If I have had it bad I should look at my dads life.
Before the second world war he had already lost his own dad, a drunk, who drunk away the profits of his bootmakers shop. Before long he was to lose his mother too, a diabetic. He always blamed himself for her death, because her last request was for a bottle of stout, which my dad duly delivered to her. He was sure it killed her.
After that he spent a life on the move between his elder sisters and brothers, heavily disrupted by the war.
By the age of 12 he had already left school, so many children were being evacuated he figured they would never notice if he stopped going.
You will notice he spent his war in Coventry, and experienced all the bombing and the Blitz.
I recently saw a play at the Belgrade Theatre entitled one night in November which tried to recreate those events. (curiosly I was a refugee myself when I saw that, having been temporarily driven out of my flat by fire)
Well my dad was driven out by a bomb. Later on during the war he got into uniform for the first time as a boy messenger for the fire brigade, dangerous work, and by the end of the war he was called up and posted to the middle east, where during the troubled post war era he served in Palestine. It wasn't any different then, the equivalent to a posting to Iraq today, he had to carry a concealed sten gun whenever he got any leave, and was once mistaken for a terrorist when he forgot the password to get back into camp.
To top it all, he was probably autistic, one of us, Is it any wonder he turned to drink?
I am not making any casual retro diagnosis on my dad. I know sufficient of his character, his reactions and bearing to see myself in him, and he had enough contact with the psychiatric profession in his life, with two stays in mental hospitals.
His diagnosis eventually was personality disorder, but I think had he lived a little longer to see my diagnosis, he would have been rediagnosed with AS.
In any case he did not realise what a stigma personality disorder was in itself, but insisted he was not mentally ill.
My mum on the other hand did not understand these distinctions at all, she could not understand why he acted the way he did and called it mental illness.
She used to tell us children there were two daddies, a good daddy and a bad daddy and that the bad daddy could not help himself, while she put up with the beatings and the smashing of furniture and all the other fun of the fair that made up our normality.
I later joined in the smashing of furniture myself, why not, it was really crazy sometimes with things flying through the window, including an antique 'marble' clock. I had a recent conversation with my brother with us trying to recall who threw what and where :)
From that you can conclude that my mum had a difficult time, never mind what later became of her when she contracted rheumatoid arthritis and finally left him, to be looked after by me, of whom she was also sometimes afraid, because I had not given up the furniture smashing habit. We argued over many things, including disability politics, and when I got worked up I went out into the garden and just broke up whatever was out there, (helped to get it into the bin anyway)
My mum feared I had the same 'disease' as my dad. After some dealings with psychiatric services I decided to leave that alone, and never sought any more "help" until after she died. I was wise enought to fear the sort of lable I could end up with.
Well my dads behaviour was none improved by drink. He was a nice enough bloke when sober, but once he lost his temper, it was off down the pub, come in rolling drunk and prolong the argument all night sometimes or until he became insensible.
Now I seem to have painted a very unpleasant picture of my dad, but the truth is more complicated than that.
He was fundementally a decent bloke, he was just dealing with forces he did not understand. He was well liked by his workmates, although he hated his work, it was a noisy smelly factory that caused continual stress because of his sensory sensitivities, something that allowed him to understand me somewhat better when I reacted spectacularly to things like the toilet flush, or the vacuum cleaner. He took my side in school disputes explaining that I was reacting in pain to noise and that I could not help it.
He was a singer and a musician, although in frustration he more than once smashed his instruments (he ought to have done that on stage and one upped Pete Townsend) and he was a keen photographer, my best days with him spent cycling and walking in the countryside with a camera, later spending the evening in the dark room developing the results. At least that gave my mum some temporary peace from the both of us.
So what can I say. Is domestic violence forgivable? Well probably not to the extent that it should go unchallenged. My mum later worked at a refuge for 'battered women' as it was termed then, she turned that adversity into strength and that formed the groundwork of all her later voluntary efforts, deep down she loved my dad, they were just incompatible and he was thoroughly conditioned by a false expectation of social norms to understand what domestic life should be like. He had nothing to model it on, but the movies, and to him the man should be master in his own home, and was entitled to chastise his wife, a fundementally victorian morality.
His dad was a Victorian, who spent his first 25 years in the reign of Victoria an exact contemporary (and companion) of my great grandad on my mum's side of the family. This is his picture, he looks quite avuncular, he was probably drunk at the time, rumour has it that he was drunk at my dad's christening, he would have given him his own name 'Benjamin' but all he could muster was Ben,.
Even before he married my dad was known as eccentric and difficult, my mum's parents were against the marriage but they relented and she was married at just age 19, hardly experienced in the ways of the world, is a disaster looming of titanic proportions.
What can I say about my dad's drinking? I hardly know anyone who drinks at all who does not drink more than the miserly recommended limits at least once or twice a week, I am no example to criticise in retrospect, but it has to be said my dad took to drinking as a refuge from domestic life
From his perspective he could not understand women, he had not had much experience of them before my mum other than his sister's dominating influence in his life. His first sexual experience was with a prostitute in the army, something my mum did not forgive in him when he revealed that during one particular drunken row. There are more dark secrets there, of marital infidelity. My dad could be a jealous man,and was jealous that other men (his friends) found my mum attractive and easy going. My mum found friendships in general a lot easier than my dad, people just liked her and some more than that, she had been accused often enough that she the accusation became reality in the end, but then by that time the marriage was all over, and my dad was also looking for a replacement in bed.
The army was his only stability, and he wanted to run his home on army lines when he got married, and my mum was too independant for that she had her own ideas.
Things could have been very different, if they both had a greater understanding of things that simply were not known then in the foreign country of the past.
My dad had a life every bit as difficult in it's own way as my mum's shortly after they met he spent months in hospital recovering from Meningitis, illness was no stranger to him, he had had childhood diptheria too.
My mum also had a disrupted family life, during the war she had been evacuated to no less than 3 different locations, and ended up moving back into Coventry with her Aunt because there was no room at home, I don't think she had much idea of what family life should be like either and was somewhat mesmerised by my dad's charismatic mask. He spoke foreign languages (Arabic, Polish and German) he played in Jazz bands, was a friend of Ronnie Scott , George Melly and Humphrey Lyttleton, going down to London and playing on the river boats where:
He seemed so sophisticated, and Beryl Bryden quite shocking as she recalled.
"Everybody knew everybody. We all squeezed on to a little boat which chugged up-river to Chertsey. At the locks there was jiving on the tow-paths. Beryl Bryden swam to enthusiastic cheers. The music and the moving water, the bottled beer and the bare arms, melted into a golden haze. The last defiant chorus from the band as the ship turned in midstream before heading for the pier in the warm dusk sounded really beautiful". and seemed to her to be so sophisticated." (George Melly)
Well was it worth it? If it was not there would have been no me here to tell the tale!
All in all my dads life was a tragedy of Shakeperian proportions, such unfilled talent that he never had the breaks he deserved and wanted more than anything that his children should have a better life than him and never have to endure meaningless toil in a factory. We were part of the tragedy too, because neither of us suceeded at University in his lifetime, he saw us becoming increasingly distanced from him, and his final diaries some of which I have read, others which my brother has and destroyed because he thought they would be too painful for me to read, tell of his alienation, and his fears for me, that I would never be able to make it in the world of work at all, I would never marry and would end up on the streets.
I could go back and say that for all I know his Dad led a tragic life too, there are suggestions of family difficulties going back yet another generation, and it is of course impossible to speculate what traits of autism, my grandfather carried, suffice it to say, that among his six children, my dad was not the only odd one. Maybe I shall save that for a later chapter ......