Bookends: The Lost World of Michael Bywater - He May Be My Old Man, but He's Not That Old

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It's Daddy's birthday. Happy Birthday, Daddy. I am in a state of threefold cognitive dissonance and it's all your fault. It's even your fault that I use phrases like `threefold cognitive dissonance'; a smack in the mouth would have done the trick, around the age of 10 when I first started turning into a sort of ponce. I took after his father, also a bit of a ponce: combative, discursive, looked like the Emperor Tiberius, all nose and power; even when he was in his nineties, women went all soft in his presence and looked down at the floor, waiting.

Daddy should have been alerted and nipped it in the bud but I suppose it was familiar. `Little bugger,' he probably thought, `turning out just like the Old Man, so nothing I can do about it.' They were doctors, in practice together; I was thinking the other day that, over the years, he probably saw more of his father than he did of his wife. He was certainly a good son, right up until the Old Man died in his mid-nineties, but I can't help wondering what the cost was. You go to work, you're somebody's son; you come home, you're somebody's husband, and when you're not being somebody's husband you're somebody's father: when did Daddy have time to be himself?

They're dead now. He's nobody's son and nobody's husband and I'm a lousy son. Most evenings of the week, he goes for dinner with my sister and her family, but he can't really be her father in such circumstances; just a guy getting a feed; if anything, he's one of the children, albeit with a 70-year head start so that he knows all the tricks. The rest of the time...

The rest of the time, I haven't a clue. Anything goes wrong in my life, he's on it like a duck on a June bug, roaring in frenzy. I got a parking ticket a few weeks back, forgot to pay it, Camden Council upped the fine and the minatory letter, threatening prison, bailliffs, calumny and evisceration, landed on Daddy's doormat. Why has a 46-year-old man still got his car registered to his father's address? you might ask, but you can bugger off; that's how it is, and there you have it.

Daddy went ape. Rang up, shouting. `What the hell were you doing in Manchester Square anyway? I don't understand it. Parking in Manchester Square. It's disgusting.' `No it's not. Child sodomy is disgusting. Parking in Manchester Square is not disgusting. Hello? Have you put the phone down on me, you old bastard... hello? Hello?'

I wondered what was going on. …