When you were little, I wish you had a Daddy like the one I’ve got…
Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about father/son relationships and the responsibilities of fatherhood, so this seems like as good a time as any to write about it…Father’s Day, the date that, until eight years ago when my son was born, meant absolutely nothing to me.
My own father walked out on us when I was about eight years old. This is something that affected every part of my childhood, and then went on to create ripples in my life as I became an adult. He died before the estrangement could be resolved in any clear-cut way, and all I’m left with is anger and resentment…no, that isn’t quite right, because apart from the rage, he also left me with a lifelong love of the horror genre.
I watched my first horror films on my father’s knee, at a time when I was probably too young to fully understand them. The Universal horrors – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman – and the gloriously gaudy Hammer bloodbaths were a vivid part of my childhood development. We’d also sit and watch the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films and horror-tinged SF titles like The Incredible Shrinking Man, This Island Earth and big bug yarns like Them! and Tarantula. We liked westerns, too, but the horrors were always the best, the most enjoyable. They were our favourites.
I think I’d have discovered and loved these things without having my father introduce me to them, but I’d have watched them alone, which isn’t quite the same as enjoying them with someone else. The man was a frustrated artist. He worked in a big sketch pad, and the drawings of his I specifically remember featured Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, and a particularly creepy image I later dubbed The Forever Doll when I wrote a story about it. All done in charcoal; all horror subjects, rendered creepy as hell on the page. I later learned that his failure to do anything with his art beyond sketching in that big book late at night, when everyone else was in bed, was a major source of his bitterness and resentment.
When he went away, I was left with Peter Cushing and Frankenstein’s monster; I took solace in the flickering, reliable presences of Karloff and Lugosi on the late-night TV screen. By extension, they were all facets of the father I had lost, and they offered me a strange kind of comfort in the yawning absence he left behind.
My son is now eight – the same age as I was when I became effectively fatherless. He says that he’s scared of monsters, and he doesn’t really like the book covers on my shelves and the pictures on the walls in my study. But he doesn’t seem to be able to stay away from them, either; he’s drawn to them, fascinated by the complex emotions they inspire. He likes Star Wars and Moshi Monsters and Transformers (when I was his age, I used to love the Aurora model kits and Harem Scarems), so I’m taking that as a positive sign. We watch moderately scary movies together, but we also watch other things. I won’t push my tastes on him, but I hope that he starts to develop similar tastes of his own, and that, later, we can watch all the really scary movies together – the ones that I never got to watch with my own father, because of his flaws and his failures and his inability to see what was really important in life.
I won’t make the same mistakes he did. I’m already making sure of that.
When I pass on my monsters to my son, I’ll stay there with him, involved at every step of the way. Because I am the father that I never had; I’m the Dad my son needs to reassure him that the monsters won’t get him. I’ll teach him the lessons that I was forced to learn myself, through the prism of Peter Cushing’s virtuous Van Helsing and Rathbone’s persistent Holmes. And I’ll do my best to guide him through the most important lessons of all.
So here’s to fathers and sons, and monsters…we must never forget the monsters, because to some of us they become the fathers we never had.
WORDS: GARY MCMAHON
PHOTO: MARK EVANS