Happy Father’s Day by M.W. Leeming
As a kid, I always remembered the size of him. A great, lumbering frame. Broad-shouldered, thick forearms and biceps like a pair of ham joints. I remembered his muddied jeans, his sweated-up shirts. The size and stink of him – brawn, booze and brick-dust – filling the night-time doorway, huffing out cigarette- and whisky-fumes as he ordered, “Lights out, sissy!”
These days, age and illness have taken their toll, and he looks pathetic. A shrivelled up thing. A bitter old fart who glares from his cataract-dulled eyes, sneering in that nasty, misanthropic way old people seem to have perfected. His badly-shaved face sprouting clumps of whiskers here and there. The recesses of hard-to-reach folds. The evidence of his increasing weakness.
He still looks at me with distaste. That never changed. Not once over the years of his gradual deterioration. Not once, as his perfectly active and hateful mind, preserved within its vessel of once muscle-clad power, became a bitter prisoner to the cellular decay that weakened and demobilised him.
“Man up!” he used to say. “Stop blubbing like a girl!”
The times he’s told me to Man Up.
“If you’re gonna behave like a fucking sissy, you’ll walk around in frilly
knickers! How’d you like that?”
Yeah… Man Up. That was his favourite.
I remember one night I woke from a nightmare, sobbing quietly. Trying
not to let him hear me. Praying to high fucking heaven that he was passed
out drunk. But I should have known better. The walls weren’t vibrating with
the thunderous rumble-rattle of his drunken, comatose snoring. No… he
stormed into my room and yelled:
“What the fuck you grizzlin’ about, punk?”
“Bad dream,” I said.
He stepped closer to my bed, swaying on the spot. Took a long swig from a can of beer and looked at me with disgust. He lowered the can, and sniffed. “If you want something bad to dream about, I suggest you keep that snivellin’ up. You do that, buddy boy, and you’ll dream a dream WORTH crying about. Okay?”
He lifted the can and took another long swig. His eyes twinkling with menace in the dimly lit room. The sheer hulk of him, silhouetted in my bedroom doorway.
“So Man Up, kid. Man the fuck up!”
And then he left.
Sitting opposite him, now, I’m struck with paradoxical feelings of hate, disgust and sympathy. This once menacing brute… this beer-drinking, shit-shovelling bastard was once something to fear. Big and mean with rough, calloused hands that fucking hurt when they struck you. Swiping out like wooden canoe-paddles. But now, despite my hatred, he’s nothing more than a withered bit of flesh, clinging to a pointless and self-destructive bitterness. Something must have happened to him. In his childhood, long ago. To turn him into a bully. A thug. A child-beating drunk.
But I don’t care anymore. I’ve done what he always said. I decided to Man Up. It was about time.
“I don’t know why you buy these fucking biscuits,” he says, grimacing at me. “You know I don’t like these ones.”
He throws the dark-chocolate digestive back onto the plate and eases himself back into his armchair.
“Fucking waste of space!” he grumbles.
I look at the cards on the mantelpiece. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY, they say. But fat chance...! Not with this old swine.
“I took your advice,” I say, chirpily. “I thought you might want to know that.”
He looks at me. His bushy eyebrows scrunching down. Lips pulled back in a sneer. “What?”
“Your advice,” I say. “To Man Up.”
The old man barks with laughter. “That’ll be the day!” he says.
“No, seriously… I did. It’s my Father’s Day gift to you,” I say, rising to my feet. Clutching a cushion from the sofa. “Happy Father’s Day, Dad!”