So I just woke from a dream, and I suppose because I woke up with a fast heartbeat and twitching muscles, it was a nightmare. The nightmare was my dad tickling me. I know. Sounds like nothing much.
But I woke up panicking. Literally. And without sounding like a tumblr writer, a bunch of memories and feelings came flooding back. The number of times he would tickle me until I felt uncomfortable. It was a lot. The game called 'tickle trap'. I remember a game we played called 'trap' which I guess looking back was kind of weird, based as it was on me liking the feeling of being dominated and held down. Literally. That was the game. I can kind of see why my dad was confused.
"How about tickle trap?" he once said.
"No, I prefer trap," I replied, anticipating my future sexual confusion over Bailey Jay.
And yet he obviously seemed to enjoy the tickling, even though I didn't. Maybe because I didn't. I always remember the times he would go overboard were always when my mum wasn't around. I remember quite distinctly a holiday in Spain when I was five, and my sister and dad lying on a bed, and him tickling her and her lashing out and actually kicking him. At the time I felt really bad for my dad, but looking back, I'm glad she did it.
I know how ridiculous this sounds, like I'm accusing my dad of being abusive. I'm not. It's just a strange feeling, waking in panic and a fast heartbeat based on something as seemingly innocent as being tickled. A few things make sense now. Like, when my nieces try to tickle my feet, I don't laugh. When asked why, I shrug and say 'I just don't get ticklish'. But I do. I can distinctly remember the feeling of involuntarily laughing whilst gasping 'stop' and being ignored, so I guess what I ended up doing was just not allow myself to laugh anymore. Anyone who goes to tickle my ribs will get a jerk away and nothing more. It feels like being poked with a cattle prod. I don't laugh at all. I don't allow myself to laugh, because then that's giving them the way in.
And that's the origin story of how I became deadpan catface, basically.
I'm doing that English thing I always do where I try to make it at least slightly amusing and self-deprecating, but the feelings were really real. He was strong, man. It was like fighting an octopus. And it was a fight, no doubt about it. I remember many times literally being on the floor and pushing him in the chest to get him off, and then getting my ribs tickled whilst my hands were up - I dunno, maybe I enjoyed it, but the primary feeling I remember was wondering who the hell this person was. Like it wasn't really my dad, but just this random person who had decided to do this. I hated the feeling of not knowing when it was going to end either.
Catface in action.
Even now he does random weird shit with my nieces, like stroking their arms... I know there's nothing particularly wrong with it, but I just always think "they clearly don't want him to do that". And to be honest, I wouldn't do that to them or even want to. It's like, they're not yours to randomly touch and stroke. Yes, they're children with soft skin, but that doesn't mean you randomly get to stroke them. My older niece now sometimes says that he's weird. I feel bad that she has to think that way about someone she ought to trust. A bit of physical affection is ok, but there is a line, and it should be fairly obvious.
Like the whole having to hug people goodbye thing. For ages my sister used to get them to either hug or kiss us goodbye. In fact it started as 'kiss on the lips' to 'kiss' to 'hug' until now finally she doesn't insist at all. She still occasionally might, but I always say it's fine or offer a high five instead. When I was their age we always had to hug or kiss people even though we didn't want to, and if we did what we were told, that meant we were 'good'. Even now I hate hearing anyone say 'good girl' to my nieces, and of course my dad's the one who says it to them all the time.
Point is, man, I awoke from a nightmare and it was about something which hasn't happened in twenty years and yet my brain still felt the need to rehash it, a bit like the current trend for rehashing the 90s generally. And the genuine panic - I think that was what freaked me out a bit, waking up feeling like I was right back in that moment, feeling trapped. You could argue it's a metaphor for the fact I'm living at home with my parents (sort of), but for the specificity of the dream and the physical reaction I felt upon waking.
I could go on about the other numbers of times my dad overrode me and
fucked up my self esteem, but the post would go on forever. The irony is that apparently he used to moan to my mum about his terrible dad when they were first going out as if it excused how he was. My mum was initially sympathetic.
I just don't really know what to feel about the guy if I'm honest. I remember when I first heard the Nirvana lyric (yep, I've gone full Nirvana) about 'I tried hard to have a father but instead I had a dad' and thinking that's wrong - it should be 'I tried hard to have a dad, but instead I got a father'. I remember a distinct moment as a boy thinking 'is this really my dad?' Other kids' dads seemed to actually be what I always imagined dads to be. Lovable. Jovial. Gentle. Not insistent on attention like some child. It was like he was the kid, and I had to humour him, instead of the other way round. I dunno.
Obviously he never did anything actually abusive. But it was, and still is, constant belittlement and little putdowns. It's like instead of being stabbed once by a knife, it's thousands of tiny pinpricks through your whole life. Being poked and prodded to the point where it's uncomfortable is the perfect physical representation of that I guess. Just enough to be acceptable, but also enough to me to feel reduced by it. That's all. Just a banal reduction. And it's all too easy to say 'oh, they fuck you up, your mum and dad' or 'everyone's dads are like that' because that excuses it too easily, and actually takes away me as a person who feels things, and him as a person who does things. I'm not being oversensitive - I used to think I was, and so buried how I felt - and I know I'm not because eveyone else in my family is feeling this way too. Just a constant feeling of 'hmm, maybe the guy who we were forcing ourselves to act happy around was actually a bit of a bully and a self-centered man-child with no sense of parental responsibility or even real love at all.'
Memes take all the emotion away. Feels better, man.