My mum and dad came up to visit over the weekend, and it was nice to take them out to dinner, introduce them to the cat (who soon enough added another couple of adoring fans to her already sizeable list) and to cook them a Sunday lunch. It was Mother's Day this Sunday, of course, so I was also able to hand over my card personally for the first time in many years, and my mum was on pretty good form. My dad's a different matter though. Since I hit adolescence, I have never really seen eye-to-eye with my father, and I'm not really sure why. In some ways we're very similar (we're both grumpy, for starters), but in other ways we're really different. My father is a doctor and he tends think like a scientist. In his world there are theories and laws that govern almost everything and the world can thus be boiled down into truth and untruth. I am not a scientist, and I do not operate in a world with such stark blacks and whites. For me, there is no such thing as a fact, and I have an unshakeable urge to probe why people think and say the things that they do. To me it almost doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong; I want to understand how someone got to their opinion in the first place. If you have an opinion or say something that you can't really back up, don't be surprised if I probe you on it... even if it's a subject I might know very little about. I work on the theory that even the most confident person is probably only about 85% sure of what they're saying. Conversation, therefore, does not depend on how much more they know than me, but how much I can probe into that 15%. I'm not doing this to flex any kind of intellectual muscles, I'm genuinely interested in that gap, that final 15%. My dad's often not really interested in having this kind of discussion and so naturally sees this as my determination to question everything, to be a smart-arse and to always have the last word. Perhaps he's right.
Anyway. I didn't exactly clash with my father this weekend as find myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable in his presence over the course of the 24 hours or so that they were with us. He's grumpy, for starters, and has a tendency to bark and snap at people, particularly my mother. I probably shouldn't criticise this too much as I know it is something I know that I am prone to myself, but it makes me wary of him. On top of that, and far more annoyingly, he has a tendency to interrupt you in the middle of a conversation with a total non-sequiter that indicates that he hasn't been listening to the conversation thus far (even if he initiated it) and that he considers his question to be of far greater importance. He moaned about having indigestion, and yet he ate a 3-course meal in a french restaurant including a creme-brulee for dessert and then moaned about all the rich food we'd forced him to eat. He grumbled during our 60 minute walk about his back, his feet, the lack of toilets on the route, about needing to buy a pint of milk before they went home... you name it, he grumped about it. When I offered him a drink, he asked for bitter lemon.
"We don't have any bitter lemon", I said.
"Yes you do", he replied, "you certainly do as you gave me some yesterday".
I checked. We have no bitter lemon.
"Well I definitely had some yesterday".
"OK. If you say so. I can do you an orange juice or something?"
"What can I have with it?"
"How about fizzy water? I could mix it with some fizzy water for you."
"Have you not got any lemonade?"
"No, no lemonade I'm afraid".
"I'll just have some water then".
"Flat or fizzy?"
"Oh hang on, why can I not have orange juice with fizzy water?"
He also walked dirt onto the carpet, nothing dramatic, but when my mum pointed this out to him and started picking up the debris he was leaving about the place, he left his shoes on and continued to tramp it in. In fact, about the only time he really perked up was when he was getting ready to go home. Yes, I know a lot of this sounds petty when written down, but it's the kind of stuff that really gets on your nerves after a while.
The funny thing is that in some ways I can actually relate to him. He's in his sixties now and in the last twelve months has survived a cancer that necessitated the removal of one of his kidneys. Perhaps related to that, his liver function tests are now revealing that he probably won't be able to drink alcohol again for the rest of his life. Who needs that? When he feels an ache or a pain, even though he's a doctor, he probably has no real idea if this is because he's 61 years old and is just feeling a bit under the weather, or if it's a sign that there's something a whole lot more serious wrong. How are you supposed to cope with that? It's not quite the same, I know, but I think I know how that feels. I turn 34 later this week, and I'm increasingly feeling the symptoms of wear-and-tear: a torn ligament in my ankle, sore knees, a stiff neck, a bad back, a general but persistent feeling of fatigue that is starting to make exercise harder. This is probably all just because I'm getting older but there's a little worry in the back of my head that some of this could be the WTs stirring into life inside my brain and nervous system. I already have a persistent and generalised feeling of numbness and loss of sensation across my body and a loss of power in my shoulders and down my arms. These symptoms are never going to go away and there remains the possibility that this will develop from Transverse Myelitis into something else, like Multiple Sclerosis. For obvious reasons, I try not to dwell on this, not least because there's bugger all I can do about it.... but sometimes it's hard not to wonder if what I'm feeling is the next step in that direction.
I'm a different person to my father, but I'm sure that thought makes me grumpy and hard to live with sometimes too.