Posted on January 2, 2014 by Patricia Ann McNair1.2.2014 Journal Prompt “Thin Man,” Photo by Ken Rodgers, with permission January 2, 2014: In my father’s shadow. Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
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He’s been dead in my life more years than he’s been alive, but I still hear his voice in my head keeping me straight and making me a better man than I woulda been without him. And sometimes I think I smell the smoke from his cigarette at my shoulder when I am busy, like he’s watching me and watching me closely.
My dad taught me stuff I don’t never forget. How to hold tools, and the sound that a car engine makes when the car is sick, and what to do to make a sick car better, or what not to do and just to call it a day sometimes.
He made me respectful to all people but especially to women; I hold doors open for ‘em and give up my seat on buses and offer to carry their suitcases for ‘em. Of course, it’s a different world now and some of ‘em just scowl or they tell me to fuck off and call me a pig. The voice in my head doesn’t really make sense of that and I suppose I don’t neither.
He said I should never give up on something if I’ve committed myself to it. If it ain’t working, it just needs a different approach or a little more effort, ‘cept he didn’t say effort – my dad said ‘elbow grease’ which is the same thing. I stayed married to Edna for ten years more than I shoulda and I tried my damnedest to make it work. She was the one who gave up on things. She’s married now to a bus driver up on Millburn Street and I think she’s happy enough – I hope she is.
We had a kid, me and Edna. A boy. He’s called Joe and I get to see him some weekends and holidays. Actually I can see him any time I like, but what I mean is he gets to stay at my place weekends and holidays. He’s a good kid and smart as paint and he thinks something of me. You can tell. He hangs on my every word, and he sits in a chair sometimes and he tries to sit like he’s me. And whatever I order at McD’s, he orders the same, and he picks the slices of cucumber out of any salad because he sees me doing that.
I teach him stuff, just like my dad taught me. I show him how to hold tools and which tools are best for the job. And we’re working together to bring an old Austin Healey back from the grave and the engine’s beginning to sound as sweet as a song. And when we’re kicking back and he’s holding his mug of tea same as I’m holding mine, and he’s stirred in two sugars because that’s how tea has to be taken, then I talk to him, man to boy.
We talk about anything and everything, and I can hear my dad talking when really it’s me. And I tell Joe stuff about opening doors to be polite and not keeping his seat when a woman is standing. And I go a little further than my dad ever did: I tell Joe how much I love him and how proud I am of him, and I hold him to me, close as if I was holding a girl, and I kiss his forehead. He says I’m soft and daft, and I laugh and tell him he might be right.
And when he’s not there, I wonder if it’s my voice that Joe hears in his head, keeping him straight and making him what he is and making him the best that he can be. I just wonder.
After he died, it was strange walking around his house. In every room it felt like there was something missing. Mam felt it, too. That’s why she was planning to move to somewhere smaller and why she said we could have anything we wanted. His medals or his walking sticks or his coin collection, anything. There was money in some of his things, that’s what my sisters said, but all I wanted was his coat.
It was a great black woollen coat, bespoke tailored so that his shape was in the cloth. And his smell was caught there too, at first. Those weeks with him just gone, I just lay under his coat and breathed him in and missed him.
But the days pick themselves up again in time and I hung the coat on a hook by my front door – as if he might call, or have already called and be in the flat somewhere. And soon enough I didn’t even notice it there, just as I didn’t notice him gone.
But I looked for him in the men that I dated, I know I did. Measured them against the height and breadth of the man that was my dad. My mam said I was too picky and I should be more like my sisters and be settled down by now. Maybe she was right.
I don’t know where the years go. Like coins that are lost down the back of the sofa, or that slip through the cracks in the floorboards, or keys that just aren’t anywhere. I lose keys all the time. I have a spare set with my neighbour and another with my mam. And it’s been nearly five years since he passed, and I don’t know where all that time has gone. And I see it then, the coat behind the door, like a big black shadow and the buttons the size of old coins and shiny like new. And I take it down and try it on.
The coat reaches to the floor and the sleeves hang lower than the reach of my arms and I feel like a child again, dressing up in my mam and dad’s things. There’s no smell to the coat now, except the smell of my flat and a dry dusty smell. I look at myself in the hall mirror and it doesn’t even look like my dad’s coat anymore and I wonder why it is that I have kept it all this time.
Then I slip my hands in the pockets and they are as deep as handbags and I discover treasure there and I empty the pockets onto the floor. There are old bus tickets and cinema tickets. And notes he made, short lists of things he was sent to get from the supermarket or things he had to do. And small change and a twenty pound note rolled up into a ball. And string and a roll of sellotape and paperclips all in a chain. And shells and pebbles polished like glass. And a bag of peppermint sweets. And keys! Keys of all shapes and sizes and for doors that aren’t even doors anymore.
And I sit on the floor of the hall wrapped in my dad’s old coat and I think there must be some significance in all those keys and in my always losing mine, but I don’t know what it is.