Aversion to fairytales

Ben Winch
Ben Winch
May 30, 2018 · 9 min read

I sink into despair…

My father has been with us two months and I can’t stand him. I’ve failed him. Accept him as he is? I don’t think I can do that. He gives me the creeps.

To be fair, it’s not only he who has inspired my freefall; friends of my wife have come to stay and the house is invaded by unfamiliar consciousnesses. Already we’re surrounded by neighbours here — tenants of the “community” who walk past my study window, talk outside, strafe and dissect the land around me from any and every angle at any time (the nights, at least, are quiet). Once I dreaded school holidays for their crowdedness, but the holidays start today and I’m indifferent. What difference does it make?

But over and above all of this, my dread of my father grips my mind. Ironic, since Dad keeps his distance lately, maybe because he too dislikes the full house but I suspect because he knows I hate him, that I may spew fire. Two nights ago I overheard him earbashing my wife while she made dinner. (I say earbashing but in fact his is a passive-aggressive form of attack: he mumbles at the dining table while she stands at the stove with her back to him hardly able to decipher what he’s saying, so that she must continually turn and strain to listen or risk offending him.) I pitied my wife — I knew that she had, some nights back, complained about this treatment — and reluctantly I left my desk and went to try and help her. But these days my wife copes better with him than I do. It was my “father wound”, she told me later, that accounted for how I then spoke to him: I said hello (I hadn’t seen him all day), made desultory chit-chat, and left to play the out-of-tune piano in the hallway, hoping to both be present and not present, until I heard him harp on a familiar refrain and interceded.

“I’m not crazy yet, am I?” he said. (No-one had said he was crazy. For those who missed my last post, Dad has alcoholic dementia.) “Okay so I’ve got a bad memory, but I’ve always had a bad memory…”

I’ve always had a bad memory — how many times have I heard that in the past few weeks, invoked to justify anything from his right to drive to his right to travel to his right to expect of life everything he expected or demanded of it twenty years ago (including, since we’re on the subject, his pick of twenty-something women, like the one he met at a local market last weekend and whom he now calls his “girlfriend” and “lover” despite that he’s forgotten her name, presumably on the strength of 10–20 minutes polite conversation).

I’ve always had a bad memory — it’s emblematic to me of his whole assumed right of denial: his prerogative to believe whatever he wants to believe, since clearly we all (his family) will look after him regardless.

I’ve always had a bad memory — and I laid into him: “I’m so sick of hearing that. You have the worst memory of anyone I’ve ever met, by far. The other day you couldn’t remember how many children you had! Why can’t you at least accept your situation?!

“But what difference does it make if I accept it or not?” he said, and I forget what I told him: maybe that it only makes more work for everyone else if he refuses to realistically assess his capacity? I hope so. But more likely it was something vague, angry, outraged that took for granted “self knowledge” as an axiom.

“Just stop telling yourself fairytales,” I said finally, words I could as well have told him twenty years ago.

That was — aside from a few bland words at dinner last night — the last time I spoke to him. I ignore him: no more do I go and say good morning or goodnight, or think up jobs around the property to keep him occupied, or sit and meditate with him or walk with him in the forest. The last time I entered his house (which is 20 metres away) was at night four days ago: I’d been out all day and went down to prepare him for his next morning’s court appearance. After five minutes or so I made to leave (my wife had successfully hinted to her friends that she and I would like to be alone together and I didn’t want to keep her waiting), and Dad either suffered or feigned an acute chest pain and slumped to the bed holding his chest.

“Dad, are you okay?” I sat beside him (not panicking because these pains have become commonplace, and the cardiologist has done all the tests).

“You’ll stay and talk a bit longer, won’t you?” he said, grabbing and holding me. He shed a few tears, told me again he “can’t forget” his wife. (Trying to forget her, I always say, is futile. But that’s always been his solution to pain: to try — with the help of alcohol — to forget its source.)

I tried to divert his attention to the Essential Leonard Cohen CD that I’d bought him that day, and wished (again) that it contained the song “I Can’t Forget” (“And I can’t forget / I can’t forget / I can’t forget but I don’t remember what”). He stood and went back to the desk where he’d been labouring Sisyphus-like at his laptop, there to show me (again) two ill-focussed photos of his so-called lover which he’d taken at the market, and at which he’d seemed to have been staring every time I’d seen him over the previous two days. I picked up the CD-case, pointed out “The Night Comes On” and “If It Be Your Will” while they played in the background — two songs that, if he needed an outpouring of grief, I felt sure would do the trick. Finally his ears seemed to prick up at “I’m Your Man” (“If you want a lover I’ll do anything you ask me to”) and I made my escape, feeling guilty, sad, lost, wishing it was all over.

Sunlit writing spot

Next morning we drove 70–80 minutes to Casino Courthouse, where his lawyer informed us that, despite his wish to plead guilty, we would have to return a month later for him to do so. Another month of suspense! And at least another month of this situation, since it’s a condition of his plea for leniency from the court that he stay here, far from alcohol, far from trouble, safe with us — and specifically with me.

But ultimately I can’t keep him here, unless I find some deep acceptance myself, some Zen-like calm that right now is far beyond me. The guilt, for one thing, is paralysing. Yesterday morning was sunny, beautiful; all I wanted was to go hiking, but I’d snuck out to the national park so many times this week without inviting him I couldn’t bring myself to do it again. (I’d kept planning to take him with me — I’d done so twice in the previous two weeks — but since for my own health and sanity it seems crucial that I exercise, and since I barely raise a sweat going at his pace, I’d kept reneging.) So instead I moped and wasted my time, feeling acutely the presence of one of our guests in the dining room, then forced myself through part of a list of Dad-related chores (phoning in search of free legal advice re the settlement; phoning re head scans; researching aged care; I forget what else), ate lunch, and finally left in disgust when the sun had vanished behind cloud, not taking Dad anyway.

The problem is that he’s here, and I’m ignoring him. If he was an hour’s drive away in an aged care facility he’d be lonely, maybe, but he could tell himself I’d be there if I could be. As it is, he must feel it as a slight every day I ignore him. It’s a prison here, he admitted in his writing. Then he told my wife he recalled me withdrawing a large wad of cash from his bank account. The seeds of a paranoiac persecution fantasy, in other words, are present. I’ll admit it makes me angry (or adds to my anger — if only another drop in an ocean) to hear he thinks I took his money. And it does so for a deeper reason than just his lack of his trust in me: to me it seems likely he is almost-consciously preparing for my evicting him, since in order for him to leave with pride intact he will feel the need to be righteously angry at me.

“He’s a very damaged person,” says my wife. But I don’t have her tender pity — or if so, only under layers of resentment.

I see a psychologist to try to help with my temper — and with the night terrors that wake me three times a night (I’ve had these all my life, but they’re especially bad lately). “Anger is usually linked to fear,” she says. “What are you afraid of?” For a moment I’m stuck, then I think of my childhood self — skinny, quiet, sad, never able to do more than scowl at the bullies who picked on me, or at my father, I imagine, who (so the legend goes) had beaten my mother brutally when I was three years old, while my infant brother and I looked on. (I wrote of this in my last entry, thought the better of it, deleted it, but it won’t be buried.)

And now he beats another woman and I have to save him, while he whinges and moans about his lack of freedom and his wife’s alleged outrageous promiscuity and attempts to cheat him. “Knowing my luck I’ll go straight to jail,” he says, and I tell him, “Dad, you’re lucky! You’ve been doing this shit for years and only now is it catching up with you!” But maybe he’s right: far better for him if someone had cut him down to size years back.

I’ve been training karate again, since I lost my temper at him. (I didn’t just shout at him, as I suggested in my last entry: I beat with the side of my fist a thick bamboo pole suspended across his front porch above head-height, standing over him where he sat in his chair while I bellowed. I hit it hard enough — five, six, seven times — that I think I may have fractured a bone in my hand, given the persistent pain and swelling.) I do 45 minutes, alone of course, and no doubt imperfectly, but strenuously enough that I’m dripping sweat afterwards, and buzzing with uncommon energy. My hiking, too, is an attempt to purge my aggression, so that it doesn’t burst out again under pressure.

When I first realised that Dad would have to live here I envisaged the following: Dad is drunk, he tries to intimidate me, I stand up to him, he takes a swing, I knock him to the ground. I realised, for the first time, that the tables had turned — that if necessary I could handle him. And I agreed to have him live with us, knowing if the worst happened then at least he couldn’t bully me.

Why am I angry? Because he feels more sorry for himself than the people he has bullied. Worse than that, he concocts lies and fantasies to justify his having bullied us.

Better for him, I think, if he’s nursed professionally, by someone who knows nothing of his past, not by me with my father wound.

(Handwritten in the Nightcap Range NSW April 14th 2018)

Hand Drawn Heart

How do you give up journal-writing when you’ve kept a journal for 25 years? You start a blog. The deal: what I write, I publish. But since this is coming from the same impulse that kept me journalling so long, it’s raw.

Ben Winch

Written by

Ben Winch

Writer/rocker travelling light to the horizon’s glow.

Hand Drawn Heart

How do you give up journal-writing when you’ve kept a journal for 25 years? You start a blog. The deal: what I write, I publish. But since this is coming from the same impulse that kept me journalling so long, it’s raw.

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