My dad is not happy that I have a boyfriend. He is protective of me in ways he never seems to worry about my two sisters. Cissy has had the same boyfriend for a number of years but they do not sleep together. She never drinks alcohol or parties and always makes it home early for her twelve o’clock curfew. She and her beau only ever go out to eat or to see a film. I am another story. I am wild. My father likely worries that I will end up pregnant like his oldest sister did after the Second World War. He seems to worry about what boys will do to me if they got me alone in ways he doesn’t worry about my sisters, Cissy and Lil.
My dad and I fight now, and I blame my mother for coming between my dad and me. I believe he is enraged with the way my mother treats him. She regularly calls my father ‘haunless’, which means that he has no hands; she means he is useless as a man. His anger builds inside of him and he takes it out on me rather than hit my mother. My actions as a young woman trigger my father’s rage that is bubbling beneath his otherwise stalwart exterior. Though merely a teen, I can see that my father is not a happy man. He works in the Ford plant which he detests, but he stays for the near forty years it takes him to earn a good pension. It is a miserable existence for my father. Life is passing him by or has passed him by and he is wondering if this is all there was in life to look forward to. He assuredly felts that his life was going to be different for his wife and two young toddlers when they immigrated to Canada in 1966.
Pat and Dan Doan, the English couple from Birmingham that we had met when we first immigrated to Canada, eventually have three daughters too. They came from Britain with two girls and had a third in Canada, as did my parents. We socialize regularly with the Doans as a family throughout our lives. We dine at one another’s homes once every two months from the time we meet in Canada until we become adults. My dad often drinks too much at these gatherings and my mother tears a strip off of him on the drive home from the Doans’. On one of these evenings at the Doans’, a time when I am in high school, my father drinks Scotch, which he is still incapable of drinking despite his Scottish heritage.
My mother sits poised behind the wheel set to drive us home from the Doans’, and she is cross with my father who sits drunk in the passenger seat. I sit in the backseat between my two sisters and I can see my dad’s profile as he sits slumped forward in the passenger seat. A prisoner of his choices, he looks so sad and broken down by his life, by his wife or both. The Doans wave good-bye to us from their front door, my mother smiles and waves back to our hosts and then the moment the Doans are out of earshot behind their closed front door, my mom turns to my dad and lays into him.
“Bloody drunken bum! Yer a bloody disgrace, so y’are! Look at ye! Look at ye!”
I want to tell her to shut the fuck up and leave my dad alone, but remain silent in the backseat as if to render myself invisible to the ensuing row. I don’t want to witness her tearing down my father yet again.
“I want a divorce,” my father quietly mutters. He sits there with tears in his eyes.
I am so stunned by this declaration that I pretend not to hear it. I am angry with my mother for shouting at my dad as she always does, and I am annoyed with my dad for hurting my mother with those words. Days later my mother and I go shopping at London’s east end mall, the Argyle.
“He says he wants a divorce,” my mother says to me.
“I know. I heard him,” I say.
“Wha’ shud I dae?”
“Well, no man would have to ask me twice for one,” I tell her. “Give him one.”
“Och. I’m no gonna leave him, start o’er!” she says.
She hits my arm as she always does when we talk. This habit of hers never ceases to annoy me. Her family uses their fists to emphasize their points whether it is pounding a table, the air in front of them or the person next to them. Throughout my life my mother confides in me in ways she never confides in my sisters because she knows she doesn’t have an ally in them against my father.
In a strange way, I am the favourite child of my father and my mother, and they regularly compete for my affections, but my dad is no match for my mom. She wields all the power in our home. She constantly criticizes my father to me in the same way she tells me that her mother used to tear down her own father in front of my mother when she was young. My Grandmother Craeron used to complain to my mother that her father, my Grandfather Craeron, didn’t hand in his money to the house. He put it in the church coffers and he bet it on the horses, but he didn’t give her enough with which to feed their nine children. My mother came to resent her father on her mother’s (my grandmother’s) behalf, and barely spoke to him until my mother, as a young woman, exploded in anger one day.
“Haund yer bloody money intae th’ hoose fer ma mother!” my mother screamed at her father.
She later cursed her mother for coming between her and her father, but she didn’t see that she did the same to my relationship with my own father. She damaged it with her constant criticism of both of us, one to the other. We were so upset at the ways in which the other seemed to constantly rile and disappoint my mother that we turned on one another in defense of her. It took me well into my adult years to understand there was no pleasing my mother. Whatever we did for her, she would find something to condemn in our actions. She needed something to complain about just as her mother had. Each woman successfully created a rift between the father of her children and her progeny, and because of the ways in which my mother criticized my father to me, I was conscripted to be her ally on occasion. Yet she openly accused me of causing all of the problems in their marriage.
“Ye’ll have me and yer faither in th’ divorce courts!” she’d shout at me.
It was my fault when they fought, never hers and never his.
I overhear my mother complaining about me to my father when she thinks I cannot hear. She accuses me of wicked deeds and always surmises that even those misdemeanors of which I may be guilty are executed with malicious forethought. I hear him once too, tell my mother that I plotted to get him to take me to a donut shop while I was in university. He thinks it is because I am ashamed to be seen with him on campus when the truth is I want to spend time with him alone. They always assign the worst of intentions to my actions, though most of my transgressions are just the simple missteps of youth. Of course, when one of them successfully gets the other to be angry with me, then they are not angry with one another in that particular moment and they have a common reason for their misery: me. I am the problem in their lives and the reason for the tension in their marriage.
My mother is threatened by the closeness of my relationship with my father as a young girl and blossoming, beautiful, young woman, and she stirs trouble between us.
“She’s up tae nae good, that lassie!” she tells my dad. “You bloody see tae her, Joseph! She needs tae feel the back of yer haund!”
She directs him to hit me, telling him directly to belt me, and he does in fits of uncontrolled rage caused more by her nagging than my teen antics. She successfully convinces my father and everyone else in the family that I am the problem in that family rather than she who creates the discord within the family home. The entire family shuns me. I don’t belong.
“Cover up aroon yer faither!” she tells me when I am by the pool in my bikini as a teen and young woman. “He’s nae used tae havin’ a waymin aroon the hoose.”
What is she if not a woman and his woman? It makes me feel ashamed around my father and especially for wanting physical touch from my father as his daughter. I leaned into my father once as a young woman, when he sat next to me at a funeral, and my father moved away from me. It was as though he didn’t see me as his child, his flesh and blood. Instead, he perceived me to be a young woman seeking an inexplicable closeness with him. I felt that it was my mother who put these twisted ideas in his mind, which led him to shun me.
I ask my mom what she thinks of my boyfriend after Sé and I have been dating for several months when I am sixteen. In her Scots’ brogue she says, “I don’t know what th’ bloody hell ye see in him! He’s a wee short bugger! He’s got a Roman nose. It roams all o’er his face!”
I may not have known what I saw in Sé either except that he told me that he loved me and I had never heard anyone say those words to me before. When I am absent from school Sé calls me from the pay phone inside the Madonna doors, the East Wing doors above which a mosaic of the Virgin Mary stood, to check up on me. I love that I matter to Sé. He is where I feel I belong.