Don’t wake the Ogre
A family friend once said to me “you were such a solemn
child, we rarely saw you smile”. I wasn’t just solemn I was desperately
unhappy, anxious, frightened and trying to get by on my wits, constantly
watching and trying to judge the mood, smoothing things over and not do or say
anything to cause my Dad to “turn”. This pattern has followed me into
adulthood. My Dad was a functioning alcoholic most of the times, interspersed
with non-functioning spells where he would go missing leaving me to look after
my younger brother both of us terrified of the dark and being left
alone. I took on the role of acting parent. He was a policeman of
some standing in the local community, well respected for his tough and fearless
character, he was a desperately unhappy, intelligent, lonely man who dealt with
his demons through drink.
My mother left when I was 13 and my brother was 11. It had been an unhappy marriage and she just couldn’t take anymore. I think she thought that by leaving it would be the short sharp shock that he needed and that she would return and that things would improve, however his ego prevented him from taking her back, he never forgave her for publicly humiliating him.
So I was left at the age of 13 to play Mum.
I cooked and cleaned as best I could, washed school uniforms, his uniform, did the shopping with what little money was left, this was in the day when a policeman’s wage was poor and the “entertainment” budget came first. There was a key on a piece of string behind the letterbox. I still can conjure up the feeling of apprehension at that door, not knowing what I was going to find once I went in, he could be asleep snoring on the sofa and woe betide us if we woke him, so I’d cook tea in silence trying not to wake the angry ogre. If the house was empty then that was a really bad sign ….
When he was on a night shift, things were fine he worked
and came home to sleep. An early shift meant that he should finish at 2pm. The
bus stopped right outside our window and came every 20 minutes. We
awaited the arrival of every bus from 2:20 pm, rushing to the window to see if
he was coming home or still in the pub, often every 20 minutes until 6 or 7 pm
when all hope had dwindled and we were left with a sense of dread. This
meant an early night to get out of the way. I still find it hard to settle and
relax in the evenings. Often he would come home roaring, drag us out of bed and
order that I cooked him some food. He was never particularly physically
aggressive with me but was with my brother. It was worse if he came home
with some of his drunken cronies, there would be no sleep until they left in
the early morning regardless of the fact it was a school night.
Once during my O levels when I couldn’t take anymore I went and poured it all out to the doctor saying I couldn’t cope and could she do something. She sent me next door to social services where I saw a leftie bearded hippy social worker who asked this 15 year old child at the end of her tether “what do you want me to do about it…. if you want to pursue it the only thing I can do is to put you both into care” I soon backtracked and he ignored my call for help. It took so much for me to share our shameful secret, in my childlike naivety I thought they could just talk to my dad and it would all improve.
I left home at 16 when his drinking was particularly bad, I found the courage to stand up to him but feel so desperately bad at abandoning my brother. But I had to go. I was an intelligent girl and would dearly have loved to have gone to university and study law but there was no support and I just needed to escape that unhappy house. I managed to find a decent job in the Civil service but have always felt that I’ve under achieved, staying with a safe and steady position, not having the confidence to take a risk. I’m certainly not a risk taker and constantly look out for troubles, often trying to pre-empt them and devise a coping plan before they even happen. Always seeing the danger in every situation.
I loved him so much, and still do, although he died 10 years ago! I still miss him.
He was all we had.
I never doubted that he loved us fiercely, he was flawed and did the best he could. He had his own demons that he never faced. For the last 10 years of his life he was totally sober and I got to know the man behind the booze but the damage was done. He was a loving grandfather for those 10 years and my boys would never understand the man that he’d been before. My brother has rage issues and spent some time in prison. I have trust issues and am still a people pleaser, I hate confrontation and seek approval to validate myself. I have problems with emotional intimacy. I don’t really see my brother it’s almost as if it’s too painful to be reminded and it’s easier to disassociate. I strongly believe that we’re all products of our childhood, however we have the choice to follow the examples we’ve been set or to use them as a lesson and not repeat the pattern. I have a strong marriage to a good man and have raised 2 well-adjusted sons and I’m proud of that.