And every parent tried to avoid the supposed mistakes their parents made, I was no different. But the problem was what does a father do when he is responsible for untruths and mistakes, not his own parents?
I was raised in a tarmac laden suburban estate where sunburn was a badge of honour worn proudly. The relic of an unheard of battle in a nearby forest. My siblings and I were excluded from the only ad-hoc Cowboy and Indian battles that did ever take place. My parents could never support such an ideologically questionable game, however. Even when we cried, 'Sometimes the Indians win,' they simply told us to wait until a game of soccer commenced. So we sat staring out of the dining room window at fellow estate children roam around and the boys with greased down Brylcreem hair that didn't move even in high winds. Some boys even combined this sculpted hair with a baseball cap to ensure that their hair never got the opportunity to bounce up and down.
Hats, hats, hats. You are my favourite doll and look very good in a silver hat and gold trousers. Your eye is falling out. Superglue didn't fix it. There was a lady at the door with long black hair. Really long. You don't like it when this lady comes to the house but I don't remember her coming before. I hear crying and you say it is the river. You let me have some chocolate and say that I'll get a new doll soon.
I am nearly twenty-eight and now a father myself. The ideological questions that plagued my parents do not concern me. Cowboys and Indians rarely occurred on local playgrounds and the internet was the preferred method of sun-screen. My partner, Veronica, and I live on Harmony Avenue with our four-year old daughter, Allison who laughs all the time like those summertime memories that were etched in my mind. I regularly prided myself on having the confidence to face problems head on. Skirting around an issue did not interest me. Yet I had been gripped by a fear since Veronica suggested we try for another child. The proposal had come on one of the few nights out we escaped our home by the river. As she held a wineglass nimbly I began to fret about expanding our family. Veronica had recently had her hair chopped into a cubist bob. I wanted to talk about that. I wanted to talk about Allison who was staying at her infamous grand-parents house that evening.
Instead, the subject of another child frightened me. Why couldn't I be intimidated by our mortgage, by the responsibility of parenthood, regular things? I harboured a selfish reason for fearing this talk of a new child. Reasons that belonged to a two hundred word column in a tabloid newspaper...
Your house is big. Both of you called it Mountain View. It should be called a castle. The books on the shelf smell funny. So does your cooker. You have postcards from all over the world. Pain. Sevel. Sand Sisco. You should build a moat around the house. The postman would have to swim to your front door. That would be so funny. Sometimes you both lie down in the afternoon because that's what 'grandparents do.'
I was jealous of my four-year old daughter.
Like an embittered soap opera character.
A jealousy that would make a schoolyard bully shameful.
I was envious of a child.
It was not because she had the attention of Veronica, or that money I once bought Elvis Costello and the Attractions records with was now spent on her. I was not that petulant. I was jealous of Allison because. Because. I don't know. Because. Because she asked more questions about life than I did. I no longer enquired about my existence. Allison was like a broadsheet journalist, reeling off questions that were surreal or probing, humourless or carnival inspired. I was too selfish to appreciate that my daughter was inquisitive, that she yearned for knowledge. Instead, I chose to focus on how her actions reflected the rut I was in. A rut that may have begun when I met Veronica. A rut that made me suspicious of my only child. A rut that made me forget that the future was not a memory.
You look funny sometimes. You say you're daydreaming but dreams only happen at night-time. When you forget to shave it tickles when you cuddle me. You're the only daddy who doesn't shave. You say not to think about ghosts because bedtime stories scare ghosts away. At the swings, you sing a lot when there is no-one else there. The words are silly.
I wanted to be ashamed of my pettiness. This jealousy said as much about my parenting as it did about my moral standing. I remembered when I had principles. And morals. Numerous morals and principles that I seemed to have lost trying to instil them in Allison. Every question Allison asked reminded me of a trait I was once honoured to say was part of my social make-up: honesty. Until I resolved this, it would be dishonest of me to bring another person into the world. Since Allison began asking questions about the world on a regular basis, I grew glib and nervous. Do I lie to her like a school's career advisor? In the process of dishonesty, I would fuel a child's need for dreams and ambition only to face the wrath of her awakening in late teenage-hood that I had merely duped her from day one. The other option was to be blunt. I could tell her the meaning of life. The meaning of life that involved neither questions nor ideas. Such a revelation would create a young cynic that would harbour suspicions of the world all her life. The question was what was better? The chance to dream a little and then have such aspirations dashed, or not to dream at all?
Many people said that children or having children gave their lives meaning. This may be true. Perhaps another child would solve my rut. Yet I find risking a child's wellbeing as an antidote to cure my blues as rather crude.
Harmony Avenue always seemed warmer than any other street in Dublin despite being so close to the river. As I turned the corner towards home, I could hear Allison's exuberant shrieks through an open window. I froze. Glued to the spot as if I were a winter snowman. Even though March was lurking around the corner. All that awaited me was a meal of fish and chips I wouldn't be able to taste. A partner expecting me to deliver an answer as if I was a postman. A child I was unable to look in the eye.
At our royal blue front door, I took a sharp intake of air. It felt as if I was preparing for a job interview. There was a strand of Veronica's sandy brown hair on the arm of my Crombie jacket, caught in the porch light, fine as a spider's web. Three months had passed since Veronica broached her desire for a larger family.
The evening was like any other. Allison asked questions with the stream-of-consciousness of any child.
'Why do people vote?'
'Are the sun and moon related?'
'Do you play a guitar?'
'What is bullying?'
'Why do people bully?'
'Why can't I drive a car?'
'Why do you read books?'
'How does electricity work?'
You stay up late all the time. Other daddy's don't. You walk around. Sometimes you drop things and know that you say bad words. You are so loud. You stay up late but never yawn that much. It's funny. Please don't stay up so late. You'll just get tired.
Veronica and I used to talk in bed at night and in the morning over breakfast. About life, about Allison, about the future. Our bedroom was like a political panel discussion, varied and never succinct. Now we rarely spoke after ten in the evening. If we did, it is always about the past. I had taken to rambling around the house until the traffic died down and the whispering murmur of the river became my only company. I just thought and thought, hoping my feet would inspire answers as Veronica and Allison slept soundly. Veronica had not pestered me for a while regarding the possibility of trying for another child. Avoiding a concrete answer had become a hobby, a past-time I excelled at. Those solitary evenings allowed me to surf the internet, to read parenting books from the library, watch religious documentaries on television, and analyse newspaper agony aunts. I vainly hoped that someone else shared my problem. No one did. I could not turn to close friends or family for the same reason I could not offer an honest answer to Veronica. Whatever way I explained myself, there could be no escape from accusations of selfishness, of vanity, of immaturity. Even a psychiatrist would silently judge me for the petulance of my inner thoughts.
When I first met Veronica, a thought wracked my mind for many months before I was able to admit it to her. It was about love, it was about the future, it was about us. She had listened, she had understood, and honesty slowly defined our relationship. Why could I not now recreate such honesty? In darker moments, amidst the longing three a.m. bells of Rathmines, I blamed Allison. I blamed a child I loved and protected. A child I sought to raise, to make a difference in the world. This loathing would surely spread to another child and another after that. Veronica had always wanted four children. Soaked with the bravado of whiskey and drunken confidence I once yelled to Mount Pleasant Square, 'Why not five?'
You painted the walls blue.
You said they were like the sky.
You used to always do things around the house.
Even though I made jokes about my parent's beliefs, occasionally I found myself jealous of them. They believed in something. They were honest about why they didn't like Cowboys and Indians. They never married and had now been together thirty-three years. I wished that I was able to follow their advice and look Veronica and Allison directly in the eye.
As Veronica read a history book, and Allison stirred gently shrouded in dreams, I continued to ponder this idea, and wonder whether honesty was really valid anymore.
A long black hair was entwined on my sleeve as sleep met me, like a judge at court.