My Dead Dad, by one half of Your Dad

My Dad was a man without qualities. He died at 11.25pm on May 6th, 2010, just as the election results were starting to come in. As his ultimate wife said to me a few days ago, ‘Ah loved him, but he loathed everything and everybody. He had a narcissitic personality disorder. I hope you never get that.’ I told her that although I had a narcissitic personality, I felt that it wasn’t disordered. Now I think I know what she means.

I did my grieving for him a long time ago. He used to rant that I only hated him because I’d been told bad things about him. He was right that I had been told bad things about him for most of my life, but they didn’t stop me loving him, because I didn’t believe them, and he was my Dad. When, as an adult, I came to see that the things I had been told were true, even then I still didn’t hate him. I just wished I’d had another father. In the end, I felt nothing but horror.

In 2006 I went to visit him in Florida, where he was living at the time. He’d been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999, and had had a lung removed. He had diabetes, and a spot of prostrate cancer, too. But he knew that the lung cancer would get him one day, that removing the lung was only a postponement. We spent a fortnight in one another’s company, and it was enough. At the end of the trip, I wrote to his wife, telling her I wanted nothing more to do with him; and that, furthermore, I wanted writing out of his will, since all he cared about was money, and I wanted him to see if he could take it with him.  My sister had done something similar ten years previously; so had my uncle and one of my aunties. I was just the last person that he had driven away, apart from his American wife. I flew back from Florida to Gatwick, called my step-father to tell him I loved him, and that he had always been my real father anyway; and that was that. I didn’t hear from my Dad, and nor did I expect to.

Until February of this year, when he phoned up out of the blue. I was away, so he spoke to my Beloved for almost an hour. She told me that he couldn’t have been more offensive, unpleasant and insensitive if he’d tried. I told her that was him trying to be nice. I was angry that he’d found my phone number. A few days later, he called again, and we spoke. He told me that he was leaving his wife in the States and going to live in Ireland, in a place called Tramore, near Waterford. He said he’d never been there, but he couldn’t stand the US anymore. He’d been fighting with his wife’s family, and wanted out. I told him he was stupid, but that he could call me when he got there, if he wanted. He didn’t, and I stopped worrying.

On the day before the election, I got a call from a medical social worker in Waterford, telling me my Dad was severely ill, and that I should consider flying over at once. I told her that it was inconvenient, because I had three gigs over the course of the weekend. I think she thought me a bit callous. I arranged to fly out on Monday 10th, to see him. The next morning, election day, the head of the palliative care team called me, and told me my Dad wanted to speak to me.

‘Put him on…’

So I got to speak to my Dad on his death bed. He could hardly breathe. He said that I had to love him, as I was his son, and I’d ‘come out of his body’; (in common with countless squillions of other little spunk children.) He told me that he was leaving an estate valued at £250 000, but that I wasn’t getting any, and ‘neither are your girls’.

He said, ‘I know I’ve not been a perfect father…’ I said that no one was; that I certainly wasn’t a perfect father. ‘Hah’ My Dad gasped. He had got what he wanted to comfort him into the next world. ‘I’m facking glad to hear you admit it,’ he said. ‘At last…’ I had given him some kind of absolution. My lack of perfection as a father was the only explanation he felt he needed for his own fallings short.

He asked me to say that we were mates, so I did. We weren’t, not ever, not once. I told him that I could be there the next day, but he said it would worry him because of the money. ‘Who’d pay?’ he asked. ‘Me or you?’ Then he said, ‘But you talking to me is worth a million dollars,’ he said.

Then he became agitated, and said he couldn’t talk anymore. I said I’d call the following morning to see if he felt able to talk. Instead, Sister Fidelma from the palliative care ward phoned me at 11.35pm, to say my dear old Dad had died. He was cremated, unmourned, on Saturday morning at the Island Crematorium outside Cork.

I had booked that flight for Monday, from Luton to Waterford. Dad’s landlord Pat Doyle picked me up from the sweetest airport I’ve ever used, sweeter than St Mary’s in Scilly or Ronaldsway in Man. We went to the hospital to collect some paperwork, and then onto the Registrar to register the death and collect the death certificates. Then we called at Thompson’s undertakers to collect the ashes. Thompson’s had once been one of those cute as pie Irish pubs that serves beer, but also functions as a shoe shop, or a barbers, or, in the case of Thompsons, a funeral directors. My Dad loved all that stuff. He had a sentimental attachment to the Ireland that he had seen depicted in Oirish Pubs and Finians Rainbow. He loved traditional Irish music. My Mum loved Nat King Cole. They lived together until I was 10. Everyday, they fought to get their records on the turntable. When he was home, Dad would always win, and the house would be full of the sounds of The Clancy Brothers or the Dubliners. He liked rebel songs, especially. He loved standing up in pubs and singing ‘The Wild Colonial Boy.’ Above all, he despised Nat King Cole, who he said was saccharine shite. I needed to learn to appreciate real music, such as ‘The Mountains of Mourne,’ he told me.

So Pat Doyle took me to the apartment he had rented my Dad in Tramore. There was a great view along the beach towards the sand dune the locals call The Baldy Man.  I put down the cardboard box containing Dad’s ashes, and started to sort through his things. There wasn’t much; a suitcase full of clothes, a jewellery box of old fashioned cuff links and collar studs; a small TV. There were some papers. I looked through them to see what he had chosen to bring with him from the States to Ireland, where he had come to die in order to cause maximum inconvenience to those people who had conspired against him.

He didn’t have any photos. No photos of his four wives, his two children, his five grandchildren, his lovely, kind parents, his funny warm brothers and sisters. No, but he did have a large bundle of napkins from American casinos, on which he had kept records of winning combinations of numbers on the Florida State Lottery, which seems to have been his only great interest in life. He was trying to work out a system.

As well as the napkins, there were two meticulously kept account books, dating all the way back to 1976. He noted every penny he ever spent; shopping, car maintainence, grandchildrens Christmas presents. I’m looking forward to auditing these accounts, and mapping them against his life. It will tell me more about what he felt to be important than he ever did while he was alive. But on his dethbed, he did say one true thing. I did come out of his body. I am his spunk walking; that’s why he couldn’t quite leave me alone, despite it being all I had asked him for.

Looking at his papers, talking to my Mum, my sister, my step-mothers, my uncle, I know one thing for sure about my Dad. He was what used to be called a sociopath. Here’s a handy check list to see if you are one too. I have too many of these traits, there can be no doubt. Here is everything that is worst in my nature. Everything that was worst in my Dad’s nature turned from a twisted weakness into a deep sickness that took him over, and drove away everyone who ever loved him, but who he was unable to love in return. I have remembered again the one thing he taught me. I am his spunk walking, the son of a sociopath. Everyday I pray that I won’t turn into him.

Here’s a song for Alan Raymond Marchant, born in Farncombe Surrey 13/12/31. Died Waterford Regional Hospital, 06/05/10

12 Responses

  1. Matthew says:

    Hey Ian, not sure you’ll see this as it’s on a ten year old post… I stumbled upon your website. My mother was one of your fathers four wives. They were married in Bradford in the mid 80’s, I think you attended. They divorced a couple of years later. If memory serves me right he took her for a fair bit of money and the divorce was anything but amicable. I didn’t have much to do with either of them at the time. There is no malice intended in this message I just found your post about him very interesting and it has brought a bit of clarity to a very hazy part of my life… best regards…

  2. Davideo Kidd says:

    Thanks for sharing this traumatic time with us. Tt’s something I’ve yet to face, but your honesty will help me when the time comes. I feel sorry for your Dad as he wasn’t able to experience the closeness many of us take for granted. We all have work to do in each incarnation and Alan had a difficult time of it.

    Love Dave

  3. noel says:

    Hi Ian, my dad left (this world) permanently when I was 11, and in the last few years (but for some time before, too) I have been finding out bits and pieces of his dark side, things that make myself make more sense to myself. Perhaps having him alive would have made it all clearer and helped me to know what I should look out for in myself, stop myself becoming and steer clear of! It is strange that death can be the biggest lesson. Hope life treating you well! 😉

  4. Susan says:

    Hello Ian,

    Somehow I stumbled on this very poignant memoire of your late father, thank you for sharing your personal story and for writing with such complete truth, honesty, humour and compassion.

    My father died last year, but my 97 year old narcissistic mother is still full of beans and mischief..and really does hate everyone but pretends to like them to get what she wants !!!

    Money..are yes, makes you think it really is the root of all evil when you’ve had an ‘n’ for a parent!

    Thinking of you, lots of love,

  5. eamonn says:

    Me and Suzanne like this piece very much. All the best.

  6. bob says:

    Funny things, parents, no? I gave the valedictory address at my Dad’s funeral and, although I’d never felt very close to him, nor can I say I’ve missed him much since he went, I was in absolute bits doing it and had to cut it short before the end because I could barely speak.
    I know it’s not the point, but I’ll say it anyway – I can’t remember you ever writing anything finer than this, Ian. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Paul Williams says:

    Thank you for sharing this Ian.

  8. Graham says:

    You certainly haven’t missed out on anything having Jean & Ralph for parents. Your mum’s a wonderful woman. “we all make mistakes” she said when someone else was labeling me a social outcast. I’ll love her forever for that.

  9. Mark Richards says:

    Ian, I don’t usually read your blog..nothing sinister, just don’t often get around to it….but I did this. You are your best subject matter and you deal with the challenge in a creative, witty and deeply moving way.

    My own father was a nice, kind man and I wrote and delivered a long address outlining the details at his funeral. It went down well. But a couple of guests at the wake, men and women who had known him long before I had, gave me knowing, sympathetic half smiles and said nothing. I left the generally benign event wondering whether I had been gulled for 50 years.



  10. yammerman says:

    Great writing Ian and I ticked a few too many boxes on the sociopath list for my own liking.

  11. Ian Marchant says:

    I liked your Mum; she was a character. I even just remember Martin. Ralph is my real father, and that’s where I get any good stuff from.

  12. Graham says:

    Ah, Ian. The death of a parent is always a loss. You must have been abandoned by your dad just about the time I first met you, if you were ten. I suppose that him leaving counts as more of a loss than his death in some ways.
    I know that when my mum died a couple of years ago, the strongest emotions I felt were guilt and regret, mainly because of the number of times that I’d neglected to go round and see her when she was alive. She died six weeks after being diagnosed with the cancer, and I think I saw more of her in those six weeks than I had in the previous three or four years. She got her own back though, I spent many hours chasing round to find out of hours pharmacies for her morphine, only to get back to her house as she realised that she had enough for a day or two after all.
    She told me she forgave me everything though. and I had a very reassuring dream a while after she died where she was reunited with her dad and my brother Martin who died on the railway when he was six. It was like watching her going home and all the guilt and worry evaporated then as I knew she was at peace.
    And Ian, don’t worry about inheriting any sociopathic tendencies, we all have them. I certainly do, and I never even met your Dad. It’s how we use them that’s important. And I’m sure the worst in us can always be turned to good account if we know it and see it for what it is.
    Well Ian, I’m sorry to hear he’s died and I’m more sorry he wasn’t the dad or the man that he could or should have been.
    Love to you.

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