competitive nature

Mum wasn’t home during the week when I called, so I spoke to Dad for a little longer than normal.  I told him how my lower back had spasmed, like it now does every 15 months or so, causing acute pain.  In a style more regularly adopted by Mum, he took this as a cue to talk about his back problems – which he does nothing to help by continuing to run what to me seem like still pretty long distances for a guy in his mid-sixties.

A neighbour who is also a doctor not long ago stopped him in the road and severely reprimanded him for his selfishness, how it will impose on my Mum in the long term, how he basically does not look healthy and upright when he runs.  He looks ill.  She didn’t even know him or us very well, but it was all true.  It was a wake-up call he accepted he needed, but still he runs – now just slightly shorter distances.  No more half marathons.

He has to weigh it up against his mental health, he says.  Because not being able to run would affect that.  A recent convert of cognitive behavioural therapy, he had a few sessions and now believes himself cured of irrationally intense mood-swings, more able to handle his depression – for which he has taken medication for many years.  Therefore he runs for his mental health, and because he enjoys the company and camaraderie of his running clubs.  And to hell with his slowly crumbling spine.

I didn’t speak much of my own acute pain and how I’m a little hacked off to know I’ll probably have to suffer it for several weeks a year, and I’m half a lifetime younger than him.  He didn’t seem all that interested.  But he never seems all that interested in me, which still hurts a little.

Later on in the week my girlfriend changed her profile picture on her Facebook account.  My Dad was quick to click a Like.  This irked me because my Dad never ‘Likes’ anything I do on Facebook, and I do a lot on Facebook – mostly to promote a business interest.  While I realise it’s a relatively banal thing to be annoyed about, the irritation hung about and I began unpacking and possibly over-thinking it.

Dad had a terrible relationship with his father.  His old man was a bit of a depressive lunatic so he left home as soon as possible, aged 15.  An only child, my Dad is not a natural with kids – although my brother, who has a couple, says he is improving.

Growing up, my older brother had what appeared to be in-built self-belief.  He knew he was great and smarter than the rest of the kids and would succeed.  My parents’ only other kid, a couple of years younger, I didn’t.  I never felt encouraged, particularly by my Dad – which I think is a key job of a dad, I never had much belief.

Seeing my Dad like my girlfriend’s photo, knowing he encourages and supports other people in his running club, remembering his utter disinterest about my back pain, I think: what about me, Dad?

Maybe it comes down to his early conditioning that the father-son relationship is built on one-upmanship and competition.  But I don’t want to compete with him. I’m not great at competition.  I want him to be on my side, dammit.  He’s my Dad.  I want us to be mates.  I want him to back me, recognise me, endorse me, be proud of me, or at the very least pay some genuine fucking interest.  Not fall into the introspective world of self-interest which marks many a depressive.  I know he doesn’t live exclusively in that place because he’s more than happy to support others.

Would I ever talk to him about it?  My girlfriend asked this when I expressed this frustration.  I don’t know if there would be any point.  Is he really able to change?  It’s probably an unconscious thing.  Maybe he does envy me in a quite basic way – although fuck knows what I really have to envy.  Would it more likely cause upset and unrest at this stage of life, when it’s something that, perhaps at 32, I should just accept?

glow in the dark

“If you don’t want to read that book, then don’t read it.”

She shrugs, ignores him.  He sees the glow of her smartphone screen out of the corner of his eye.  Beyond the foreground of his own book, the glow locks itself into his peripheral vision.

On her bedside sits a neglected book, the one on loan from his father which he suspects she is still courting through obligation – although she denies it.  It is a slim book about a special running technique, with a good number of diagrams.  Not a book you’d think would take you a long time to read, or browse, or skim through and draw out the main points.  And yet she is taking a long time with it, as she takes a painfully long time with almost everything.   With her there is always faffing and fluster.

Now she would rather swipe through infinite BBC News stories on her smartphone than pick up the book.  To him, this suggests she is not enjoying the book.  Why pick it up from her suitcase and put it there, on the bedside, to suggest she’ll read it, when she knows she won’t.  Why won’t she just give it up?  Why do so many people insist on reading books they are not enjoying?  Why is it a failing of the reader to give up on a book, rather than a failing of the writer?  To not see a book through is so ridiculously often considered criminal.  There are lots of books out there.

She flicks back and forth through news stories he is sure she has already looked at, perhaps more than once, that red and white BBC banner permanently at the top of the screen.  It’s annoying.  She’s annoying; how she appears wilfully absent, dreamy and whispy and happy to drift, brain disengaged.

They have so much to do in striving towards permanent cohabitation, so much to get on with if they are to end this ‘one night here, two nights there,’ back and forth rigmarole.  He suspects she does little to progress the monster of clearing her family home, certainly not without persistent encouragement, support, direction, suggestions.  He doesn’t at all want to do gardening, clean stuff out, do heavy lifting.  (Burning stuff was fun though, he’ll concede that one).  He feels he has no choice but to do this stuff if they are to progress, move on.  It simply won’t get done otherwise.  Things will just drift on, as they have done, as they do.  She forgets.

She forgets a lot of things, or fails to remember.  It’s a subtle difference wrapped up in her frustrating, if forgivable dizziness.  He’d like her to pay a more studied interest, actively remember to look at his stuff without having to be reminded five, six, seven times; a number of things he writes because he wants to share them with her, as well as the internet where it’s much tougher to get any kind of response.  He wants her to remember things in his calendar as well as hers, form more opinions, have greater confidence, edit herself better when speaking, get to the fucking point quicker.

He’d like a lot.  Probably too much.

Instead she recedes into these hermit-like states, these BBC News story swiping comas, Big Bang Theory stupours, American sitcom dazes.  There she finds comfort and escapism from all the stuff.  There she forgets, and fails to remember.

Her tragic family history makes this entirely explicable.  He is overly critical of her, he scalds himself.  Too harsh.  She’s saved you from yourself too, he reminds himself, been supportive of your stuff.  She loves you, for some reason.  Give her a break.

Five more minutes elapse.

It almost wouldn’t be so bad if it she was browsing Twitter or Facebook or somewhere she was interacting with others – although her updates are largely bland and devoid of imagination or wit.  They would have never come together online.  He would have thought her boring.  But surely it’s preferable to get along with somebody in real life, rather than online?  And this they do, by and large.

He’s growing distant from those online platforms now, Facebook and Twitter – the latter a place he was particularly dependent on for social contact, when single and alone for so long.  This is in part due to her company, but also because he finds it harder than ever to be engaged by anyone or anything online.  So much chaff these days.  So much complete bullshit.  Such frustrating lack of any meritocracy.  Obvious idiots with billions of followers.  Virtual religions built out of pre-pubescent ‘icons’.  All the way down the scale: wildly successful and yet bafflingly stupid businessmen, privileged MPs, dim footballers, social media consultant drones with thousands of disciples.

He’d struggled to develop more than a few hundred on any platform, always battled to engage despite occasional mini victories.  She had saved him from caring too much about it all, from angsting about the lack of interactions, low connections with the outside world.  He does still stress about it in a business sense, but a lack of interaction doesn’t shape his self-esteem in quite the way it once did.

He glances back to her smartphone screen.

“Haven’t you read all the stories on there yet?”

“What?”

“I’m sure you’ve probably read some of them a few times over now.”

“God.  I can’t do anything right, can I?”

She puts her phone down on the book, slumps down into the bed and turns away from him.  He can’t remember what the other thing he’d recently said was.  It was about the book and how she shouldn’t carry on with it, but he can’t remember.  He knows there was something, and that he’s been too harsh on her lately, been poor at containing his frustrations.  Stop being a dick, he tells himself.  She’ll curl back into him soon enough, when he puts the light out.  They do fit together pretty snugly.

At least he can read for a while now, unbothered, that glow gone.