Dad’s first reply to any question was always the same. “No.”
Not only a question, maybe responding to a statement, part of a conversation, his opening gambit was always the same. “No.” Followed by either an explanation why the other party was completely wrong, or completely agreeing with them anyway. Even if repeating the same argument as his opponent, the gambit always began the same. “No.”
For example. “The best way to open this door is using a key.”
In reply. “No. Don’t be ridiculous. The best way to open a door is using a key.” Ad infinitum.
For years, Jack thought it was him. He was a poor, useless excuse for a son, always making mistakes, needing to be corrected. His father was right, his father knew best.
Then, as they both grew older, Jack saw it was not just him Dad disagreed with. It was everyone, the entire world, the rest of the human race but a permanent negative blot to be wiped away and replaced with his own blemish free logic. Even if it was exactly the same.
It was a a way of looking at the world. Applying cool rationality that people were stupid, insane, unreasonable animals that couldn’t be trusted to use a knife and fork, let alone drive cars, vote, procreate or break wind properly. They would always be wrong. And for years a lot of the time Dad was right.
Then the cracks began to show. Either through Jack’s maturity and growing knowledge of the world, or Dad’s steady decline into old age, mistakes became more obvious. He wasn’t always right. In fact, there was an increasing chance he would be wrong. But his first response was always the same. “No.”
It really was a way of looking at the world. Casting a negative shadow over every decision, opinion, moment of fleeting happiness, no breathing space allowed for any positive inflection, no moment of thanks, or praise, or simple, quiet agreement. ‘Yes’ never came into it, it never had, and he was too old to change.
It made less and less sense, but depression isn’t a rational force, and over time Jack realised that’s what his father suffered from, but too proud to seek help, too stubborn to accept any if offered, too sure it would be wrong anyway. It was depression wrought from insecurity, from a failure to control a disorderly world, from poor decisions supposed lessers had made better.
With realisation came a glimmer of hope. Jack could see it was better to smile than grimace, that accepting the foibles and mistakes of others was not the same as succumbing to them, that railing against the world did not help surviving it.
Away from his father’s shadow, Jack smiled more, free from the burden of always being wrong, free to enjoy simple pleasures for their own sake, free to be his own man, with his own views, as right or wrong as they may be.
When Rosie was pregnant they talked about his father, knowledge of hereditary possibilities a great way of overthinking impending parenthood.
“We often turn into our parents, whether we like it or not,” she said. “Don’t you think there’s some of him in you, in Thomas maybe?” She patted her stomach where their son grew.
Jack didn’t even have to think before he replied. “No,” he said.