I live in a different country from my family, which means my long-term partner hasn’t met them yet thanks to the pandemic and the big whack of ocean between us.
This means as far he’s concerned they’re a bunch of nice, normal folk who are entirely rational. But they are in fact quite mad. I’m not talking “a bit mad” in the way you’d describe an uncle who puts his tie on his head and does an enthusiastic Macarena at a wedding. My lot are as mad as cut snakes. Or as mad as a bag of spiders, as you’d say in Ireland. Or, as my friend’s dad would say, “Crazier than a hatful of monkeys’ a***holes.”
I enjoy this description because (a) I’ve never seen a collection of monkey anuses, but in theory it does sound quite mad; and (b) of all the metrics to measure them, a “hatful” does sound the most insane.
Mam calling Dad mad is the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle black and then beating it with its own lid. She may have a point, however. Dad does have his own unique flavour of odd
Now we are off to Australia and the jig is up. He’s going to see us at close range in our natural habitat. At Christmas no less. Anne Enright’s words from The Green Road echo around in my head: “I am sorry. I cannot invite you home for Christmas because I am Irish and my family is mad.” But in my case they are both Irish and Australian. Different but equally potent brands of madness.
My parents disagree about who is worse. “Your father is definitely crazier,” Mam says over the phone, calling from a tropical beach where they are holidaying. “Bulls**t, you’re the mad woman,” comes Dad’s retort in the background. I try to tell them that yelling at each other in a caravan park in the middle of nowhere does not exactly paint a picture of sanity for either of them. Especially as my dad, true to form, was probably wearing a pair of Speedos at the time.
Mam calling Dad mad is the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle black and then beating it with its own lid. She may have a point, however. Dad does have his own unique flavour of odd. It comes from irrational but stubbornly held beliefs.
For one, I’ve warned the fella Dad thinks electronic payments are an affront to masculinity. He always has cash. Paying for things via card is “soft”. This is a man whose relaxing-at-home clothes are a pair of stiff Levi’s jeans. Pyjamas and tracksuit bottoms are for the weak. Slippers were allowed but only in the depths of winter. Although I hear these days he has relented and will wear pyjama bottoms sometimes but only if they’re branded with his favourite rugby team.
“Never trust a man who doesn’t eat beetroot,” he said once gravely and refused to elaborate further. When painting a house he refuses to buy sample pots of paint to try them out on the walls. That’s for cowards. You have to make the correct decision in the shop and live with the consequences of that decision (ie, the wrong shade on the walls).
When I asked Dad how he learned to build a retaining wall, fix a car and plaster a ceiling his response was, ‘Dunno, just made enough mistakes until I did it right’
His ability to write angry letters to authorities is legendary. People seek him out to go through council regulations and arcane legislation with a fine-tooth comb. He once got pulled over for his box trailer being out of registration. (Trailer ownership is the height of respectability in Dadworld. They always seem to be moving wood/sand/dirt around). Instead of copping the fine on the chin he decided to dispute it in court. Did he hire a lawyer? Again, that would be the soft option. No, he defended himself. My dad left school at 15 but that didn’t stop him from learning the Road Transport Act 2013 so successfully that the magistrate not only threw the case out but also called him “a true gentleman before the court”. When I asked if he was nervous arguing against a lawyer, Dad (a fireman) said, “I’ve been running into burning buildings for a living for 30 years. Do you think I’m going to be afraid of some bloke in a suit?”
Getting other people to do things for you when you can learn to do it yourself is also soft. That’s why all of our family home improvements have been DIY. When I asked how he learned to build a retaining wall, fix a car and plaster a ceiling his response was, “Dunno, just made enough mistakes until I did it right.” But working full time and refusing to pay tradesmen does slow the process down. I’m not sure any of us forgive him for the entire summer of 1999 when he was doing up the bathroom and we all had to shower in the backyard.
After asking around I realised my dad is not alone in his peculiarities. One friend says her dad is also very resourceful. “At one stage everything in our house was fixed with folded-up cigarette packets.” Another insists his dad refuses to carry a bank card and even considers owning a wallet a bit suspicious.
Maybe all dads are mad. But mine is in his own special way and that’s what makes him mine. My partner will just have to like it or lump it, but by that stage he’ll be so far from home that we’ll have trapped him anyway.