Sunday, 19 June 2011

Fathers And Daughters, Or Rather, Fathers Who Need To Clarify Who Their Daughters Are.

"Molly - you awake?" says Dinah, when I answer the phone at what seems to be a particularly unearthly time of the morning.

"I am now," I say. "Thanks to you."

"You're not supposed to need as much sleep as you get older,' says Dinah, who never knows when not to add insult to injury. "And, anyway, this is important. I have to talk to you about Dad."

Bang goes my Sunday morning lie-in. I suppose I may as well admit defeat.

"I'll call you back in a minute, Dinah," I say. "When I've properly woken up."

"Well, don't leave it too long," she says. "This is an emergency."

Anyone who didn't know Dinah would take this statement literally. However, she is my sister, and therefore I don't.

I hang up, then make a cup of tea; smoke a cigarette; have an argument with Josh, who looks at me as if I am insane when I suggest he might want to get up and cook Max breakfast for Father's Day; smoke another cigarette to get over that; and finally call Dinah back.

"You took your time," she says. "What if it had been a real emergency?"

"It wasn't, though, was it?" I say. "Now tell me what the problem is."

It turns out that Dinah has discovered that Dad isn't just trying to sell his house because it's too big for him, but because he wants to buy somewhere in Thailand instead.

"And he's selling it at a knock-down price," she says.

"God," I say. Now that is worrying. If there's one thing Dad does take seriously, it's his money.

"Exactly," says Dinah, dragging on a cigarette as noisily as only she can. I don't know how she doesn't turn inside out when she sucks that hard. "So if it doesn't work out with Porn-Poon, and Dad has to come back to the UK, he won't be able to afford to buy anywhere else to live. And you know what that'll mean."

"Yes," I say, feeling very slightly sick, and trying hard not to think about that Panorama programme about care homes. "He'll want to move in with one of us."

"Unless we can have him declared insane before he sells," says Dinah. "If we could get power-of-attorney first. I'm going to drive down to see him today, and take him out for lunch. Then I can see if he really has gone mad with lust."

Power-of-attorney? Is she serious? Dad might be acting like an idiot, but it's up to him what he does with his house - as long as he doesn't want to live with me. And I'm pretty sure he's not mad, either - or not technically, anyway.

If he is, then he's no more so than all those other men of his age who seem to keep Pattaya in business. (I can think of a number of words that would apply to that demographic, but "mad" isn't one of them.)

"Well?" says Dinah. "What do you think?"

"I don't know," I say.

"For God's sake, Molly."

Honestly, Dinah's so impatient. She never takes time to consider anything. A bit like Dad, now I come to think of it.

"Stop being such a ditherer," she says. "I'll report back later tonight, once I've seen how he is - and then we can make a plan."

So that's something for me to look forward to - which is more than can be said for Max, unless Josh gets up before the shops are shut. I've been telling him to buy a Father's Day card for weeks, but he hasn't taken a blind bit of notice.

"Couldn't you have bought one for me, Mum?" he says, when he finally drags himself downstairs. "When you were buying yours?"

"No," I say. "If I can buy cards for both my father figures, I'd have thought you could afford the only one that you have to get."

I almost add, "thanks to the sheer effort of will that I have made to remain married to your father so that you don't have to buy more than one," but I don't. Talk about restraint.

Not that Josh notices my internal struggle. He's too busy looking at the envelope that he's just spotted on the mantelpiece.

"Who's that from?" he says, picking it up and reading it. "To Max Bennett. Not to be opened until June 19th."

"It's from Connie," I say. "Don't you recognise your sister's handwriting?"

"No," says Josh. "She only ever sends me texts. Shit, has she actually posted a Father's Day card? The bloody creep."

There's nothing like sibling rivalry for motivating a teenager. Josh throws on some clothes, rushes out of the house and returns an hour or so later bearing a card (unsigned); a bottle of Max's favourite wine (unopened); and a box set of the Die Hard films on DVD.

Then he insists that he and Max must watch all the films tonight, in a father-son bonding session. It's not quite clear whether I am invited to join in or not, which is probably a good thing as, by the time I've phoned Ted to wish him a happy Father's Day, the first film has already started; and then Dinah calls again.

It's time for the promised update on Dad.

"Mad as a hatter," she says. "I took him to the pub. And you should have seen how he behaved."

I don't say anything. There's not usually much point. Dinah doesn't ever need encouragement to continue to the bitter end.

"We were sitting having a drink, and then a group of people about Dad's age sat down at the next table," she says. "I'm sure he'd never met them before. Anyway, he leaned over to them and said, out of nowhere, 'Don't worry. This isn't my girlfriend, it's my daughter.' "

"What?" I say. "Had they asked? Or given him a funny look, or something?"

"No," says Dinah. "But after that, he kept saying it to everyone who came into the pub. It was as if he'd been sensitised to people thinking he's dating someone much younger than him."

"Well, he probably has, given what people must say when they see him with Porn-Poon," I say. "Not that you're anything like as young as her."

I haven't entirely forgiven Dinah for that jibe about needing less sleep as you get older yet.

"Don't try and make him sound rational," she says. "Not when the next thing he did was to get out all his photos of Porn-Poon and show them to everyone - while saying, 'Now this is my girlfriend.'"

I'm so shocked that now I can't face phoning Dad to check if my Father's Day card arrived. And Dinah seems to think I've agreed to find out tomorrow how one does go about getting power-of-attorney.

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