Paternal influence

When I was 12, my dad taught me how to pickpocket. He had decided to pass on this wisdom because he’d found out that I’d been arrested for shoplifting and was delighted to find out that I had inherited his criminal tendencies. Also, I was the ‘smart’ one in the family, so if he could add some ‘useful’ skills to all the nonsense I’d been reading in books then maybe he could Fagin himself a criminal mastermind and I could bring back shiny things for him.

Seeing as how I had been caught sleeving an own-brand lip balm from Boots, I figured committing actual robbery was just asking for trouble and so I have never actually attempted to use this skill. But it was kind of nice, in a weird way, that my dad was trying to teach me something. He’d never been able to tell me anything that I hadn’t already known before – well, not unless you count all the racist stuff he tried to teach me, but that was less ‘stuff I didn’t know’ and more ‘why the fuck are you even telling me this?’

We had a strange relationship. I spent most of my early years feeling vaguely uneasy around him, and he spent most of my early years letting me down. There were added complications: his parents were pretty fucked up and weird, and his brother sexually abused his step-daughter throughout most of her childhood. To be honest, if I actually knew the full story about his family then I would probably be able to explain my dad’s behaviour a bit more. But we never talked about it.

His dad, my paternal grandad, was creepy. All I remember about him was that he was much older than my other grandad, he had a black and white television, he preferred cakes that were slightly stale, and he spent a lot of time in his greenhouse. Oh, and that neither I nor my half-sister – let’s call her Tara – were allowed to be alone with him (even with each other) when he was in the greenhouse. I don’t know why. I remember being forced to give goodbye hugs and pecks on the cheek, but this was nothing worse than I had to give any of my other elderly relatives. Maybe it was simply because my stepmum – who will henceforth be known as Judy – thought he was weird (and she told me as much). Or maybe there’s something more sinister that I’m unaware of.

His mum, I remember even less about. She was Welsh, she wore a red body-warmer thing that smelled funny, and she used to give me 50p every time I saw her. After she died, my dad told me that he suspected his brother – and possibly his dad – had plotted to kill her; apparently my sex-offender uncle smothered her to death with a pillow.

I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that my dad is nuts enough to come up with something as ridiculous as that, or the fact that I can’t say for certain that my nan wasn’t murdered in some bizarre plot involving my creepy grandad and my even-creepier uncle.

This really wasn’t what I was going to write about. It’s actually pretty hard to write about my dad; not emotionally, but generally. It’s confusing. On the one hand, he’s my dad. Biologically speaking, he is partly responsible for my existence – I look a bit like him and we have DNA and shit in common. Regardless of how I actually feel about him, there’s some part of me that will always acknowledge him as my father. Because he is. However, once you start to take my feelings about him into regard, it gets much more complicated. Do I love him? Do I like him? Do I care about him? Those are tough questions. I don’t hate him. I don’t wish him harm. I just never want to see him again.

My dad is not a very nice person. When Tara was very young, we used to laugh at the similarities between my dad and Homer Simpson. When we got older, she told me that living with someone who was similar to Homer Simpson but who wasn’t actually a cartoon pretty much sucked. Take away the comedy and you’re just left with a drunk moron who gets abusive and fucks everyone’s shit up on a weekly basis.

What’s also confusing is that I never really experienced that side of my dad. I knew damn well what he was like to Judy and Tara (and all the women in his life before them) but he was never horrible to me. The only time he ever yelled at me was when I told him about the time I passed out drunk on the train back from Fenchurch Street and woke up in the back of a police car in Shoeburyness (]I’ll explain this one later). I thought he’d find it hilarious because he’d told me loads of similar stories but I hadn’t taken into account that me being a fifteen-year-old girl might make him freak out. Which he did. Tara told me afterwards that I looked like I was about to cry. I’m surprised I didn’t. I never told him the truth about my adventures after that.

One of the things he yelled was that I clearly wasn’t as streetwise as he had thought. For some reason, he really cared about me being streetwise – I suppose because it’s the only type of ‘wisdom’ where we had some common ground. Perhaps I should have lied and told him that I was in the back of the police car because I’d been caught pickpocketing instead. Perhaps he would have been proud of that.

So now let’s go back to the start, more or less, and return to my dad teaching me how to pickpocket. Did he really think I’d actually do it? I honestly, truly, don’t know. I mean, you’d think he would have been angry or upset that I’d been arrested for shoplifting, but the fact I’d been caught didn’t matter. All shoplifters get caught at some point. It’s part of the fun. Sometimes you can talk your way out of it, sometimes you’re an idiot who kept going back to the same shop until they were just waiting to catch you and then the police were called because they finally witnessed you conceal an item and leave the shop with it. He never taught me not to do that, but he did show me the basics. He’d been giving me tips since I was very young. I just hadn’t realised it.

If I was out with my grandparents and I wanted something, they would probably just say no. But if they said yes, they would take it to the till to pay for it. My dad would just shove it in his back pocket or his bag and give it to me later. He didn’t give a fuck. I found it terrifying yet strangely funny, and because I didn’t really get a lot of stuff as a kid I kind of felt as though I couldn’t actually refuse what he had got me. It was the difference between having and not having, but it was also the difference between upsetting my dad and making him happy. It’s hard for a young kid to deal with that. I was fully aware that what he’d done was wrong, I knew that whatever he had given me had been ill-gotten, yet I still had to feel grateful for whatever he gave me. He may not have earned the money to pay for it, but he had taken a huge risk to get it. So I accepted it, gratefully.

He was banned from most of the shops in the area by the time I was a bit older, but somehow he still got me things I asked for. For example, one year I mentioned that I needed a new bike. Sometime later, he gave me a bike. Sometime even later, he pushed me and the bike into a bush while we were out walking because a police car was driving past and he was paranoid they were still looking for it.

It’s quite sad, really. All of it.

When I turned 18, I was living in Nottingham. The card I got from my dad read:

Dear K,
Due to unforeseen circumstances (nicked by fraud squad), I.O.U. one birthday present.
Love Dad (alias) x

It’s probably a good thing that he couldn’t buy me a present, because at the time I wanted a skateboard and I would have broken my neck immediately, but getting an I.O.U. for my eighteenth birthday was still pretty fucked up. I don’t really blame him for not getting me anything though. Things had gone a bit tits-up for him since I had moved away.

£22,000 worth of tits-up, in fact.

I don’t know exactly how it played out. I assume, at some point, he was arrested. I assume that the police asked him about who he was living with, and I assume my dad told them. The problem was that my dad was claiming benefits and had ‘forgotten’ to tell the benefits people that he had a wife living with him – or had ‘forgotten’ to tell them that said wife had a full-time job. I’m not sure of the full details, but either way it was over a long period of time and it was quite a lot of money. He was entitled to disability benefit due to smashing his hip when he was a mod and he fell off his scooter down Southend when he was fighting with some skinheads, but he definitely wouldn’t have been entitled to income support when one of them was working.

My dad didn’t want Judy to go to prison, so he just said yes to everything, took the blame for it all, and got charged with fraudulently claiming £22,000. However, he was angry. Really fucking angry. He was paranoid that someone had grassed him up and he was FUMING. He suspected his noncey brother, he suspected his neighbours, he suspected his friends – he even considered that my mum’s boyfriend might have grassed him up to get back at him for threatening to beat him up a few times. He may have even suspected me.

While he was waiting to find out how long he’d be going to prison for, and while he was getting himself more and more worked up about who might have betrayed him, he continued to drink heavily – and he continued to be a dick to Judy and Tara. One day they went out for a bit to get away from him. When they returned they found themselves locked out, and my dad was refusing to answer either the door or his phone. So they got back in the car and drove to Judy’s sister’s house in Norfolk – and that’s where they stayed.

The last I heard, my dad was still unaware of who grassed him up.

But it’s probably not a good idea to try to claim working tax credits if you’re not actually meant to be working. That’s probably the kind of thing that gets different organisations and departments talking to each other. Sometimes the kind of anomalies that arise from different organisations and departments talking to each other for the first time in years are also the kind of anomalies that result in someone else getting nicked by the fraud squad.

My dad probably thinks Occam’s razor is something made by Gillette.

He didn’t go to prison. I don’t actually know if he got a suspended sentence – I assume so, but all I remember being told is that he wasn’t going to prison and he had to pay back something ridiculous like £5 per week. If that’s correct, and this happened 15 years ago, he only has £18,100 or so to pay back. Give or take a few missed payments, it’ll be around 70 years before this debt is paid back.

He turned 70 at the end of December. I’m not sure this was thought through properly.

My dad used to take me fishing when I was young. I used to run off and have adventures with imaginary friends and he’d come and find me when he’d run out of beer and then we’d go home. It was nice. We talked a lot. He talked to me like a grown-up because he knew I understood most of what was going on and I got to ask him about stuff that no one else would bother to tell me. He told me lots of secrets. And he was funny. He was very self-deprecating; he constantly put himself down and I’d try to make him feel better about himself when it got a bit too serious – sometimes I’d make him more sad, but sometimes I could cheer him up. But what I could never get him to understand was that this was all I really needed from a dad.

This post was meant to be about how my dad did all of these things and stole all of that stuff and illegally obtained all of that money, yet somehow he has still ended up with nothing. All of his money, he gave to us. All of the ill-gotten goods were for other people; his kids, his wife, his friends. When he got paid, he bought stuff for the house, or for Judy, or for Tara, or for me. He usually only bought himself some beer and some weed and went fishing. All he seemed to want was to make us happy, but he didn’t know how.

Do you see why I find it confusing to write about my dad? I’m not sure I’ve ever really worked out how I feel about him.

I think I mostly just feel sorry for him.

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