Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Conscience is the voice of the soul - and the daughter
The daughter's an amazing young one, really. I mean, all the kids and grandkids are amazing. It's the only proper way to look at them.
I remember years ago, one of the sons broke one of the neighbours' windows. The neighbour, Typhoid Mary, came charging in and she walloped me with her zimmer when I opened the door.
I sorted the glass and put it in, myself. I was up on the ladder; it was a God-awful windy day; I was hoping the putty would be as handy to use as it looked, and I was trying not to look too carefully into Mary's bathroom, especially at the seal in the bath - I swear to God - staring back out at me. But all I could think was: "Jesus, that child's aim is brilliant."
Another time, another of the sons came in from school and told us he'd failed an exam.
- How come? I asked him.
- It was stupid, he said.
It was the way he said it: I knew he was right. The exam was stupid and I gave him 50 pence for failing.
So. All my life I've tried, like the song, to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. And when it comes to the family, I've never had to try. It's official: everyone belonging to Charlie Savage is brilliant.
Then there's the daughter. 'Brilliant' doesn't capture that young one; it doesn't come near. And I don't think it's because she's the youngest and the only girl, after a rake of boys.
- How many boys is it we have?
- You're gas.
- I'm serious.
- Four, Charlie. We have four sons.
I am the father of four sons - four men. That fact fills my chest. It's as if the boys are my vital organs - my heart, my lungs, my kidneys, and the rest. Don't ask me which boy is which organ. I don't mean it literally and it's not a conversation I'd ever want to hear myself having, even on my death bed.
- Which organ am I, Da?
- The bladder, son. You're the bladder. And I'll tell you something: you never let me down.
I suppose what I mean is, I can't imagine existing if I didn't have my children and grandchildren. In order of importance, I'd define myself as a father, a man, a Man United supporter, a SuperValu loyalty card holder, and a husband. I'm messing about the loyalty card but I'm dead serious about being a father. It's the biggest part of me.
I felt that way long before the daughter arrived. The boys all had their place in behind my ribcage. So, where is she?
She's right behind my eyes.
When I was a kid, I read all the comics - me and the brothers did. The Beano, The Dandy, The Sparky, The Valiant, The Hotspur. We read them all, over and over. Especially in the bed, when we were supposed to be going asleep. We'd be reading in the dark and thumping one another - that is possible when you're 10.
I remember my father's voice coming up at us through the floor.
- If I have to go up there, I'll Desperate Dan yis!
We were in stitches, biting our own arms so we wouldn't laugh too loud.
But, anyway. There was one cartoon called The Numskulls - I think it was in The Beezer. It was about these little lads, the numskulls, who lived inside the heads of people and controlled the different compartments of their brains.
That's the daughter - although she's no numskull. But she's always been behind my eyes.
I remember the first time she puked on my shoulder.
- Ah now, will you look at that!
- Calm down, Charlie, said the wife. - It's only vomit.
- I know, I said. - But it's so precise.
I had to shut my eyes and keep them shut - I felt so proud, so emotional, so stupid. It was the first time I'd cried at vomit that wasn't my own.
The baby looked up at me with a face that said, "Deal with that." And I did, happily.
She got right in behind my eyes and she's been steering me ever since. Or, more accurately, I look at the world through her eyes - or, I try to.
There's a woman on the radio. She's going on about sexual harassment and she says something about "unwanted attention" from men.
I come from a line of men who shout at the radio, and I shout now.
- Some of those wagons should be delighted with the unwanted attention.
The daughter is in the kitchen. And she looks at me. And she looks at me. And she looks at me.
I speak first.
- I'm wrong, I say.
I know I'm wrong. I know it, I feel it.
She shrugs, and walks out.
The wife is looking at me. She's grinning.