Ode to John Mc
Yesterday, as lockdown restrictions began to ease on the Isle of Man, my Dad and I spent a nondescript, mostly uneventful day together. We took my sons on a walk and we fed overfed, disinterested ducks. We sat in my garden reading, as the scorching sun lay her hands upon us. We drank beer and reminisced. We listened to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Phoebe Bridgers, commenting occasionally to marvel at the brilliance of their effortless craft. We allowed silences to dwell and finish our sentences when we yearned for the person who should be here now: His wife, my Mother.
It was a day of small things that amounted to something far bigger; a summation of our adult relationship thus far. I’ve missed it and I’ve missed him.
I don’t write about Dad often. When Mum died, she became such an all-consuming muse, it meant he was taken for granted. Their characters were so brazenly differing, too. She is forever beguiling, unknowable, shrouded in a cloak of her own design. Elusive and mysterious. John Steen McFaull is a what you see is what you get kind of bloke, the man everyone on the Island seemingly knows. There is no hidden angst, no dark corner of the soul left simmering on the stove, ready to boil over when you least expect. He is who you see.
His default method is survival. A difficult childhood meant he retreated into himself as a young boy, spending large swathes of time pensive, brooding and borderline mute yet still suffering the wrath of knuckle-rapping teachers or a head-clobbering Mother. This sprung within him, a fearlessness that formed at a young age, aligned to such survival instincts. This is what sent the 16 year old to Europe, where he lived in Germany and Holland, assimilating into a new way of life, learning the language and living. That’s the key I think: It was always about more than survival for him. It was about living.
He met Elizabeth Anne McFaull when on the Island with relatives, a supposedly brief sojourn before he headed to France in a Del-Boy-esque plot to sell counterfeit jeans to hapless Parisians. Smitten and enraptured by Anne’s beauty and innocent light, he never made it to France. There was drama abounds. My Mother was only 19 when they were wed and my Father’s wild crimson hair and clipped Scottish growl brought suspicion from the Manx contingent. They were young, they were in love and they didn’t care.
As a young kid I was very much a Mummy’s boy. My Dad then was a cocksure, frothing, wild and tempestuous cauldron of Glaswegian wrath. He was always, unfailingly funny but he could be scary too. I was frightened of that presence. That masculinity. Mum was delicate and more in keeping with my quiet fragility. Whereas my sister was a supercharged wrecking ball of hostility and never concealed rage. You wouldn’t think it now, she’s a wallflower, just pure and sweet. It’s like she emitted all the fury in her being by the time she was 5 years old. I’ll tell you about her another time. Spoiler: Tiny Sarah was cray cray.
As he’s mellowed, I now inhabit some of that fire, and as our interests became shared, we morphed into fierce friends. He never forced his interests on me. Dad just let me be. It’s something I’ve attempted to take into my own travails through parenthood. He regales us with a tale of great pride, often. One day, after a 18 hour dead-eyed teenager sleep, I emerged from my pit one Saturday afternoon. There my Dad was, as always, cooking in the kitchen, music blaring as Mum sat on the concrete step watching the trees, fag in hand. I must have only been 14 and communicated mostly in grunts. Dad watched as I trudged into the room and simply gathered up a stack of his CD’s, not uttering a word. The sounds emitted from my bedroom were of his musical loves for the remainder of the weekend: Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Springsteen, Sabbath, Pink Floyd. It was a musical awakening and the true beginning of our renewed and everlasting connection.
He is not a religious man. “It’s all a load of pish” would be his pithy assessment of such things, I rather suspect. But he is vehemently Presbyterian. A grafter, stoic, committed and full of pride for the importance of hard work. He’s a machine, my Dad.
Which is why he can survive anything. He found his wife, his soulmate, his best friend hanging in the garage. And he continued to not only live in that house but to insist on entering via the garage for years after she passed. He is a man who faces demons head on and kicks the living fuck out of them. Don’t fuck with John Mc; he’s tougher than snakeskin boots.
Am I like him? As a naval-gazing type, I think about this often. In ways, absolutely. We share the fascination with genius. We are always seeking out the ones who burn brightest in life. It’s what drew him to Mum, I suspect. Her soul was ivory-white, purer than river-water and her aura would glow with iridescent decency. His young, raging, tumultuous heart was looking to be healed, perhaps. They were fire and ice.
How else am I like him? I’m opinionated. I’m prone to bouts of grumpy introspection. I’m loud. I’m loyal. Passionate. Emotional. Boisterous. We both love intensely. Any qualities we share give me a sense of enormous pride because quite simply, he’s a brilliant man.
I do my best to learn from him. Where we differ is he is not a man who dwells. John Mc is not one for looking inward. He is forever in motion, living in the present, soaking up life and charging towards future unknowns. I could do with some more of that, I reckon.
When Dad says he is proud of me, they are simple words, straight and true. But they puncture through me until I am wheezing with love I can scarcely contain. I’m still trying to impress him. I’m still the same boy who had to tell him to stop watching my football matches as I would get so worked up. And, just like then, I’ll doubtless see him far off in the distance, sneaking a glimpse of his only son.
He insisted we put the words ‘Everybody loved Anne’ on Mum’s headstone. I daresay, the words apply just as much to him as to her.