It’s no secret that I did not have the best relationship with my late father. In fact, I did not have much of a relationship with him at all. I suspect that he was a sociopath. That is not the same as being a psychopath, he wasn’t a Fred West, we didn’t wake up to suspicious mounds of earth in the back garden of a morning.
Antisocial personality disorder is a spectrum, he was not on the end of the spectrum in terms of being disordered and not being able to hold down a job, but he definitely had little to no empathy, and he enjoyed being cruel – he was funny, but cruel.
When he died at the end of 2003, he had the beginnings of dementia which only magnified some of his less pleasant traits (“Oooh, look at that,” he said pointing to a miniature coffin on the TV. “That would be the perfect size for your son” referring to my baby boy who was three at the time. Was it dementia or just his personality? Difficult to tell.) I was seven months pregnant with my daughter when he died, and I really can’t say that I was sad. People kept saying to me, “It’s the shock, the sadness will come.” It’s coming up to eighteen years and I’m still waiting for the sadness to hit.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a shock when I got the news and I did start having Braxton Hicks contractions but they soon wore off. The management at the TV show I was working on at the time couldn’t believe how nonchalant I was about the whole thing (and obvs took the opportunity to check if I could scribble a quick script whilst waiting for my flight to Bulawayo.)
My father was thirteen years older than my mother, he married her when she was twenty and she had her first baby at twenty-one. They both came from very strict Catholic backgrounds and so my mother would never have dreamed of divorcing him, although God knows she should’ve. I hated the way he treated her, and I have found it difficult over the years since he’s been gone to think of him with anything close to compassion which makes me feel uncomfortable as I like to think of myself as someone who believes in the power of forgiveness.
That’s where books can be life-changing.
As I was reading The Devil You Know a few weeks ago I did feel the faintest flicker of compassion for my dad which I think says a lot about the power of words. As I mentioned before, the book deals with violent offenders and is written by the psychiatrist that treated them (Dr. Gwen Adshead) and the way she sees things from their POV made me think about how my father’s upbringing shaped him. They say psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made.
My grandmother had eleven children, and unlike the mysterious decuplets, I have the family Bible to prove it. Family lore mentions that she was the money bags in the relationship and owned two farms. My grandfather was a land commissioner who was responsible for giving land back to the Irish after the war of independence, he died at the age of 54 in 1941. The country house where they lived was called Pembrokestown House. It was filled with portraits of the royal family and my aunt was named after Princess Margaret which seemed frankly odd to me – less Irish freedom fighter and more sell-out vibes – but there you have it.
The last time I saw the family seat was in 1979 when we visited Ireland with my parents. It was very Miss Haversham’s crumbling mansion meets Angela’s Ashes, filled with gorgeous antiques and Waterford Crystal but with rooms you couldn’t go into because the floors had rotted through. I remember a Druid’s Altar on the property and a wood filled with bluebells, I was also DEEPLY unimpressed with the weather and kept asking why we didn’t go to Durban instead. It has since been restored and was even featured on Grand Designs, Ireland at some point.
Grandmother (we were not allowed to call her granny) was not what I would call an involved mother – she had wet nurses for her babies, although with eleven kids I guess who could blame her? She sent the girls to boarding school in England and the boys were taken out of school and had to work on the farm. They all hated her and were terrified she was going to leave her money to my one somewhat alternative cousin who moved in with her for a bit and not to the siblings themselves.
With that upbringing, it’s not surprising that my father turned out the way he did. As my husband keeps reminding me, yes, he might’ve been a bit of a dick but at least he gave us all Irish passports. I think the point is that although it doesn’t excuse his behaviour towards my mother or anyone else, it does explain it. And understanding why someone behaves the way they do, goes a long way to helping you to forgive them.
I was being flippant when I said that I wasn’t sad when my father died (of course I was flippant, I am his daughter after all.) When I see the relationship my own daughter has with her father, I do want to have a little pity party for myself as it’s made me realise what I missed out on but mostly I feel an enormous sense of gratitude that she has such a wonderful bond with her dad. The husband is so close to both our kids and is really involved in their lives, he ferries them around, cooks amazing meals, is teaching the son to drive (he deserves a medal just for that) and has worked his (rather sexy) ass off trying to keep this business going since Covid hit. He is a dad – and a partner – in a million.
Book recommendations for this week: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. This is the new book from the author of the smash hit The Silent Patient. I really enjoyed it, especially the layers of Greek mythology and the inclusion of characters from the first book.
The School Gates by Fiona Snyckers is now in book shops. This is the third in the Burchell Sisters’ trilogy (if you haven’t read Now Following You and Spire, you really, really should.) As you can see from my shout, I HIGHLY recommend this novel – and basically anything written by Fi.
TV recommendations: The Kominsky Method on Netflix starring and produced by Michael Douglas. What I love about this series is that it really doesn’t focus on the beautiful people, it’s about the indignities of aging, letting go of dreams and the general messiness of being human. This is the third season, and I was thrilled to see the wonderful Kathleen Turner making a guest appearance.
That’s it for this week. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads but especially to our fave dad, Paulus. We love you, big guy! Happy reading, everyone and stay safe! xxx