunno - frustrated.

He's not the man he used to be. Dad used to be a cheeky miserable bastard, but now he seems genuinely pissed off as he bumbles about slowly and asks me to do up his scrappy trousers because his hand hurts.

I know I should be more caring. He's 78 after all and to write that shocks me and makes my complaint seem unwarranted, but he's still Dad to me and I can't believe how old he's become. I guess I should've learned my lesson back when we had what I thought would be a bonding holiday to Amsterdam. Instead of something akin to a paternal buddy movie, I spent my days escorting a pensioner to cafes to eat cake and fall asleep.

Dad invited me to his for dinner last Friday so I went, as I'm taking a month off alcohol and I've lots of free time. It would've been fun, except when I got there my step-mother told me he'd got work chauffeuring that night, and no-one bothered to tell me that he wouldn't get home til 9.

I tried to not seem generally fucking livid. He'd laid on a guilt trip about not seeing me for ages, then wasn't there himself - and that wasn't the first time he'd done that. Thus I spent an hour eating and chatting to my stepmum, and following dessert I was asked to replace their old telly with the flat-screen TV they'd just bought.

Dad appeared as I was showing my stepmum how to use it, but found myself leaving minutes later. I'd been trying to explain that one button switched the telly from 11 channels of godawful fuzzy analogue, to glorious, pin-sharp digital, yet for reasons I still cannot fathom my stepmother began screaming at me to "Now get HD", or "Now get Freeview", or "Where's the Digital?"

I tried explaining that she was getting her terms mixed up but something incredibly stubborn inside her kicked in and she'd scream - scream, mind you - that I wasn't listening to her, all while Dad yelled "Read the instructions!" behind our backs before muttering something about being ignored. I was yelled and tutted at for several more minutes whilst I continued to explain how her new telly worked until finally, something inside me snapped. The vibe had been ruined by obstinate, screaming septuagenarians incapable of rationalising basic technology, so I told them as pleasantly as possible that I was done being yelled at, and caught a bus home.

I had to go back yesterday as Dad and I had to attend a wake, and was dismayed to find him watching the news in grainy, fuzzy analogue - and by that I don't mean it was a poor version of the same channel he could've been watching digitally. I mean it looked as if it was snowing in the studio. I told him it was like buying a Lotus Esprit so he could drive to Croydon and back, but he just yelled at me for bringing up an old argument.

So I waited for him to get changed. He took his sweet time and I had to tell him we'd be late. Moments later I was forcing together the ends of an ancient waistline around Dad's belly, and helping him replace his food-encrusted shirt with a fresh one to ruin.

We got to the wake late and in style, as Dad had been outside trying to park. I told him he was about to collide with a parked car as he tried to negotiate his way through an admittedly tight spot, to which he snapped, 'Shut up! I know what I'm doing.'
This was followed almost immediately by the high-pitched squeak of a Volvo rubbing slowly against a Mini Cooper.

By the time we arrived at the bereaved's apartment 15 minutes late, we came face to face with a silent throng in mid-prayer, all staring back at us. Dad stopped and looked momentarily stunned, while I caught sight of my sister frowning in the distance, and pointing angrily at her wrist. I closed my eyes in shame.

'Turn around!' mumbled one of the mourners to us. 'East is behind you!'

And so, in the time honoured awkwardness religious rituals provide, Dad and I had to turn our backs on a room full of mumbling Jews as I stared at the prayer book hastily handed to us to play 'Guess the page.'

Time passed. I sweated my way through another of life's awkward social situations, and regretted talking to Dad about eBay, because now he wanted me to help set it up.

People say you can give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day, but teach him to fish and he'll eat for the rest of his life.
There's a modern, and more irritating version where I could eBay something for Dad and he'll sell something for a day, but teach him to eBay and he'll forget by the time he wants to do it himself and I'll have to go over there and show him again until I lose my temper and he yells back and I have to leave immediately to buy crack.

I tried to change the subject as he drove me home, and found myself on instinct asking him to keep within the white lines on the road as he was weaving, and to watch out for the cyclist he didn't seem to notice.

'I KNOW!' he spluttered. 'I'm a professional driver!'

I kept quiet for the rest of the journey until 3 minutes later when he managed to veer off the road and into a supermarket in one sweeping movement.

'DAD! STOP! YOU'RE HEADED INTO TESCOS!'

'Oh yeah!' Dad chuckled as he came to a halt, then began to choke on his rage because I was yelling at him about reversing into oncoming traffic.

Hollywood has lied to me. My Dad's supposed to be a retired, silver-haired old sage offering me kindly pearls of wisdom as we fish from his rowing boat.

Instead I've got a grizzled old maniac who yells for exercise.

This was not the way I expected things to be.