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Family Guy: Things my ghosts have taught me

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The father son relationship in Star Wars was complex, to say the least

The father son relationship in Star Wars was complex, to say the least

The father son relationship was also a complex one in the movie, The Royal Tenebaums

The father son relationship was also a complex one in the movie, The Royal Tenebaums

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The father son relationship in Star Wars was complex, to say the least

WE'RE south of the city in the days after Christmas for our annual pilgrimage to my wife's family home. It's quite near the house where I grew up, and this has me fending off ghosts.

When we drive down the road to the village, we pass the turn to where I spent much of my childhood clambering through hedges to make ramshackle forts, or racing down pavements to do wheelies off the curb, and I find myself looking away so I won't see the street sign; humming something tunelessly and beating the steering wheel to help distract from the hollowness I feel.

This tactic proves as fruitless as closing your eyes in a game of 'hide and seek' and thinking that if you can't see anything, then you can't be seen.

Run from your ghosts all you like; screw your eyes right shut, but you can't hide, not for long, especially when you're on their territory.

It's only when my wife takes our teens and their hoard of cousins off on a shopping trip that I find myself at a rare loose end, venturing back to the village to where the alleyways, bus stops and shops teem with hazy images of me as a child, schoolbag on my back or togs rolled into a tight towel under my arm, still damp from the sea, or munching a cake from the long-vanished bakery.

I don't recall a bag of books as heavy, a cement path smelling so hot from summer sun or a simple lump of rum-flavoured chocolate cake seeming quite as decadent since.

This was my place of firsts, sweet experiences that etched themselves into me like the grooves of a vinyl disc, back when my mind was barely as old as my most recent television; years that now go by in a flash.

But these are happy ghosts that skip ahead of me, vanishing through the window of the newsagents where I'd buy my weekly comic book, now just shutters, having been long since annexed by a nearby supermarket.

My feet follow the ache that still haunts me and my eyes follow the cracks in the pavement I still avoid out of habit after all these years.

Without looking up, I walk past the last small shops, barely registering the narrow residential road unfolding around me, until I reach two corners of a junction and realise where I am - outside the house that was my dad's until almost exactly a year ago, when he died.

Nobody likes to be reminded why they feel awful.

I can barely look as I trail my hand along the wall past the shed he'd potter around in, my fingers shying away from the top of the gate he built, each piece fitted together and finished by him.

The windows of his cottage are dark. A hedge, recently trimmed, drips wetly. I feel a little sick.

We hadn't spoken for some weeks before he died. I'd sent a rather strongly-worded email about a family situation, then hadn't the nerve to pick up the phone after I'd cooled down.

I close my eyes but the ghosts persist. When I open them again, the windows are still dark and the branches of bushes still drip in silence. There is no revelation, no resolution, no redemption.

The next day, we pack up and leave for home in the car and I hasten to put the kilometres behind me, like shovels full of earth. If time cannot silence my ghosts, perhaps distance will help again.

chasing

The following evening, our teens sit ensconced at their screens and my wife is chasing down the dog that has run off somewhere with the snowman from the mantelpiece.

It is a year to the day since dad died and I'm heating up the very last of the Christmas leftovers when the eldest comes in and fiddles with the player until music comes on.

It's John Coltrane, which I chose for the funeral. I squint at the eldest. He seems oblivious. I say nothing. Everyone goes about their business. Potatoes begin to boil, the microwave pings and Coltraine plays. '…But how strange the change from major to minor…'

As I rummage for cutlery, my ghosts join the clamour and I decide to give them what they want.

For years, I raged about feeling like no more than a guest in my own dad's house . . . when in fact, it was I who'd made myself into a stranger. I railed at the absence of invites . . . but never offered one either.

This emptiness I feel one year on is a hole I have dug all by myself.

When Dad died I chose a photo to have framed. In it, he wears an expression of what could be good-natured, mock admonishment.

"You never called," I rasped at the photo.

Clear as day came his voice in my head.

"You didn't need me," he said.

And I might like to think it really was him that day, a voice from beyond the grave.

But I'm not going to believe in ghosts any more.


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