There was a period in our lives, my brother Joe and I, when every other Saturday we’d stay the night with our dad. It was from when I was about 6 or 7, I think, so Joe, 8 or 9, until our father-son sleepovers became too absurd to countenance. He never had his own place, you see, he rented one odd room after another in one mad house after another, and so staying over with our dad meant sleeping in the same room as him. For me it meant sleeping in the same bed as him.
He had a big double futon that went everywhere he did with loads of blankets and cushions and the whole thing felt like camping. For Joe it practically was because all he got was dad’s sorry old sleeping bag in the corner.
I loved it. It was an adventure. At least until it wasn’t, when we’d all outgrown it. It was a sad morning when I woke up, once again to his phenomenal snoring, and said to myself, “this really must end. I’m 37 now.”
I’m only joking, of course. I can’t remember when we stopped staying over with him, and my memories of that time feel precious now, far off and rare, an endangered species, which is why I’m writing this down, I suppose.
Being with him felt like an exciting escape from normal life.
Sometimes we didn’t know where we’d be staying when he picked us up from our mum’s in the morning and we’d end up in the spare room or living room of one his friends, all bundled onto couches and cushions on the floor.
We never had bedtimes, he never made us brush our teeth, we almost always had Chinese food, chocolate and Ribena for dinner.
And without fail, his futon was always covered in bits.
Unidentifiable bits to sweep away before even contemplating getting into bed if you knew what was safe for you. Always. A signature combination of tobacco, ash, hash and tea stains.
Joe used to make my dad laugh about it just by saying the word “bits”.
He could always laugh at his own absurdities.
And it was absurd just was how undomesticated he was. A grown man with three sons, albeit one in America, who couldn’t even keep his own bed clean, let alone get a place with enough beds for when his sons stayed.
He knew it; it’s not like he was delusional in that sense. He just wasn’t interested in pursuing a life that prioritised domesticity or conventional family structures. If those things came as a by-product of his mission then great, but it was his mission, almost solely, upon which he was focussed.
And this brought the good things it brought but also made him unquestionably selfish, uncompromising, inattentive, and sometimes mean, even by his own admission.
But at the same time, in those Saturday adventures, he also created an atmosphere large in love, warmth and humour.
Joe and I would get into bed late at night, tired, fed, unwashed, and dad would sit on his heels on the floor, a joint burning in the crowded ashtray and a graveyard of cups of tea next to him, and play the guitar for us, making up lyrics as he went, making us laugh.
More recently, with the roles reversed, he’d come and stay at mine. He’d turn up with all his bags full of lotions, clothes and potions, back massagers and a thousand phone chargers, even though he’d only be staying one night, and he’d immediately go about unplugging all my lamps and things to plug in all his laptops and contraptions.
I’d make up the sofa bed for him, creating a nest of duvets and blankets and pillows and we’d talk about this and that for a little while and then I’d go to bed, tired, fed and washed and I’d hear him pottering about, making tea and joints late into the night.
And in the morning, we’d hug and say I love you and he’d leave to drive off to one corner of the country or another, still set on his mission, leaving in his wake all my things unplugged and an unmistakable trail of bits.
Funny the things you miss.